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Saturday, January 30, 2010

Going Deep-the 100-inch snow contest gets the El Nino Treatment

Posted By on Sat, Jan 30, 2010 at 11:47 PM

A couple of months ago the revival of the once popular “guess the exact date when the snow depth at Mt. Bachelor’s West Village reaches 100 inches” created some interest. But as noted then, reaching the 100 mark isn’t as easy as it used to be. Back when the 100-inch contest was a big deal on local radio in small town Bend, the mark was invariably reached in late November or sometime during December.


By comparison, these days hitting 100 inches would be a miracle in late November or December unless you buy into the old ski area (they all do it) ploy of citing the total amount of snow that’s fallen in a year and then in smaller type listing what’s actually on the ground, i.e. the current snow depth.


The majority of people entering the revived 100-inch contest and the chance to win a six of their favorite local brew, picked a day in January. A few picked days in December and only two entrants selected a day in February. Nobody opted to pick a day in March or April which, from my personal backcountry skiing experience of the past several years, has proven to be the best snow months of the year.


As to the two remaining 100-inch contestants, one has selected February 10 as the day and the other, a local, but apparently sentimental, curmudgeon of note has picked Valentine’s Day.


Which brings up the question of what’s making for the low snow year. El Nino say the climatologists as they point to the way storms are tracking across the west this winter. While Arizona and New Mexico ski resorts are covered with almost too much snow, resorts in Colorado and Utah are, like most Oregon resorts, operating on thin snow cover.


And once past mid-February, chances for warmer and longer days can mean devastation to thin cover.


Next year, it’ll probably be a La Nina year and we’ll shovel snow in town for months on end. Or perhaps we’ll break out the deck chairs, barbeque and sun block starting in February.


In the meantime, thanks to all the people who entered the 100-inch contest. May your December or early January dates be right on target next year.


And by the way, if you’re interested in the how ski areas tend to fudge on how they report how much new snow has fallen, go to to read about a recent study by two Dartmouth College professors who say 23 percent of all ski area over-report new snowfall. The story goes on to say that a new iPhone app ( allows skiers to feed in up-to-the minute “real” information of how much has fallen at a given resort.






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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Games Time: possible foreclosure and lack of snow make the upcoming Olympics interesting

Posted By on Sat, Jan 23, 2010 at 7:47 PM

It goes without saying that the Canadians have thought of everything when it comes to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. On one hand, the Vancouver Games are right in step with the times by having one of the key venues being foreclosed on by its lenders. On the other hand, VANOC (Vancouver Olympic Committee) is paying homage to the 1976 Winter Games by trucking in snow to lay down a swath of snow on sparsely covered slopes.

 First to the foreclosure. Intrawest ( is one of several ski area holding companies. It owns Blue Mountain, Mountain Creek, Panorama and Whistler Blackcomb in Canada, Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Snowshoe in North Carolina and Stratton in Vermont.

In this regard they’re similar to Mt. Bachelor owner Powdr Corp ( which owns eight U.S. ski areas.

 Intrawest’s Whistler Blackcomb is the site for the Olympic alpine ski and snowboard events (the snowboard freestyle events will be held elsewhere-more on that later) and is home to the Whistler Sliding Centre where the bobsled and luge events will be staged.

 Well this week it was announced that lenders Lehman Brothers and Davidson Kemper Capital Management, among others, have foreclosed on Intrawest and will start to auction off its assets, including Whistler Blackcomb, during the Olympic Games.

 Wow, how cool is that. You can watch the downhill and then stroll over and catch the live auction and perhaps witness the ski area being sold to some Saudi prince or Wall Street hedge fund manager.

 VANOC officials say the alpine, luge and bobsled events will come off as scheduled but who knows.

 Meanwhile closer to metro Vancouver, the snow cover at Cypress Mountain, the site of the ski and snowboard freestyle events is, well, light. And with spring-like weather expected for the next ten days, VANOC is making snow and planning to either truck or helicopter it onto Cypress Mountain to be spread around.


The last time something of this magnitude happen was at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Hoping for enough natural snow to fall for sufficient cover, officials of the ’76 games waited until the last moment before calling out the Austrian Army. The army then trucked in tons of snow from wherever they could find it and had troops lay enough down so all events came off without a hitch.


