Powder Blast raises money for avalanche center

By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BOZEMAN – Since its founding in 1992, the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center has donated more than $350,000 to southwest Montana’s avalanche forecasting center. On Oct. 24, the Powder Blast – the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year – returns to Bozeman’s Emerson Cultural Center.

The 16th annual event includes a silent auction, raffle, a catered dinner by Bountiful Table, draft beers from Big Sky’s Lone Peak Brewery, wine from Montana Ale Works and music by Holler N’ Pine. While it will resemble Powder Blasts from years past, the silent auction this year will include more items to bid on and a greater variety of big-ticket items like ski trips, according to GNFAC Director Doug Chabot.

“We have a formula that works,” said Chabot, who is beginning his 15th year as the GNFAC’s director.

Last year’s event raised nearly $30,000, money that played a crucial role for avalanche education in the region, according to Chabot. Last season the Friends and the GNFAC collectively taught 91 classes with 4,328 participants, and money raised at the Emerson will help expand that program.

“We’re going to be targeting high school [students] harder this year,” Chabot said. “We’re also working with Bridger [Bowl ski area] dealing with issues on sidecountry, through education programs, signage, and some avalanche beacon rescue workshops.”

The Powder Blast will also help fund the popular “Intro to Avalanches with Field Course” held at Montana State University and Bridger Bowl. The classes include two evening sessions at the university and a daylong field course at the ski area for $30, a price that wouldn’t be possible without the Friends’ support, according to Chabot.

The Gallatin National Forest provides 57 percent of the center’s operating budget and the Friends provides more than half of the remaining 43 percent. In addition to education, money raised by the Friends is spent on four weather stations in the region – which cost $5,000 a year to operate – as well as support for the GNFAC website. The funding also provides safety gear for the forecasters and covers the expenses to operate and maintain their snowmobiles all season.

Last winter was particularly challenging for the GNFAC, with heavy snowfall in the Northern Rockies and two persistent weak layers that formed in the snowpack – one at ground level during a December cold snap and another that formed in January. Throughout the advisory area – including the mountains around West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Bozeman and Cooke City – there were 80 avalanche incidents last season, with 33 people caught in slides, five full burials and two fatalities.

“We never had an extended period of low danger [last winter],” Chabot said. “We really had to be on our toes.”

The center plans to launch an iPhone app this season and the weather station pages on its website will have more charts and graphs, so its easier for people to read the data. With early snow events coating the high peaks of southwest Montana since August, the Powder Blast is a timely opportunity to celebrate the GNFAC’s coming season.

The 16th annual Powder Blast starts at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 in the Emerson’s Crawford Ballroom. Visit mtavalanche.com for tickets and more information.