The CAIC has historically had a strong presence in the region, with its snow and avalanche forecasts aired daily on local radio stations and its forecast office in Silverton feeding snow and avalanche data into the statewide network. This winter, the organization will have an even stronger presence in the region, with new forecasting offices in Ouray and Telluride.
The new offices signal an uptick in CAIC’s ability to provide precise and in-depth analysis across the notoriously avalanche-prone San Juans. Ann Mellick, who was previously highway and backcountry forecaster for the San Juans, will now head up the Ouray office as the Colorado Department of Transportation forecaster for Highway 550, while Matt Steen becomes the San Juans’ new backcountry forecaster. He will be based in Telluride.
Ethan Greene, Director of CAIC, says the new positions were created in an effort to expand the CAIC’s regional presence. “The idea was to expand our presence with more local offices, while maintaining that strong central support model,” he says, explaining that the CAIC’s main office in Boulder serves as the organization’s information and operations nucleus, while its satellite offices (others are located in Aspen, Breckenridge, Silverton, and Pagosa Springs) enable the organization to have a broad reach across the state.
As the CAIC website reminds, Colorado historically accounts for one-third of all avalanche deaths in the United States, and since 1950 avalanches have killed more people in Colorado than any other natural hazard. Having more avalanche professionals in small communities helps the CAIC realize its goal of making avalanche education and information more accessible to people around the state, Greene says.
“It’s that combination of a broad network of support as well as the local nature of the office that makes for a very powerful model” for the dissemination of avalanche information and snow safety education, he explains.
As the CAIC’s newest member, Telluride’s Steen comes to the table with local knowledge of some of the higher-use backcountry areas in the region (e.g. Bear Creek), as well as more than a decade of avalanche forecasting experience. He was a ski patroller in Deer Valley, Crested Butte, and finally Telluride, where he worked for the last 10 years and served on the patrol’s snow safety team. Although he admits that being responsible for forecasting avalanche hazard across the entire San Juan range (an area as big as the Swiss Alps), he says he’s looking forward to better engaging the local community in gathering the miscellaneous pieces needed to create a more complete picture of the avalanche conditions in the region.
“It’s like there’s a box of 100 puzzle pieces, and I only get six pieces. The more pieces I get, the easier it is for me to put the picture together,” Steen says, speaking of the CAIC’s Field Observation program, which collects observations from backcountry travelers throughout the state in an attempt to put together the most complete forecast possible.
Greene admits that the organization, which is a cash-funded program of the Colorado Geological Survey, supported by donations, contributions, and the Severance Tax fund, will require more local support than ever as it embarks upon its expanded mission.
“We haven’t raised any additional funds [to create these offices], so we’ve taken a bit of a gamble in the hopes that we can get the momentum going,” Greene explains.
You can support the new San Juan offices of the CAIC by attending their upcoming fundraisers, in Ouray tonight (Thursday, Dec. 15) at the Ouray Community Center and tomorrow (Friday, Dec. 16) at the Sheridan Opera House.
Art Burrows, co-author of the book The Fifty Classic Ski Descents of North America, will present a personal look at many of those descents, as well as a slideshow of a recent ski mountaineering trip to British Columbia. Several of the classic descents Burrows included in the book are by San Juan skiers – Silverton resident Loren Glick and Hillaree O’Neill from Telluride.
Both events will offer entertainment, silent auction and libations. Doors open at 6:30, with shows beginning at 7:30. For more information, visit the CAIC’s website at www. avalanche.state.co.us.
To better educate backcountry travelers about the CAIC’s Field Observation program, Steen will host a free forum on the topic at the Wilkinson Public Library Program Room Saturday, Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. He will review the new website and reporting process. The gathering will also provide a setting to discuss issues surrounding Telluride’s backcountry terrain.