These days given the freaky weather and El Nino years being the norm rather that the rarity, it would seem that the making and hauling of snow to cover slopes, trails and sliding areas will be the way of the future for the Winter Olympic Games.








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Monday, January 18, 2010

Ascention: Mt. B's new uphill policy and more

Posted By on Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 8:33 PM

As anticipated by ‘front country” skiers, Mount Bachelor announced their new uphill access policy ( last Friday. And as predicted back in December, the policy, while considered a positive step, is still a problem for many skiers because of its time constraints. In short, being able to access the summit only during ski area operating hours remains a major sticking point.
Speaking to the new policy, a long time uphiller offered: “Mount Bachelor made a good start, primarily because of its commitment to keep working with the ski community.  However, the new plan will result in a huge drop off in the number of responsible and safety minded uphillers.  Most people I know choose to ski up before or after lift operations. At those times of day, it’s the quiet, the sunrise, the sunsets which make the uphill effort worthwhile.
“I think we can also improve access which is as safe or safer. So hopefully Mount Bachelor will come up with a plan that is based on education and outreach, not on containment. A plan where violators rather than the entire uphill community are sanctioned.  We need to find a good balance between safety concerns and a less restrictive policy which invites cooperation.”
A female skier added: “I'm glad to see more vertical up the mountain than was allowed before.  As a working woman, I can't skin up mid-week during operating hours. Therefore, I hope skinning hours will be extended.”
As far as I know, the vast majority of avid uphillers are pre area opening and post area closing hours skiers. Both times of day are when they have the time to get out and enjoy a quality skiing experience.
It’s also apparent to me that uphillers are in it for the exercise and the experience  not to avoid paying for the priviledge of skiing the area. Most uphillers are pass holders and when they have the time, they ride the lifts.
So what happens now? Are there more policy negotiations to come? The avid uphillers certainly hope so.
Talk about restrictions, the popular backcountry ski areas off the Sea to Sky corridor from Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia have been declared off-limits during the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. The reason? Security concerns and the prospect of crazed militants launching attacks from the backcountry.
Bottom line- don’t even think about skiing the close-to-the-Games backcountry or be prepared, according to a VANOC (Vancouver Olympic Committee) spokesperson: “to encounter a member of the security workforce.”
And finally to the funky weather. While we’ve got early spring here, a Norwegian friend writes: “we're enduring record cold here, and we've been sent photos taken on the Mediterranean coast of France that show the foothills of the Pyrénées on the skyline all snow covered for the first time in nearly 100 years. Although northern Europe shivers now, according to recent scientific forecasts, 2010 may be the hottest year on record - as reported in the Science and technology section of the 9 January 2010 issue of The Economist ( “

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Good Read; adventure tales for a long winter night

