In response to anticipated snowstorms, the Sawtooth Avalanche Center has begun posting daily backcountry avalanche forecasts.

The avalanche center stated in a news release that most mountain weather stations in the region are reporting a snowpack that is 50-60 percent of average, and there is barely enough snow for reasonable backcountry travel on skis, snowshoes or snow machines. However, the avalanche center stated, expected snowfall should open up more terrain for winter backcountry recreation.

Backcountry Avalanche Forecasts are available at sawtoothavalanche.com. Forecasts are issued each morning by 7:30 a.m. and are also offered through email subscription. On weekday mornings, people can tune in to KECH 95.3 FM or KDPI 88.5 FM to hear a quick summary of the current avalanche conditions. The Sawtooth National Forest Facebook page (@sawtoothnationalforest) has daily updates, too. Longtime avalanche center partner The Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center also posts conditions and events information on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@ or # sawtoothavy). Due to lack of use, the avalanche center is discontinuing its hotline voicemail.

There are a few staffing changes this season. Forecaster Matt Wieland moved on to pursue other opportunities, and his position was filled by Chris Lundy, who worked at the avalanche center from 2004 to 2012 and brings 20 years of experience as an avalanche professional. The Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center provided funding for an additional part-time avalanche forecasting position. That has been filled by previous avalanche center intern Ben VandenBos.

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center covers an area of nearly 2,000 square miles and typically has only one forecaster in the field daily. Information gleaned from other backcountry users is critical to producing accurate avalanche forecasts. Last season, the avalanche center launched an updated web-based Observations platform, and beginning this winter there are two new ways to submit observations:

l SMS (text)—Text and images can be sent via SMS to 208-481-5921.

l Social media—Backcountry users can use the hashtag #sawtoothavy on Instagram and Twitter when posting about their day. Interested users can also follow the #sawtoothavy hashtag to see what others are observing in the backcountry.

Backcountry travelers can continue to post their observations on the SAC website, using either the simple (sawtoothavalanche.com/obs-public.php) or advanced (sawtoothavalanche.com/obs-advanced.php) observation forms.

The Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center has a full slate of Avalanche Awareness and Introduction to Avalanches education programs. These classes, as well as other avalanche safety programs throughout the state, can be found on a newly created Idaho Avalanche Education Calendar (sawtoothavalanche.com/education.php).

New this winter, the avalanche center is starting an educational series called Digging Deeper. These events will be held every other Wednesday throughout the winter at rotating venues in the Wood River Valley. Intended as an informal “fireside chat”-style program, avalanche center forecasters will give brief presentations on tools, tricks, technology and other topics of interest, leaving plenty of time for discussion. The first Digging Deeper program is today, Dec. 19, at 6:30 p.m. at Sawtooth Brewery’s Ketchum Public House. Finally, the avalanche center will again host a Motorized Level 1 Avalanche Course in conjunction with the Friends, this year in Stanley from Jan. 18-20. Email info@sawtoothavalanche.com for details.

Once there is enough snow, the avalanche center will install its Avalanche Rescue Training Park at the northwest end of the Baker Creek parking lot on state Highway 75. The training park is free and always open; all people need is an avalanche beacon and probe. The avalanche center plans to offer free rescue clinics at the Baker Creek facility and at Smiley Creek Lodge; visit the website and stay tuned for dates and times. The Sun Valley Ski Patrol on Bald Mountain again plans to set up its beacon practice area in the bowls as soon as snow depths permit.

The Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center, a 501(c)(3) organization, has several community events planned for this season. Highlights include the Homegrown Film Festival on Jan. 4 at the new Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum and three nights of Banff Film Festival movies in early February; visit sawtoothavalanche.com or search “sawtoothavy” on social-media platforms for ticket information and details.

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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