Dear Missoula & Beyond,
While my involvement with Missoula Avalanche stretches back 14 or 15 years, in the coming months, I will be retiring after 13 years of official duties. This will be both a rewarding shift and a bittersweet farewell. Over the years, I’ve served as the board president, education director, board member, and on occasion, banker and janitor. Each of these roles has been rewarding and challenging in its own way. I’d like to share just a few anecdotes, highlights, and takeaways from what I’ve learned while taking this ride.
Back when Big Sky Brewing was generous enough to host the first “Burning Dog” fundraiser, I worked with Trinda Reick plus Kris and Bjorn Nabozney to create an event that serves as a unique funding mechanism in the world of avalanche centers. No other avalanche center has a fundraiser quite like this event. This singularity lies not just in longevity, but also in the fact that it draws so many supporters and winter recreationists together for a one night shot in the arm to help fund an avalanche center. This fundraiser (now 15 years old and called the “Pray for Snow Party”) has been a constant that’s kept forecasts going up on Missoulaavalanche.org, and the forecasters paid for their valuable skills. I am eternally grateful for the community coming together and making these events successful. While organizing fundraisers can seem like just throwing a party to the uninitiated, these two anecdotes might color it otherwise. In the first or second year of this event, we made the burning “Dog” entirely… too… big….
Burn, Baby Burn
This mistake quickly brought out the county fire department, and they threatened to shut down the whole fundraiser immediately. The story of how it all got smoothed over is lost to sands of time & memory, but suffice to say the event continued along that night and was eventually deemed a success.
During the first concerts held at Big Sky, and at the Burning Dog fundraisers, non-profits who were the beneficiaries of the events were required to clean the grounds the day after. This meant every cigarette butt, and every scrap of trash had to be picked up off the Big Sky “back forty.” Eventually, the non-profits learned that the best way to do this was by hiring a crew of day laborers from a local outfit. These crews were often sprinkled with parolee’s or the semi-employable and couldn’t be left to their own devices without at least one foreman. I was “lucky” enough to be that person for at least a few (if not all) of those events. I want to say that Bjorn Nabozney, one of the co-founders and owners of Big Sky Brewing Company, came out and helped more than once, and seeing that reinforced a good lesson. I believe to this day it is true that “You can’t expect others to do something well… that you are not willing to do at all.”
A Dirtbag Cooks For Funhogs
Over the last 13 years, I’ve been able to work with almost two dozen inspiring volunteer board members and forecasters that have kept this organization afloat. The organization has grown from two forecasters to four, from one forecast day a week to three, and from 6 advanced courses a season to 16. All this happened while Missoula Avalanche has continued to punch far above its weight in the quality and availability of free avalanche education in the schools and in the community at large. Much of this would not have been possible without bringing on Patrick Black, who has done a fantastic job as Missoula Avalanche’s first Executive Director. The annual budget for the Avalanche Center back in the days of the original Burning Dog fundraisers was around 60k. Now with the growth of operations, the yearly budget hovers at about 150k. This budget makes us by far the leanest and meanest for an avalanche center of our size and forecast area. I am proud that all public support has always gone directly to funding an avalanche forecast, or getting someone who wants to know the basics of how to not get killed in an avalanche educated for free.
The critical thing to know about Missoula Avalanche is that out of the 14 United States Forest Service affiliated Avalanche Centers in the United States, Missoula Avalanche is the only one where the salaries of all the avalanche forecasters are paid for by the supporting non-profit. https://avalanche.org/us-avalanche-centers/ Every other USFS affiliated Avalanche Center has at least one staff member who is a forest service employee, and the majority of centers are staffed entirely by USFS employees. This was never by design, or remotely a goal, but it is how the situation has shaken out. This is at the crux of why we need the community’s support. I have been proud to do my part and more to help keep people from getting killed in avalanches in Western Montana. I’d like to ask you to support this organization so that it can continue to perform its valuable public safety function. This is one time to not be afraid to go entirely…too… big…
The clinically photo-shy author at “Pray for Snow 20?? “