Head On A Swivel – Snowmobile Avalanche Awareness

Mike Bartholow | | AvalancheAvalanche

On Tuesday, February 2, 2021, The Friends of Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center held its 4th virtual Forecaster Chat of the 2020-2021 winter. Hosted by Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center (CNFAIC) forecaster Graham Predeger, this chat, “Head On A Swivel,” was designed with snowmobilers and sled skiers in mind.  It is a great resource for anyone heading out into the backcountry on a snow machine.  I had the pleasure of working with Graham at the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area, CO about 15 years ago, and at the time, we felt like the sled skiing we were doing was just the start of things to come.  Graham has since moved on to a job on the Chugach NF and was one of the primary forecasters for the CNFAIC for the first five years.  Graham is still active in education and outreach with the CNFAIC and acts as a sled ambassador, as well as teaching Motorized Level 1 courses with the Alaska Avalanche School.

Snowmobile skier and boarder enjoying a bluebird day | Credit: BCA Facebook

When discussing Vail Pass recently, Graham told me that “we were definitely on the cutting edge of the hybrid ski/snowmobile scene”. The use of snowmobiles to access backcountry terrain for skiing has exploded over the last few years, with companies like Backcountry Access developing products specifically for snowmobilers and sled skiers.  Graham remembers days out at Vail Pass with Bruce Edgerly and BCA staff discussing the future of the sport and product development ideas. Graham goes on to say:

“What I feel like a few of us recognized early on (mid -2000’s) was the incredible tool that snowmachines are for skiers to access far reaching terrain in new zones.  Perhaps a few years later (CAIC even later), avalanche forecasters and forecast centers recognized the value added to programs using snowmachines as a forecasting tool.  This was an inevitable development for Avalanche Centers as the user groups accessing the backcountry, using forecasting products, taking classes, and getting caught in avalanches began shifting more toward motorized and hybrid users.”

– Graham Predeger

Motorized avalanche course | Credit: BCA Facebook

According to Graham, on any given day, at least half of the users at the Turnagain Pass motorized access parking lots are going out with skis or snowboards. Use on the Chugach NF has exploded, and the local dealerships, avalanche schools, and forecast centers have noticed. Snowmobile accessed skiing is not only a great way to get out in the backcountry, but it’s also good for business.

Graham Predeger on the cover of The Avalanche Review | Credit: CNFAIC Facebook

Friends of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center (CNFAIC) is dedicated to enhancing avalanche awareness in Southcentral Alaska through information, outreach, and partnerships. We work to bridge the gap between limited federal funding and the actual expenses of operating the CNFAIC. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Friends of the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Info Center is the official cost-share partner of the CNFAIC – U.S. Forest Service Glacier Ranger District in Girdwood, Alaska. Support from our members, sponsors, and partners bridges the gap between limited federal funding and the actual costs of operating the avalanche forecast center.

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