Long overdue: Wintersports heavy hitters join forces to promote avalanche safety - SNEWS

Long overdue: Wintersports heavy hitters join forces to promote avalanche safety

Project Zero undertakes multi-year, industry-wide effort to decrease avalanche fatalities in North America.
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Just as snowflakes bind together to form avalanches, a group of avalanche safety organizations and brands from the U.S. and Canada are coming together to increase safe backcountry travel.

Modeled after a Swedish traffic project called Vision Zero to decrease road fatalities, Project Zero is a new consortium of industry members and avalanche centers undertaking a multi-year, industry-wide effort to decrease avalanche fatalities in North America.

The collaborative industry effort is long overdue in many eyes, and looks to gain traction with some heavy hitters in the field, including the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education; the Canadian Avalanche Centre; the Colorado Avalanche Information Center; the National Ski Areas Association; the National Ski Patrol; the Northwest Avalanche Center; SnowSports Industries America; and the Utah Avalanche Center.

Outdoor brands such as Backcountry Access and GoPro are also lending support.

“Backcountry skiing is the fastest-growing segment of the industry, but there’s been an accompanying rise in fatalities,” said Bruce Edgerly, Project 0’s Snowsports Industries America representative and vice-president of sales for equipment maker Backcountry Access. “Everyone’s been putting out a different message regarding backcountry safety, and the idea is to get the whole industry together to make that message more consistent.”

The project is also designed to help spread safety awareness to consumers purchasing their backcountry gear on the Internet instead of at brick-and-mortar stores. “Seventy percent of all backcountry sales are made online and those consumers aren’t getting the safety message as well as they would from a retail purchase,” Edgerly said.

One of the partnership’s first initiatives is this month’s video contest "Know the Snow," which challenges skiers and snowboarders to make a four-minute video showing the proper preparation for riding beyond resort boundaries. Specialty outdoor and wintersports retailers are encouraged to get the word out of the contest to build awareness and support for the group. The contest runs from March 1 – 21, with the videos being posted on Vimeo.

“It’s designed to get skiers and riders to show how they properly prepare before hitting their favorite powder stash,” Edgerly said. “We want people to use their cameras to tell the story about how they get ready to safely explore beyond the resort boundary. It’s designed to get people thinking about what happens behind the scenes before someone skis a big line.”

Aside from entrants’ films becoming role models for backcountry riders, there’s plenty of incentive for aspiring freeriding filmmakers beyond spreading the message of how to play it safe. With the final winner determined by a combination of most views and an expert panel, prizes include: a two-day trip for two at Monashee Powder Snowcats; two four-day Gold Passes to any resort in the U.S.; a BCA Float 22 airbag; and a GoPro Hero3 camera. The winning videos will be announced in late March.

This month’s Phase 1 film project will continue through next season with editing help from Sherpas Cinema. A final highlight reel will be created with the best submissions to be broadcast at ski events and retailers in November 2014.

Plans are underway to roll out another safety campaign next season and set up a portal as a one-stop resource where everyone from consumers to retailers and manufacturers can visit for consistent avalanche safety information. “Once the message is refined, we plan reach out to other industry stakeholders for more support,” Edgerly said. “We want the message and supporting materials to be easily available to everyone in the industry.”

Twenty avalanche fatalities have been reported in the United States so far during the 2013-14 season. The worst recent seasons were in 2009-10 (36 deaths) and and 2011-12 (34 deaths), illustrating that the danger can come in good and bad snowfall years.

Friends of CAIC Launches Fundraising Effort
While the industry is joining forces for the Project 0 initiative, one of its members and a leading avalanche forecast center is upping its commitment to avalanche awareness and education. In March, the Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center launched a $150,000 fundraising campaign to expand CAIC’s avalanche forecasting and education programs throughout Colorado.

“Our avalanche center does an amazing job with what they have, but with everyone’s involvement we can help them expand,” said Friends of CAIC executive director Aaron Carlson. “We want everyone who heads into the backcountry to have the best information they can at their fingertips.”

The fundraising campaign will run until April 30, 2014, with Friends of CAIC offering prizes and other incentives to anyone donating $25 or more. While Carlson said the state of Colorado is very supportive of CAIC, a public-private partnership like this is the best way to expand the center’s offerings.

“More forecaster time in the field means more data and better forecasts,” said CAIC director Ethan Greene. “The expanded resources also mean more education opportunities for everyone.”

--Eugene Buchanan

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