2014-15 Season Summary

AAC 2014-15 Season Summary

As I write the Anchorage Avalanche Center end of season summary on April 28, 2015 it’s another sad reminder of how “bad” this winter was to report that Anchorage is 49” below the average 74.1” normal for seasonal snowfall; we’ve only had 25.1” of snow this season. Last year (2013-14) we had 64.7” at this time: a mere 9.4” below normal; we complained all season and in the spring thought “at least it can’t get any worse than this” as we snow-lovers consoled ourselves and looked forward to this season (2014-15) with hope.

There’s been warning from climate scientists that while this season may not be the new norm, it may be a trend. Nevertheless, it feels better to hope that it was just a bad season or that we’re in a bad cycle. Maybe the epic winter of 2011-2012 just blew our calibration…

All said, the lack of snow this season made for difficult backcountry travel conditions in the mountains of Chugach State Park local to Anchorage: not enough snow to ski but too much to hike.  But, our advisories for the early part of the season were more focused on hiking and climbing than skiing and riding. We never really had a snowpack below ~2500′ (remember our base is at sea level), and I have a hard time calling what snow we had above that a “snowpack”; it was really just a mess of impressive facets sandwiched between thin rain and melt- freeze crusts. In an effort to not sound so depressing to readers I thought I’d mentioned that some of the gullies, couloirs, and upper elevation slopes did get blown in and consolidated enough and we had a few good days, but I’m mentioning a few good days in a season when I’m used to a few good days a week (I’m not a snow snob, just need enough to actually ski).

Let me get down to the business of avalanche center stuff, though. Operations were hindered due to lack of snow and difficult backcountry travel conditions; we only provided advisories for 22 days this season (compared to 58 last season) and only 28 days worth of observations (compared to 48 last season). We made our best efforts to provide updates and information on conditions as warranted by increasing or elevated avalanche danger, given how difficult data collection was. It’s worth mentioning that the Anchorage Avalanche Center remains a completely volunteer effort, and I’m impressed we were able to stay as motivated as we were considering the dismal winter.

On the bright side, the Anchorage Avalanche Center hosted it’s first fundraising events in the fall and early winter. Both (free film nights with silent auctions) were a tremendous success thanks to turnout from the general public, Seb Montaz (Downside Up) and the boys at Whiteroom Productions (Trial & Error) letting us show their films for free, a donated venue, and thousands of dollars worth of product donations from sponsors: Voile, Black Diamond, CAMP USA, Patagonia, BCA, and Gu. We also had a successful day of free avalanche education for the public with our friends at Arctic Valley Ski Area, provided by a grant from the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Here’s to a snowier 2015-16 winter (for the Rockies west)!

2014-15 stats:

  • AAC published 22 forecasts and 28 observations from December 2014 through April 2015
  • Website visits: 911,242 (total) with an an average of 399 unique visitors/day during seasonal operations
  • 255 individuals served directly through education programs
  • Five events
  • No accidents reported
  • One close call reported

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