Safe passage in the backcountry

by • February 20, 2017 • Feature, Featured Photos, HighlightsComments Off on Safe passage in the backcountry51

AK Mining & Diving snowmachine donation helps avalanche forecasters in the field 

CNFAIC avalanche specialist Graham Predeger breaks in the new Ski Doo Summit 850 loaner machine on Turnagain Pass on Jan. 7. Below, left, Nick Olzenak with Alaska Mining & Diving Supply hands the keys to the Ski-Doo to Predeger. Courtesy Heather Thamm.

CNFAIC avalanche specialist Graham Predeger breaks in the new Ski Doo Summit 850 loaner machine on Turnagain Pass on Jan. 7. Courtesy Heather Thamm.

For the fifth year in a row, a local business is stepping up with a snowmachine loaner to help avalanche experts keep it safe in the backcountry.
On Jan. 7, Alaska Mining & Diving Supply, with support from Ski-Doo, presented Friends of Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center with the keys to a new 2017 Ski-Doo Summit SP 850 E-TEC snowmachine. The mountain snowmachine is just the type of ride avalanche experts need to access critical areas of the backcountry. Avalanche forecasters will be able to travel further into backcountry terrain to collect snowpack information and check weather and avalanche observations pertinent to the daily Turnagain Pass avalanche advisory.
“Access to new equipment and state-of-the-art snowmachine technology allows us to effectively and efficiently provide the best avalanche information and training to Alaskans,” said avalanche specialist Graham Predeger, with CNFAIC. “CNFAIC forecasters are able to access so much more terrain in our advisory area to collect snowpack, weather and avalanche observations, particularly where snowmachiners are recreating the most. This allows us to compile more information across the advisory area to provide a more accurate and representative avalanche advisory for skiers and snowmachiners.”
The program, AMDS says, benefits the entire community by promoting avalanche awareness and safe recreation in avalanche terrain.
“Our relationship with the mountain sledding community and avalanche forecasters brought to light the need for new, top-of-the-line and reliable equipment for forecasters to get out in the mountains to collect data and observations,” said Nick Olzenak president and general manager at Alaska Mining & Diving Supply.
The new loaner snowmachine will also be used during educational events so forecasters can access backcountry areas for public avalanche rescue workshops. When the season ends, CNFAIC has the option to buy the machine at a discounted rate.
“Fortunately, the Friends of Chugach National Forest has been able to purchase the last four loaner machines post-season, allowing us to keep a solid fleet of snowmachines for our program,” Predeger added.
Olzenak said he is proud of his company’s, and Ski-Doo’s, commitment to supporting avalanche safety in the community.

Below, left, Nick Olzenak with Alaska Mining & Diving Supply hands the keys to the Ski-Doo to Predeger. Courtesy Heather Thamm.

Below, left, Nick Olzenak with Alaska Mining & Diving Supply hands the keys to the Ski-Doo to Predeger. Courtesy Heather Thamm.

“We take the avalanche topic very seriously at the shop,” Olzenak said. “We host avalanche workshops, carry a vast selection of avalanche-related equipment and through social media and radio we promote ‘know before you go’ and encourage highly that our customers get some type of formal training to go along with the gear they purchase. The gear does not do anyone any good if you are not trained on how to properly use it.”
This year, AMDS extended its loaner program beyond Turnagain. After a series of avalanche deaths in the Hatcher Pass area, Olzenak’s shop also handed keys to a snowmachine to the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Information Center.
“Most of us mountain riders have lost one, if not several, friends and colleagues to avalanches and oftentimes these tragic events are preventable,” Olzenak said. “The most important step in preparing for mountain riding, in my opinion, is taking a level 1 avalanche course with those who you trust with your life in the mountains.”
Olzenak knows that the “take-a-class” mantra can sometimes sound repetitive and boring, and riders might tune out the constant nagging to do so. But, he said, it is such a simple tool to keep oneself safe, like wearing a seatbelt in a car.
“It used to be difficult to find courses offered that were geared toward sledders, but now they are offered by several organizations in Alaska so there is no more room for excuses,” he said. “The scariest part is knowing that there are other people out there riding in and around the same areas that you and your group are, and their decisions could have an effect on your groups’ lives as avalanches can run long and far, and can also be triggered remotely.”
For more on free avalanche education, go to www.cnfaic.org/site/events. To access avalanche advisories, go to www.cnfaic.org or call the avalanche hotline, 754-2369.

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