Posted By on Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 2:53 AM

This time of year it’s a treat to spend an evening reading a great adventure book. A book full of timeless tales that when can re-read years after a first reading still have some impact.
In putting together my list of must-reads adventure books, it’s important to note that many of them are little known or out of print and may now be only available at a quality used book outlet or via
 The Journals of Lewis and Clark as edited and interpreted by Bernard DeVoto. The Expedition of Discovery is still one of the great adventure tales of all time and while Lewis and Clark’s journals don’t offer high drama they give a fascinating account of the expedition. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see the original journals with their drawings of flora and fauna found along the route at the rare book museum at Yale University. Impressive indeed.
The Thousand Mile Summer by Colin Fletcher. Welshman Fletcher’s tale of his 1964 six-month walk from the Mexican border up eastern flank of California’s mountain ranges to the Oregon border proved one of the catalysts that would set off the backpacking boom a few years later.
The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer. For years the north face (nordwand) of the Eiger was the tantalizing first ascent prize for alpine climbers worldwide. Harrer captures all the tragedy and drama of the early attempts to ascend the face in this now classic book.
Weird and Tragic Shores by Chauncey Loomis. In the late 1890s, Ohioan Charles Francis Hall claims he’s received a sign from God that he must be the first person to get to the North Pole. Armed with faith and no experience, Hall makes several arctic forays before leading a failed polar expedition.  He got very close to being the first man to the pole and years later his method of adopting the survival techniques of the native Eskimos became widely accepted by other polar explorers.
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby. London apparel salesman Newbie decides, after being sacked, to take an extended holiday that turns into a grand adventure with the ascent of a mountain thrown in for good measure.
An Innocent on The Middle Fork by Eliot Dubois. Between his junior and senior years at Yale University in 1941, Dubois heads off to Idaho to make a solo run of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in his Foldboat kayak. Presumed dead at one point, Dubois returns alive after some harrowing experiences.
Four Against Everest by Woodrow Wilson Sayre. Sayre and three Harvard friends sneak into Tibet and try to climb Everest. Despite limited big mountain climbing experience they get within a couple of thousand feet of the summit and survive to tell their tale.
Among the truly arcane books, but well worth reading, are:
Three in Norway by Two of Them By Lees and Clutterbuck. A trio of upper crust Brits set off in 1881 to explore Norway’s remote regions. What ensues is at once funny and poignant, as they prove inept but cheerful in their blundering.
The Lure of The Wild Labrador by Dillon Wallace. A 1903 canoe expedition takes the wrong fork in the river and after many other such turns is hopelessly lost. A year later the canoeists appear back in civilization barely alive and looking like wild beasts to those they first encounter.

Mount Everest 1938 by H.W. Tilman. As the great British climber and explorer Eric Shipton once declared: “our expeditions in those days were done when we all had some holiday time. They were more or less done on a lark.” This lark almost succeeds in conquering Everest.
And finally to the out-of-category adventure story of adventure stories: Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 voyage to the Antarctic region where his ship (The Endurance ) gets iced in, a small group sails off in a dinghy looking for help, and all save one expedition member survive a year of being stranded on an island. This is the granddaddy of all adventure stories. One of the many versions of the story worth a read is: “Endurance-Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”, by Alfred Lansing.


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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Five Ring Circus: Let the Games Begin

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 10:36 PM

While the big news at NBC Television is the squabble over the Tonight Show time slot between Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno, there's another story at the network that's equally interesting to some. It's the story of how NBC is taking a bath (to the tune of $200 million) on advertising for the upcoming Winter Olympics is Vancouver.
It appears, according to network execs, that big advertisers like Johnson and Johnson and Home Depot don't think the Winter Games resonant with the viewing public as much as the summer games do. Winter sports, so we're told, don't have the zip and the compelling (Michael Phelps for example) personal stories.
If true, it's a shame because the U.S. is sending one of its strongest delegations to the Winter Games in long time, maybe ever.
Look at alpine skiing where American Lindsey Vonn is again ruling the women's World Cup circuit and is a threat to win as handful of gold medals. Her teammate Julia Mancuso is streaky but very capable of at least one podium finish.
The men's alpine team headed by 2006 combined gold medalist Ted Ligety and the ever-enigmatic Bodie Miller is strong indeed.

Over at the snowboard venue, the U.S. Team (Coached by Bend native Peter Foley) has returning medal winners in Shaun White, Gretchen Bleiler, Kelly Clark and Lindsey Jacobellis.
But perhaps the biggest surprises medal-wise might come from America's cross-country and combined (ski and jump) skiers. In the combined, Bill Demong (he raced in the Cascade Cycling Classic this past summer) and Johnny Spillane have been ripping up the World Cup circuit this season.
Alaskan Kikkan Randall is considered almost a sure thing to medal in women's cross-country. The men (including local resident Toren Koos) look like they're about to break through.

