By TERRI HARBER
The Elkhorn Mountains near the Anthony Lakes area have potential for avalanches during the winter months. (Baker City Herald/Jayson Jacoby)
Area experts will host seminars about avalanches next month around the region with a focus on snow safety and safe travel techniques through snow.
Chris Galiszewski, Baker County Search and Rescue coordinator, is one of those experts.
“We need to get more people educated about avalanches,” he said.
His interest in this type of safety increased when the county became involved with the Anthony Lakes Ski Area. He also helped establish a weather station there. And, he pointed out, there are many winter events in this section of the state that attract people into the backcountry.
Galiszewski provided a brief explanation about fallen snow.
The snow builds up in layers that vary in structure and stability because some will be icy and others powdery or slushy depending on conditions. Terrain also is significant because some slopes are more avalanche-prone than others.
There are many other conditions that play a part and these will be discussed during the seminars, he said.
No matter whether people prefer motorized or on-foot styles of winter recreation, they still can greatly benefit from attending one of these events. And those interested in helping others by learning about this aspect of search and rescue training especially are welcome, organizers say.
The seminar in Baker City will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Baker County Community Event Center, 2600 East St.
There also will be a session from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 15 at the Anthony Lakes main lodge.
The Anthony Lakes event is expected to focus more on the needs of those recreating in the backcountry instead of on what emergency workers need to know.
Offerings likely will depend on what those attending want to learn, however.
The Wallowa Avalanche Center is sponsoring these events. This nonprofit organization helps people across the region learn how to stay safe during winter in the backcountry and is partnered with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
“It’s important to become educated about the backcountry if you’re going to be in it,” said Keith Stebbings, director of the center.
Baker County doesn’t have a winter-oriented search and rescue group, but he and others would like to see other area teams with cold-weather emphasis established. Stebbings, a Joseph resident, is a member of the Wallowa County rescue group.
There are a number of snowmobile clubs around Eastern and Northeastern Oregon. These snow enthusiasts could learn some important information and are being targeted by the center this season, he said.
This is because lighter and more powerful snowmobiles with better traction allow drivers to reach locations not accessible a decade ago. As a result, the number of avalanche fatalities among snowmobilers is expected to “exponentially increase nationwide,” Stebbings said.
Other avalanche seminars are being planned for Halfway and Sumpter.
Separate field trips also might be added — depending on the weather and the need — to help people advance their knowledge by experience. One field trip is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14 in Joseph.
An additional certification course for rescuers also is expected to be scheduled soon, Stebbings added.
Letting the center know what you expect to be doing in the snow will help planners know what type of information to present. The backcountry experience can be different for someone on skis than it is for someone traveling in a vehicle, say Galiszewski and Stebbings.
The seminars are free. For details about the center, go to this site: www.wallowaavalanchecenter.org.
“It’s also important to use available resources,” such as weather and other information about conditions, Stebbings said.
The website contains information about conditions around the region, a blog and a variety of links to other related sources.