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November 8, 2012
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Friends of CAIC Benefit Bash Saturday in Breckenridge

You can pray for snow. You can dance for it or simply wish for it, but none of that is guaranteed to help. You're much better off attending the Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center Fifth Annual Benefit Bash in Breckenridge this Saturday.

Friends of the CAIC is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization that supports the avalanche center through various grants, donations and fundraising events. The CAIC serves an important function in Colorado, where snow sports are a part of everyday life, in addition to being vital aspects of community economics and culture. Through its dedicated staff of forecasters and its educational and awareness programs, the CAIC works to reduce the impact of snow avalanches on recreation, tourism and commerce industries throughout the state.

The CAIC receives part of its funding from the Colorado Geological Survey, which comes from the state. The rest of its funding it need to raise itself, in addition to its educational and forecasting duties.

Despite their beauty, Colorado's mountains hold potential dangers to recreationists, particularly in the form of avalanches. About six people die per year in Colorado avalanches (based on a 10-year average), and in the past few years at least eight have died, said Ethan Greene, director of the CAIC. Avalanches cause more casualties on an annual basis than any other natural hazard in Colorado.

The CAIC offers a variety of resources for backcountry recreationists and emphasizes that prevention is an important aspect of reducing casualties. This includes updates on weather and snowpack conditions and classes on what to do in an emergency.

Former Breckenridge residents Aaron Carlson and Joe Vandal are good friends, fellow Minnesotans, and avid backcountry skiers. In 2008, alerted to the financial struggles of the CAIC due to budget cuts, they decided they wanted to help.

"We just started talking," Carlson remembered. "We said, 'why don't we just throw a party and see what happens?'"

Carlson and Vandal reached out into the community, talking to people and raising interest. A friend, Jen Cawley, jumped on board and helped organize the food and catering. The town of Breckenridge contacted the duo, offering a venue and support. The event was a success, with 700 people in attendance and raised $26,000.

"It was wild," Carlson said. "It was totally mind-blowing standing up on stage and watching all these people just pour through the doors."

With its first successful event in the bag, the Friends of the CAIC was on its way.

Throughout the next few years, the organization gained momentum, as well as recognition, in its efforts to raise money in support of the avalanche center.

"The Friends provide an incredible service for us," said Greene. "They help promote avalanche safety and help the staff at the center stay focused on avalanche forecast."

Locals and professionals alike have jumped on the bandwagon for the cause, which hits those of us living in snow communities close to home.

"It's just a great way to kick off the winter season for backcountry riders, skiers, snowboarders, etc.," said Scott Toepfer, an instructor and forecaster with the CAIC, as well as a Summit County local. "It's a lot of work but it's also a lot of fun, but it's also very rewarding, for all of us. Aaron and Joe both really stepped up to the plate."

The benefit this year has an impressive handful of sponsors, ranging from snow sports equipment retailers to breweries to local restaurants. Tickets cost $30 online ahead of time or $35 at the door. The event isn't skier exclusive, nor does it matter if you're a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between. The idea is to have a good time while raising money for a good cause.

Both a silent and a live auction will be going on, with a variety of items to bid on. Door prizes will be handed out, and there will be plenty of beer and food to go around. Musical entertainment comes in the form of a Denver-based band called James and the Devil. Each ticket includes one door prize ticket, two beer tickets, food and more.

Last year, the benefit raised just over $70,000. This year, Carlson wants to reach the $90,000 mark for total funds raised. And they might just do it.

In addition to providing a good time and money to a worthy cause, there's talk also that the benefit bash provides something else - snow.

"The night of the event almost always guarantees a snow storm," Toepfer said. "Every year, so far, we've had a blizzard come in."

Sure enough, the weather forecast for this year looks to be following the pattern. As Toepfer said, "Here comes the bash; here comes winter!"


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 8, 2012 06:31PM Published Nov 8, 2012 12:02AM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.