As Mount Bachelor Ski Education Foundation coach and three-time Winter Olympian, Dan Simoneau, put it, "it's the best cross-country team I think the U.S. has ever sent to the Winter Games."
Note that the U.S. is sending a competitive ski jumping team to Vancouver after years of so-so results in the sport and there are several excellent American male and female biathlon competitors.
Add in speed skater Apollo Ono, figure skater Sasha Cohen, a good hockey team and it could be a bumper crop of medals for the U.S.
At the three Winter Games I worked, I always rooted for great competitions no matter the winner. This time around I'd really like to see Americans have an outstanding performance if for no other reason to prove NBC's hesitant big advertisers wrong in not sponsoring the Games on the telly.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Snow Job: local TV talking heads predisposition to powder.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 10:21 PM

I’m sure more than a few locals have their pet peeves when it comes to the local television’s newscasts and their talking heads. Talking heads who regularly fall victim to mispronunciations, delivery flubs, you name it. No matter the problem they always rely on a perky delivery and a big smile to get them through..
My personal talking head pet peeve is a simple one. It’s the constant reference to any snow that falls at Mount Bachelor as “powder” snow.
For example earlier this week while the daily temperatures in Bend were hovered near fifty degrees and were in the mid-forties at Mount Bachelor, one of the perky evening news reporters noted that we should expect, “at least two inches of fresh powder at Mount Bachelor tomorrow.”
Two inches of fresh heavy wet crud, yes, but powder, unfortunately no.
Skiers and riders love powder and the experienced among them know the difference between the light fluffy powder and wet Cascade Crud. But apparently the dictum at our local television outlet’s news departments is to refer to any form of snow as powder.
How about just saying, “two inches of snow is expected to fall tomorrow,” and calling it good at that? Simply saying snow implies that snow is indeed coming and that’s a good sign, but to imply that the new snow is powder is to imply that epic, once-in-a-lifetime powder that smacks you in the face on every turn is coming. That’s patently false.
Pity the poor unsuspecting tourist tuning in the local news on the television at his or her accommodations and hearing that powder is coming.  They race to the ski area the next day only to slide through mist and rain or work hard to push crud around.
This is not to fault Mount Bachelor which does the best it can with the snow delivered them my Mother Nature. And what’s given them isn’t a steady diet of true powder snow. Yes we get powder snow in the Cascades and yes it is great fun to ski, but no we don’t get it all the time.
So, let’s get real talking heads and have some truth in broadcasting. Powder is very cold, almost moisture-less snow. And it falls when air temperatures are cold not when the air temperature is 30, 40 or 50 degrees.
In the interest of understanding snow types, I turn to my longtime colleagues Michael Brady and Leif Torgersen. Brady is widely considered the world expert on the sport of cross-country skiing. Torgersen is the head chemist for the Swix ski wax company and fondly known as “Doctor Wax.”
According to Brady and Torgersen in their book “Waxing and Care of Ski and Snowboards” (Wilderness Press ISBN 0-89997-303-5) there are three things to consider when talking about snow types: grain character, wetness and hardness.
As to grain character, there’s new snow (“falling or new that has not yet changed on the ground”), fine-grained snow (“older snow on the ground with its crystals rounded”), and coarse-grained snow (“snow on the ground that has gone through one of more freeze-thaw cycles so individual grains have formed larger grains”).
Moving onto wetness, dry snow is snow usually, “below OC (32F), and the individual grains of snow stick poorly to each other when squeezed in a gloved hand”). Moist snow is snow that’s “above 0C/32F with no water visible. When squeezed in a gloved hand, the snow makes a snowball”. Wet snow is easy to identify because, “water is visible between the grains but it cannot be pressed out of a snowball squeezed in a glove hand.”
Very wet snow is defined as snow where: “water can easily be pressed out of a snowball squeezed in a hand.” Slush is “snow that is sopping wet.”
As far as hardness goes, let’s leave it with this: powder is easy to make an impression in. Making an impression becomes more difficult the wetter the snow.
This ends the lesson and with it a caveat-beware of TV talking heads yammering on about powder snow. They have no idea of what they’re talking about.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Uber Weird: talking about funky weather

