The magazine for Western Washington University
Stories

Website maps a picture of avalanche risks

Print this story
The new site depicts the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center’s daily regional avalanche forecast on a map of Washington state and the Mount Hood area of Oregon. It’s an easier-to-read format that will help back-country travelers assess avalanche risks. | Photo by
Rikk Dunn, an Outdoor Recreation major from Everett and head trip leader for the Associated Students Outdoor Center, checks out the terrain on Sahale Peak last summer in the Boston Basin area of North Cascades National Park. Dunn was a student in an alpine mountaineering class with the American Alpine Institute. | Photo by Photo by Stephen Gately, courtesy of Rikk Dunn

Avalanche map online

Check it out: www.wwu.edu/huxley/spatial/maps/nwac

A new website maps out local avalanche dangers for those heading into the mountain backcountry, thanks to a joint effort by Huxley College of the Environment and the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.

The new site depicts the NWAC’s daily regional avalanche forecast on a map of Washington state and the Mount Hood area of Oregon. It’s an easier-to-read format that will help backcountry travelers assess avalanche risks.

Michael Medler, who directs the Institute for Spatial Information and Analysis, began working on avalanche-hazard visualization projects in 2004 after one Western student died and several more were buried overnight by an avalanche near Mount Baker.

“After that, I began working with my Geographic Information Systems students to develop maps that would help people understand the avalanche hazards in our local mountains,” Medler says. “Each year several students would really latch on to the avalanche projects because the issue had so much meaning for them.”

Users can zoom in to see the regional forecast for mountain ranges, but the system isn’t meant to provide slope-specific avalanche risks. It’s still up to back country travelers themselves – and their own skills and experience – to determine the risks on individual slopes, Medler says.