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Juneau & Sitka to host avalanche awareness workshops
Published: 01/21/2010 16:00:00
Avalanches pose a continuing threat to Alaskans, it's best to be prepared.
VIDEO: Avalanches pose a continuing threat to Alaskans, it's best to be prepared. (Image: Mikko Wilson / KATH-TV)


Avalanches post a real threat to Alaska's residents all winter long
Avalanches post a real threat to Alaska's residents all winter long (File / Digital Juice)

62 houses, a harbor, a hotel and Egan Drive are in the path of a potential major avalanche
62 houses, a harbor, a hotel and Egan Drive are in the path of a potential major avalanche (Mikko Wilson / KATH-TV)

Alaska DOT uses a canon to blast down avalanches over Thane Road
Alaska DOT uses a canon to blast down avalanches over Thane Road (Rik Pruett / KATH-TV)

Living in Alaska, there's one thing we can be sure of during the winter: and that's snow, especially on the mountains around town. As the snow builds, it creates the danger of Avalanches. Tom Mattice is the avalanche forecaster for the City of Juneau, and he spends his winter keeping track of local snow conditions.

"Juneau has a high threat to avalanches; we have more than 62 homes, a boat harbor and a hotel, as well as Egan Drive all located in avalanche terrain. So we want to know that the areas are going to be safe; that avalanche terrain - those are predicted to be 100-year slides. So it would be a catastrophic slide, or a huge slide, to get down to those urban environment areas. But that's one of the things that we worry about, and that's why we forecast for that." Explains Mattice

Avalanche forecasting is both an art and a science, with lots of time spent out in the field according to Mattice. "You know, you're looking at what Mother Nature from the beginning of the season all the way to the end of the season. So you're looking at what temperature are when the snow falls, how much rain we get on top of that, whether you are putting heavy snow on top of light snow - you can imagine what that does; it can collapse the light snow and start an avalanche. Or you're just having snow that doesn't bond well. So there's a lot of things to look at in conjunction with avalanche forecasting. But you're really looking at weather patterns from the beginning of the season all the way to the end."

For those that spend a lot of time in the great outdoors the Alaska Avalanche School is holding free Avalanche training workshop in Juneau and Sitka:

Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center
Saturday, January 23, 7-9:30 pm, Lecture part 1
Sunday, January 24, 10 am - noon, Lecture part 2
Sunday, January 24, 12:30 - 4:30 pm, Field session

Sitka
Centennial Hall
Saturday, January 30, 8 am - noon, Lecture
Saturday, January 30, 12:30 - 4:30 pm, Field session

More details at: www.akavalanches.com

Mattice advises that it's worth taking the time to be prepared when going out in the snow: "Nobody should ever travel in avalanche terrain without an avalanche transceiver, a probe, and a shovel, and some basic avalanche awareness knowledge. Having the tools doesn't work without having the knowledge to use them, so we really recommend avalanche education as a forerunner to that. From avalanche awareness up through Avalanche level ones and Twos and professional courses, people who spend time in the mountains should take it upon themselves to get a little bit of extra avalanche education."

http://www.juneau.org/avalanche/

By: Mikko Wilson - mikko@kath.tv