Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center – a conversation with Executive Director Dawn Bird

Q: What is the Friends of the Sawtooth Avalanche Center (FSAC)?

A: The Friends is closely associated with the Sawtooth Avalanche Center (SAC), but is a separate non-profit entity that supports SAC financially through fundraising and public education initiatives. Here at the Friends, our mission is to support and promote life-saving avalanche safety information, education, and outreach throughout central Idaho. The Friends is an essential component of the SAC’s success. The SAC cannot solicit funds on their own behalf – yet needs additional funding to cover 50% of the annual operating budget. The Friends was originally established to help cover that gap, and has consistently raised funding through individual and business donations, and events.

Q: What does the funding go towards?

A: All the money that the Friends raise goes directly toward operating the Sawtooth Avalanche Center. Funds go toward avalanche forecaster salaries first and foremost. In addition, the funds help to cover: weather station maintenance, securing snowmobiles, fuel and insurance, website/IT maintenance and more. We pride ourselves on keeping our overhead at a minimum, operating with a staff of three part-time employees. We are able to accomplish as much as we do thanks to our nine very active volunteer board members who do a lot of hands-on work year-round to move our mission forward. We are, for the most part, a volunteer-led organization. 

Q: Who are your current Board Members?

A: Our current board members are Ryan Guess, Travis Vandenburgh, Steve Butler, Erin Zell, Megan Stevenson, Frank Gould, Olin Glenne, Louise Stumph, and Chase Gouley. These individuals are critical to the success of the Friends – they each bring their own perspective and experience that helps direct the Friends and work towards our mission of supporting the SAC and providing public avalanche education. 

Q: What kind of public education do the Friends offer?

A: We offer free and low-cost avalanche classes throughout south-central Idaho. All our classes are open to the public and provide up-to-date information on avalanche safety and best practices. One of our most popular courses Introduction to Avalanche, offered on December 8th. Although this Introduction does not replace a full Level 1 Avalanche course, it is a great place to start if you are brand new to the backcountry or are looking for a refresher. This year, we are offering both an in-person and virtual option for the classroom portion of the course. Students will learn from a team of snow experts, guides, and experienced avalanche educators. We will dive into fundamental concepts about snow and snowpack, how to travel safely in and near avalanche terrain, and discuss what avalanches are. Attending the classroom portion of the course enables participation in the hands-on Field Day. During the Field Day, students will spend the day outside, learning how to evaluate the snow and snowpack, identify avalanche terrain, and avalanche rescue basics. 

Q: Who do the Friends provide education for?

A: We offer courses for all backcountry users – snowmobilers, skiers, experienced backcountry travelers, first-timers and everyone in between. We have especially expanded our motorized educational courses over the past few years. The data has shown that motorized users are getting into trouble with avalanches at a higher rate than other backcountry travelers. Motorized machines allow access to places otherwise too remote, exposing users to more potential avalanche danger. It is important that these backcountry users know we are a resource for them, and that they can use all the different tools that we have to offer. We have partnered with two local snowmobile clubs to expand our reach in the motorized community and look forward to engaging with them throughout this season and beyond.

Q: How can the public be involved with FSAC?

A: You can check out our website or follow us on social media @sawtoothavy to find upcoming events or sign up for education classes:. You can also donate to help fund the Sawtooth Avalanche Center at our website. Your donation makes our work and the work of the forecasting team at the Sawtooth Avalanche Center possible.