Posted By on Sun, Jan 10, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Tell me I’m mistaken about this being the funkiest winter weather I’ve ever seen in my 32 years living here in poverty with a view. First there was that freaky early snow in October followed by the Polar Express a month later, a prolonged case of the inversion blues, rain with Bend living seeming like living in Eugene, and then fog that Londoners would be proud of.
Knowing I was wrong about the funkiness of said weather I asked a longtime local what he thought of the winter so far? “The weirdest one I’ve ever experienced, “he offered, “it’s totally counter to what our winters used to be like.”
For me, “used to be like” went like this: Late November heavy dumps of snow in the mountains; December snow in town and more snow up high; January at least ten days of very cold (below zero) temps early in the month with more snow in town later in the month; February mild down here plenty of good snow dumps in the mountains; March/April always iffy vacillating between cool and fairly warm.
As to snowpack, it was always, back in the pre “gold rush” days, well over 100 inches of snow by now and heading its way quickly to 200. Now people wax ecstatic if the snowpack gets over 55 inches. That’s 55 inches as in, “totally awesome skiing conditions.” Sure.
Holy Bob Shaw, it just may be getting warmer and wetter around here just as those crazed global warming proponents have advocated. Warmer and wetter that is, with occasional dramatic (read floods, extreme cold, cyclones, whatever) weather events.
Can it be that Bend will soon have a winter climate similar to that of Palm Springs? Hey that would make the tourism folks who used to like to call Bend the “Palm Springs of the North“ look mighty prescient.
Is it possible that people will be going to Brookings and the southern Oregon coast for sun and surf in December instead of to Maui in the future?
Unlike the writer John Burroughs (Naked Lunch) who said, “I was born with a chronic anxiety about the weather, “ I’m just curious about what its plans are.
So mark me down as being more of a mind with Ben Franklin who offered: “some are weatherwise, some are otherwise.”

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Friday, January 8, 2010

The Oxford: a bit of Manhattan in downtown Bend

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2010 at 8:31 PM

Back when a good portion of my work called for long stays in New York City working in the editorial department of several publishing companies, I got to know the Manhattan hotel scene pretty well. Generally the publishers I worked for put me up in hotels that were once great but were quickly on their way to becoming fleabags. "Well it was a great hotel when Charles Dickens used to stay there when he visited the city, "they'd reply after I commented that the plumbing didn't work and in fact probably was the same as it had been when both Lincoln, and later, Grant were in the White House.
Either a fleabag in the making or they'd put me up in some way-down-on-its-luck mid-town hotel that was once where all the great stage stars stayed." By the time I stayed in said hotel it looked and felt like a morgue.
But every as time went along and I settled in with CBS Magazines for an editorial stint, things got better hotel-wise. At CBS, the publisher often put me up in what was the latest rage in accommodations-a boutique hotel.
Small in number of rooms, minimalist in design, sleek with lots of chrome and glass, and full of Bauhaus-inspired furnishings, the boutique hotels were the trendy places to stay.
They all had pretentious names: The Thomas, The Vermillion, and The Boulevard. Never was the word hotel used in conjunction with the names. It was assumed that you knew what The Thomas was and what to expect.
All the boutique hotels I had the pleasure of staying in were similar in three ways: 1) they had sparsely furnished lobbies, 2) had a check-in staff headed by a very sleek, attractive young woman decked out in all black, and 3) has a cozy dimly lit bar just off the lobby.
One night after a Jets-Broncos football game at the Meadowlands we fell out of the limo that took us to and from the game and headed to the bar at The Thomas.
There, our post-game revelry continued until we were informed that we were too noisy and that our future business at The Thomas wouldn't be welcome.
Fast forward a dozen years and boutique hotels are the norm up in Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland as well as every other major city in the U.S.
And now we have one in Bend, the Oxford Hotel in the heart of downtown by the public parking structure and across the street from Thump.
And while the hotel isn't officially open, I got a chance, along with 50 or 60 other Central Oregonians to see parts of it during a recent gathering there to honor those people who had helped bring the new Veteran's Memorial into being.
Walking to the event, I was first struck by the new ground-floor art gallery that's part of the building housing the new hotel. The gallery is very reminiscent in look and displays of hundreds of galleries in Manhattan, especially the Soho district.
My "I'll take Manhattan, the Bronx and State Island" senses now alerted, I walked into the Oxford and found myself smack dab in the middle of a very familiar and stunning boutique hotel. The lobby, from its lighting to its décor reek of chic.
One floor down where the Veteran's Memorial party was behind held is also home to the Below restaurant and lounge. A quick tour of the premises and I was fully transported back to Manhattan and couldn't resist the urge to order a double Stoli Gibson.
Now I know zip about the hotel business and even less what people want by way of lodging when they come to Bend on business or pleasure. What I do know is that the Oxford is something special and speaks very much to the now past "gold rush" era.
That noted, it's a very cool addition to downtown and a place all of us Big Apple lovers can direct our urbane friends to stay and can enjoy having a cocktail at from time to time.
And I suspect that having cocktails we won't get booted from the bar if the conversation gets a bit too lively.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Avy Alert: paying heed to avalanches

