Helping Hands: Behind the CAIC Bash |

Helping Hands: Behind the CAIC Bash


Three years ago, avid backcountry skiers Aaron Carlson and Joe Vandal heard the avalanche jam in Boulder had been canceled due to a permit issue.

The event would have raised $25,000 for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and Carlson and Vandal thought something needed to be done.

Vandal worked as a bartender at Kenosha Steakhouse in Breck, and the duo convinced the owners to let them host an event to benefit CAIC at the restaurant. Not long after, Carlson received a phone call from the Town of Breckenridge offering the Riverwalk Center as a host location.

“We went with it, but we were pretty nervous because we had no idea how many people were going to show up,” Carlson said.

Despite just six weeks of preparation, the event drew a whopping 700 people in its inaugural year and raised $26,000 for CAIC. The organization immediately recognized the importance of Carlson and Vandal’s contribution. Carlson was named executive director of the recently formed Friends of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and Vandal was named the director of development. The positions are unpaid, but that was not of concern to the pair.

“It’s something we’re really passionate about, and that makes it an easy job,” Carlson said.

The following year, Carlson and Vandal brought the event back to Breckenridge, and this time they netted $39,000 for CAIC.

“If you look at it for us, $30,000 pays for one forecaster for the season, so it’s a significant source of funding,” said CAIC director Ethan Green.

The CAIC is a cash-funded program of the Colorado Geological Survey that aims to minimize the economic and human impact of snow avalanches. According to the CAIC, since 1950, avalanches have been responsible for more deaths in Colorado than any other natural hazard, and more than one-third of avalanche deaths in the United States occur in Colorado.

In addition to providing the CAIC funding, the Friends of the CAIC also support avalanche education. Carlson said he and Vandal were looking into hosting educational sessions through the nonprofit, as well.

The third installment of the Benefit Bash will take place Saturday from 5-10 p.m. at the Riverwalk Center in Breck. Carlson and Vandal hope to net $50,000 from this year’s event.

The event will feature the live band Zen Mustache (see Friday’s Scene for more on the band), a massive silent auction including a heliguide school spot in Alaska, catered food and plenty of beer.

“All you have to know about the event is two words: New Belgium,” said Green.

From its humble roots, the bash now has over 80 sponsors who provide everything from beer to food to the products for the silent auction.

“I’ve never thought of myself as a salesperson, but when it’s something you really believe in, pitching the CAIC Benefit Bash comes naturally,” said Carlson.

A $25 donation at the door provides a door prize ticket, two beer tickets and dinner. Plus, Carlson and Vandal toss out free swag on-stage during the band’s performance.

“It’s a thrill,” Carlson said. “It’s not just a fundraiser, it’s really one of the best mountain events of the year.”

As Carlson and Vandal had virtually no event-planning experience coming in, they’ve relied heavily on the assistance of volunteers to coordinate the event.

“Jen Cowley of Hearthstone has been a tremendous help,” Carlson said. “Even though Hearthstone doesn’t cater any more, she’s still helps us out.”

With the event just days away, Friends of CAIC is not in need of any more volunteers for this year, but Carlson said more help would be welcome for 2011’s bash or other roles with the Friends of CAIC.

The nonprofit has approximately 40 volunteers, many of whom have been helping since the event’s inception.

“It makes it easier to have lots of the same people back year-to-year,” Carlson said. “We basically said, ‘Everything went good last year, let’s do it again.'”

The Friends of the CAIC collects donations online for CAIC and also writes grants to gain funding.

SDN reporter Drew Andersen can be

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