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McKenna Peterson is in her element skiing in Sun Valley.

Snow is beginning to tumble down in earnest now. The beginning of the ski season also opens the book on another season of potential avalanches. Those skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and snowshoers who take to the backcountry may often be in danger during the snowy season.

The backcountry athlete’s first line of defense? Information. Here at the convergence of the Sawtooths, the Pioneers, the White Clouds and the Smoky mountains, that information is scouted and delivered by a small team of forecasters operating the Sawtooth Avalanche Center.

With just a team of four—Director Scott Savage and avalanche specialists Ethan Davis, Chris Lundy and Ben VandenBos—the Sawtooth Avalanche Center works round the clock all winter long to maintain up-to-date avalanche forecasts in an effort to guarantee the safety of all those who venture out to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery.

This is a tough, demanding job, but they continue to perform it accurately and professionally each year in large part due to the backing of the Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The mission of the Friends is to promote and support the efforts of the Avalanche Center, especially by raising crucial funds via various events and donations. According to their official website, the Friends generate more than half of the Avalanche Center’s operating budget each year.

One of the Friends’ key fundraising events is the annual Homegrown Film Festival. A fairly new offering, the festival will return for its third year this weekend with two nights of films on Friday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7. Both programs will take place at the Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum.

This year’s lineup will feature short films from around 30 athletes and filmmakers, covering a diverse range of subjects and sceneries. Newcomers and regulars alike will showcase their new offerings.

Homegrown Film Festival favorites McKenna Peterson, “Crazy” Karl Fostvedt, Lexi duPont, Wyatt and Yancy Caldwell, Wing Tai Barrymore and Chase Josey will return among dozens of first-timers on the big screen.

The movies that comprise the annual festival typically exhibit some of the most physics-defying achievements of winter athletes both in the area and around the world.

“Homegrown is two nights this year, with entirely different films each night, and including some filmmakers from out of town with different subject matter and perspectives,” explained Tina Cole, co-founder of the film festival and recently retired board member of the Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center. “There are more films, a few slightly longer films and a few films with surprises.”

Cole made special mention of the contributions by Peter McBride, whose recent Grand Canyon documentary “Into the Canyon” took home the Best Feature Length Film award at the Banff Mountain Film Competition this year.

Tickets for the film festival are available online now at theargyros.org. General admission tickets for adults are $20. Blaine County students may attend for $15.

Fundraising events such as this account for more than 20 percent of the Friends’ budget, Executive Director Stephanie Eisenbarth said.

“That is truly significant,” she said. “We feel so fortunate to have such a supportive community. Attendance and participation in our fundraisers is vital to our success in meeting our mission.”

The remaining 80 percent or so of the Friends’ budget comes from grants, sponsorships and donations, but the more successful that events like Homegrown are, the more the Friends are able to expand—they recently introduced an education coordinator position and a media coordinator—and, by extension, the more work the Avalanche Center is able to perform.

All these initiatives help get out the message that avalanches pose a real threat to those who work and recreate in the backcountry. Through its Know Before You Go agenda, the Sawtooth Avalanche Center and the Friends thereof offer numerous seminars, demonstrations, how-to guides and instruction throughout the year to ensure that the greatest number of people possible understand proper safety protocols before heading into the wilderness.

Eisenbarth noted that even though winter use of the Avalanche Center’s jurisdiction has increased dramatically in the past decade, avalanche fatalities have declined, meaning that—taken as a percentage—the fatality rate has dropped significantly, so it seems the message is getting out.

Winter sports enthusiasts, cinemagoers and well-wishers can all show their support this weekend at the third annual Homegrown Film Festival. Interested parties should secure tickets soon, as the previous two festivals did enjoy sell-out crowds.

Amid all the films, the incredible athleticism on display and the enticing donated raffle items (including skis, gear and a Sun Valley season pass), this year’s festival will have plenty on offer, but the primary objective is to ensure another fun, safe winter in the Sawtooth region.

Learn more about the Sawtooth Avalanche Center—and donate to the Friends at any time—at sawtoothavalanche.com.

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