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2010 at 2:50 AM

The afternoon before starting my first long backcountry ski tour years ago in the mountains near Golden, British Columbia, I spent the entire afternoon with my fellow skiers and our guide playing find the buried avalanche transceiver. The exercise started with easy finds and worked its way up to more difficult locations involving extensive probing and digging.
Luckily, the lessons learned that afternoon didn’t have to be put into practice over the ensuing week of skiing nor would it in subsequent trips to many different ranges throughout British Columbia and Alberta.
There were times when the groups I skied with would have had to had we not backed away from skiing certain slopes and in one case, quit skiing for several days to let the snow pack settle.
Reminders of how lucky we’d been hit us with news that a heli-ski guide friend was killed in a huge avalanche set off by skiers he was guiding. They chose to disregard his admonition not to ski the slope and paid the price.
Another reminder of how lucky I’d been with avalanches came a couple of years later when a slope I’d skied several times in the mountains near Revelstoke, BC slid burying and killing several people.
The odd thing about this slide was that the slope was relatively low angled and had been judged benign on the day in question by one of British Columbia’s more cautious guides and most qualified avalanche experts.
Avalanches are rare around here because Cascade snow tends to be wetter and layers of it bond together well, but they do occur as in the tragic instance this past week at Paulina Peak.
I’ve skied the local backcountry for over thirty years and have to admit that I’ve been pretty cavalier about avalanche danger. Hey this is the Cascades and Cascade crud doesn’t slide.
But if I taxed my brain hard enough I’d recall the cone at Mt. Bachelor experiencing a huge slide after several days of heavy wet snow fell on ice.
I’ve also seen evidence of some pretty good slides on Tumalo Mountain, ones that ran from just below the cornice all the way to treelike.
Then there was the time three of us were skiing across the upper part of the face on Tumalo and set off a huge fracture line accompanied by a huge sloughing sound. We retreated gingerly.
Several weeks later, I got knocked over by a slough avalanche on Tumalo. It hit me about knee high and sent me cart wheeling for twenty feet.
That’s all I can remember in hundreds of forays into the backcountry. But it’s no reason to get cocky or to think that since we’re not in Utah or Colorado, or British Columbia where avalanches are daily occurrences, that we’re free of them here in the Cascades and environs.
Backcountry skiing and riding has become so much more popular and with popularity more people are skiing and riding more difficult lines. Lines that are often steep and avalanche prone.
That’s why magazines like Backcountry ( put an avalanche forecast website address in the sidebar that accompanies any story about a place to backcountry ski.
In their November 2009 issue, Backcountry offered a story entitled “Lost in Translation- interpreting an avalanche advisory”. This is a must read if you ski or ride off the groomers. The article gives the skier/ rider everything they need to know when consulting an avalanche advisory site and making a decision to go or not go.
Most of the avalanche advisory sites referenced in Backcountry’s places-to-ski stories have been in operation for years.
Now two local skiers (Trevor Miller and Jon Tapper) are setting up an avalanche forecast system for local skiers. A recent e-mail from the two backcountry skiers says it all: “we want to remind you that we have created a bulletin board for you to share snowpack observations.  It can be found through the website or directly at  Our community's information is only as good as the contributions of its members, so please join us in improving the Central Oregon snowpack knowledge base.”
This a great step forward and hopefully over time COAA (Central Oregon Avalanche Alert) will be the first thing backcountry skiers and riders check before headed out.
So, please do your part in helping this site grow with the latest information on snowpack conditions.
COAA is planning a fundraiser in the next few months that will include a showing of "A Fine Line", an avalanche education film from the Rocky Mountain Sherpas. You can contact them at for more information on their site and the fundraiser.

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