Avalanche Forecaster

Dec 1, 1999
Outside Magazine

The Work: From early November to late May, these snow lords—80 nationwide, employed by the Forest Service, state highway commissions, and ski resorts—wake before dawn and brave the steeps on snowmobiles, skis, or foot in search of suspect conditions. Back in the office, they analyze reams of fresh data on temperature, wind conditions, and crystal formations and then issue public warnings. 

Time Outside: 50-90 percent. "Predicting avalanches is a real art," says Bruce Tremper, 46, director of the Utah Avalanche Forecasting Center in Salt Lake City. "You have to see the snow, touch it, feel it." And because advisories need to be released by 7 a.m., the workday usually wraps up by midafternoon, leaving ample time to hit the slopes on your own behalf. 

Payback: For most, this is strictly seasonal work with a winter paycheck of $10,000-$20,000. 

Prerequisites: A graduate degree in meteorology and a thesis on snowslide prediction could earn you one of four year-round director positions with the U.S. Forest Service in Ketchum, Seattle, Boulder, and Salt Lake. Montana State University (406-994-0211; www.montana.edu) is a reputable training ground for avalanche buffs. 

Networking: The American Association of Avalanche Professionals (406-587-3830; www.avalanche.org) provides job leads and industry gossip in its monthly newsletter.

Peon to Pro: Ten to 15 years on the winter crew before you'll be considered for U.S. Forest Service avalanche director. "When the snowpack melts in the spring and you grieve as though you've lost a child," says Tremper, "you know you're in past your eyeballs."

Drudge Factor: No kvetching allowed for a job that lets you hike up peaks and ski down! Getting buried in a slide, though, is no joke.

Outlook: Chilly. Competition for the nation's 80 positions is stiff, and though avalanche fatalities continue to rise, funding can be scarce.

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