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November 5, 2013
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Breckenridge hosts Colorado Avalanche Information Center benefit bash

When best friends and avid backcountry skiers Aaron Carlson and Joe Vandal organized the first Benefit Bash for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in 2008, they weren’t sure if it would take off or how many more they might be able to host.

Now, six years in, the event has become more successful than the duo had hoped and continues to grow.

Carlson and Vandal are behind the organization Friends of the CAIC, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports the avalanche center through grants, donations and fundraising events.

“It’s probably the coolest event we do,” Carlson said of the Benefit Bash. “It’s definitely my favorite.”

A vital service

The CAIC serves a variety of important functions, including weather and avalanche forecasting as well as public education. Those recreating in the backcountry, in particular, take advantage of continual CAIC reports on weather and snowpack conditions.

Avalanches are a serious consideration in snowy areas such as the Rocky Mountains. According to the CAIC website, avalanches kill six people on average each year in Colorado. Over the past 10 years, an average of 60 people have been caught in avalanches in the state.

“If you’re heading out into the backcountry, certainly it’s a good idea to take a look at our forecasts before you head out in the morning,” said John Snook, an avalanche forecaster with CAIC.

CAIC’s avalanche forecasting began in 1973 and is currently the oldest public avalanche forecast service in the nation. The organization receives part of its funding from the Colorado Geological Survey, which comes from the state. It must raise the rest of the money itself. That’s where Friends of the CAIC comes in.

“This is definitely (CAIC’s) largest fundraiser of the year,” Snook said. “It’s pretty humbling to see that many folks come out and really support the program.”

A big bash

The Benefit Bash is held every year at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Carlson praised the center, the town of Breckenridge and local businesses, especially restaurants, that have supported and donated to the cause.

Each year, he added, the event has garnered more sponsors. This year’s five presenting sponsors are Voile, Backcountry Access, Vail Resorts, New Belgium Brewing and Weston Snowboards. The first three have been sponsors since the beginning.

“That’s exciting. It’s awesome to get all those different brands behind it,” Carlson said.

In its first year, the Benefit Bash raised $25,000. Last year, fundraising passed the $80,000 mark. This year, Carlson hopes they can reach $100,000.

“My goal has always been $100,000,” he said. “Whether or not we’ll hit that is always questionable, but it’s something I have always been shooting for.”

Attendance has steadily risen from year to year as well. Last year the event was at capacity with 1,200 attendees, and Carlson is sure that this year will be the same. For this reason, he urges people not to wait to get their tickets.

“We will sell out, it’s just a matter of what day this week that that happens,” he said.

Those who do nab a ticket in time will get to partake in a dinner, live and silent auctions, live music, dancing and a generally festive atmosphere.

For the auctions, “we’ve got everything from skis and split boards to a full day of heli-skiing in Alaska and everything between,” Carlson said. “(There are) backcountry packages, avy courses, clothing — it’s insane how much stuff we have. People are super-generous to the cause, which is awesome.”

Anyone is welcome to attend the event; being a skier or backcountry enthusiast is not required, though there will certainly be plenty of both in attendance.

“It’s a good time,” said Snook, who has gone in years past and plans on coming this year as well. “There’s really good swag, good silent auction, food and beer and band, and it’s a good time.”

“It’s a super-fun event,” Carlson agreed. “The vibe is really positive. People are there to see friends and support a cause that everyone believes in. You’ll run into people who don’t even ski in the backcountry but they appreciate what the avalanche center does.”

In addition to raising money and having fun, the benefit bash is also known for its weather-creating abilities. The trend has been that each bash pulls in a snowstorm.

“It’s kind of funny at this point. Every year we seem to get a good bout of snow the night of,” Carlson said.

As an avid skier, of course, he doesn’t mind.

“I always love it when it snows,” he said.

“It’s probably the coolest event we do,” Carlson said of the Benefit Bash. “It’s definitely my favorite.”


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 7, 2013 08:56AM Published Nov 11, 2013 09:21AM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.