January 20, 2022 — There’s about a foot of fresh snow in the Adirondacks right now after this week’s storm. Skiers hit slopes like Whiteface and Gore, but they also go off-road in the backcountry and that comes with some risk.
Avalanches do occur in the Adirondacks, but there is no avalanche reporting center or forecaster for the park. So two skiers hope to collect this data through a new website.
A few weeks ago, Caitlin Kelly took an avalanche safety course in the Adirondacks. Kelly works in search and rescue, is a volunteer ski patroller at Whiteface, and loves backcountry skiing. The avalanche safety course focused on the rescue of companions.
She was chatting with the course instructor, who was from Vermont, when he asked Kelly if there were any websites in the Adirondacks that had reports of snow accumulation or avalanches.
“I kind of laughed at him and said, ‘Yeah, there’s nothing here. It’s like the Wild West,’ which felt like the wrong answer,” Kelly explains.
And a little ironic, because out west there are plenty of avalanche information centers and websites, like the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The steep, open slopes of the Sierras and Rocky Mountains are prone to avalanches. They’re not as common in the Adirondaks, but avalanches do happen here, so Kelly texted her friend and ski buddy Nate Trachte.
“Like, ‘have you thought about that?’ “Oh yeah, I thought about it ‘and left it at that,'” Kelly said.
Trachte is originally from Lake Placid and now works in environmental education. Like Kelly, he loves to ski the Adirondacks backcountry and trains for avalanches. When Trachte goes skiing, he relies on his training for safety and word of mouth for snow and avalanche conditions.
“That would mean picking up the phone and calling a friend of mine who went out yesterday,” Trachte explains, “or talking to someone in my DMs on Instagram who I saw skiing something yesterday, which isn’t great. , that’s not ideal.”
So Trachte and Kelly started thinking. They thought, without an official avalanche center, why not collect the data? Within a day of texting and without even coordinating, Kelly had set up a Google Form and Trachte had created a website.
Trachte is very clear that neither he nor Kelly are professional forecasters, they just want to be better informed when heading into the mountains.
“And that’s part of the reason why we put this in place the way we did in that it draws on the strength of the whole backcountry community to submit submissions and it’s really the only way to go.”
The website is ADKavy.org – avy is short for avalanche. Type it in and you’ll land on a pretty basic website. From here you can read the latest avalanche sightings or submit your own.
“Even if it’s as simple as, ‘I was outside today and the wind was blowing really hard from the west.’ It’s a data point,” says Trachte, “it’s an observation that people who enter avalanche terrain can use.”
The first sightings arrived earlier this week. One person said the snow on Mount Jo near the Adirondack Loj seemed choppy. Another person said they saw signs of a recent avalanche along Monument Slide, a long, steep rock face on Kilburn Mountain near Whiteface.
People also submitted photos, showing cracks in the snow and other visible signs of avalanche danger. It’s unclear if any of those submissions are from people with avalanche training or expertise, which Kelly says means everything should be taken with a grain of salt.
“We can’t vouch for everyone who logs sightings,” Kelly says, “but that’s just another tool, just whatever you would use before planning a backcountry trip.”
Data shows that more and more people are heading to the backcountry to ski. Kelly says she wants this website to reflect that and help everyone in the backcountry community feel safer and more prepared when they go skiing in the Adirondacks.