The Sierra Avalanche Center (SAC) is not a typical public service found in just any town. Although the Forest Service does have many such centers throughout the western US.

Nearly every day of the winter paid public forecasters grab their gear and head to the mountains for a day of skiing.

Sierra Avalanche Center Board of Directors President James Brown was once buried by an avalanche himself while ski touring in Canada. The snowpack conditions there are much different and more complex than in the Sierra.

A couple of forest service employees established SAC in 2004. Brandon Schwartz now works as the lead forecaster as a Forest Service employee.

The priority and purpose of SAC is to produce the avalanche forecast every winter morning, which includes two basic components. The avalanche danger — low, moderate, considerable, high, or extreme — and then what avalanche problem or problems backcountry users are likely to encounter that day.

The forecasters’ jobs are to assess avalanche hazards by traveling through the snow-covered backcountry.

Brown stated that SAC has come a long way since its first inception, when those who wanted the forecast would have to call a number. These days, backcountry users can get a quick glimpse of the forecast by following SAC on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, or by visiting their website to view the full and in-depth avalanche forecast.

“The avalanche community in general has come a really long way from making avalanche decisions based on colloquialisms …” Brown said. “… people used to say, as long as you don’t ski 24 hours after a storm, you’re OK. There is a certain grain of truth to that, especially in the Sierra, but that’s obviously not a good decision-making tool.”

In order to fund themselves the Forest Service Sierra Avalanche Center holds regular events and seeks donations.

Those interesting in supporting the US Forest Service avalanche center can donate, or attend events held in support of the avalanche center, such as a clinic being held 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 17 at Palisades Tahoe. The event will host influential skiers and snowboarders in the community — such as Michelle Parker, Jeremy Jones, and Elyse Saugstad — who will be speaking about avalanche safety. Donations will be accepted.

December 8, 2021

A Forest Service forecaster takes a break from a day of skiing to examine the snow.
A Forest Service forecaster takes a break from a day of skiing to examine the snow.

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