Editorial: Avalanche tragedyto the north hits close to home

February 22, 2012

We are connected by our mountains. The Cascades of Washington and Oregon are a geological backbone joining the two states. They are vital to our water supplies, ecosystems and local economies, as well as to the recreational opportunities enjoyed by so many Pacific Northwesterners.

So when an avalanche causes deaths virtually next door, it is a sobering reminder of the power of the mountain. The deaths Sunday at Stevens Pass, Wash., are felt most deeply by family members but also by the thousands of members of the greater Northwest skiing community.

"Today was a very sad day in the Washington Cascades, as we lost three skiers and a snowboarder in two separate avalanche accidents. We are all mourning the loss of friends and fellow backcountry enthusiasts," said Benj Wadsworth, executive director of Friends of the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, in a statement issued Monday.

"It's an absolute horror story," Powder Magazine Editor John Stifter told the Portland Oregonian after witnessing the avalanche.

Avalanche accidents are avoidable, noted Wadsworth. The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center publishes a daily avalanche forecast at www.nwac.us that rates the avalanche hazard on a five level scale from low to extreme.

Anyone recreating in the mountains in the winter should check the avalanche forecast before leaving home and make decisions accordingly.

Beyond checking the avalanche forecast, people recreating in the mountains should take a basic avalanche awareness class. A schedule of upcoming classes is posted in the calendar section of www.nwac.us.

Locally, information on avalanche awareness is available at an informative kiosk at Dog River Coffee on Oak Street in Hood River, where Northwest Avalanche Center and the Forest Service recently hosted an avalanche awareness session. It's a good place to start.

Meanwhile, local school kids are getting an annual education on winter survival skills (page A5) in the annual Adventure Day at Meadows.

It's helpful for all of us to be as familiar as possible with the deadly potentials of the beautiful Mount Hood and other winter areas. Changes in winter weather, with fluctuations in temperature and precipitation creating literal layers of varying and volatile type of snow and ice present a somewhat ominous reality for anyone venturing onto trails and slopes in this region.

As Wadsworth put it, "An understanding of the avalanche hazard and careful route finding are imperative to staying alive in the mountains in the winter."

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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