The Sierra Avalanche Center is not a typical government service. Every day paid Forest Service forecasters grab their gear and go skiing.
In order to fund themselves the Forest Service Sierra Avalanche Center seeks donations and holds events.
Friday started as a perfect winter day. About a foot of new snow fell overnight. In the morning the sky cleared. Then by the end of the day the Sierra Avalanche Center had received many avalanche reports. Some happened naturally but many were caused by skiers and snowboarders.
In the morning the Sierra Avalanche Center posted its forecast. The center stated the obvious - that storm slabs in the new snow were a big concern. They rated the avalanche danger as “considerable,” meaning that skiers and snowboarders were likely to trigger avalanches.
The Sierra Avalanche Center works to prevent accidents by issuing daily forecasts. The U.S. Forest Service hires three full-time avalanche forecasters who backcountry ski and then write reports. The Sierra Avalanche Center fundraises on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service to cover much of the payroll and related expenses. There are also three part-time paid observers who go skiing to check on conditions.
Two people were caught in Tahoe avalanches in the backcountry over the weekend, on Saturday December 26. One was a skier and the other a snowmobiler. Both escaped serious injuries.
The avalanches took place on steep slopes of 40 degrees or more. Officials are advising users to choose slopes that are 30 degrees or less.
“Whumpfing, shooting cracks, recent avalanches, and unstable snow pit test results are all indications of unstable snow in the area. Do not underestimate potential avalanche size, potential run out distance, or the hazard from connected terrain above or to the side. Think bigger avalanche than expected.”