Avalanche forecasts are updated seven days a week, during the winter, on this website by 7 am.
Address: CNFAIC P.O. Box 129 Girdwood, AK 99587
Location: Glacier Ranger Station, 145 Forest Station Road, Girdwood, AK 99587
Forecast Center Staff phone: (907) 229-9060
Glacier Ranger District phone: (907) 783-3242
Staff email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The roots for the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center (CNFAIC) arose from the tragedy that occurred on March 21, 1999 at Turnagain Pass where 6 snowmachiners were killed in a massive avalanche. Carl Skustad took the lead for the Forest Service and followed the business plan set up by the National Avalanche Center which guides new Avalanche Centers to start slowly, to help ensure success. In the fall of 2001, a phone line and a basic web site, designed by the late Jeff Nissman, put out snow pack and weather observations 5 days per week for the Turnagain Pass Area. The Center did not put out Avalanche Danger Ratings nor do any actual forecasting of avalanches. Skustad would spend time in Ketchum, Idaho being mentored at the Sawtooth Avalanche Center to learn about their operation. An appropriation from US Senator Ted Stevens in 2002 provided funding for the first 5 years of operations allowing the Center to purchase snowmachines, trailers, rescue cache, and several weather stations.
The Friends group was created in 2003 to broker the funds from the appropriation, none of which could be spent on employee salaries. Another tragedy would now directly affect the new Avalanche Center in 2004, Technician Jeff Nissman would be killed by an avalanche of ice falling off of a building in Portage. The winter of 04-05 would see the hiring of 2 Forestry Techs, part of whose job duties would be working at the Avalanche Center, these were Dan Valentine and Matt Murphy. Valentine vacated his position and was soon replaced by Lisa Portune in the winter of 05-06. The team of Skustad, Murphy and Portune each received all the Avalanche training the USFS had to offer.
This team was in place for the next 6 years and the Center started issuing actual Avalanche Forecast products, seven days a week, in 2009 including Danger Ratings. Observations were also compiled once a week for the Summit Lake area of the Chugach National Forest by Seward Ranger District tech Alex McLain starting in 2007. 2010 was a year of transition as coincidence would find that Skustad, Murphy and Portune all would leave the Center for new jobs. Portune was around for the first half of the season which saw the hiring of Kevin Wright for the full season and Wendy Wagner was able to fill in for Lisa after she left midway through the winter. Wright directed the center for three years before embarking on a different career and Wagner stepped into that role the fall 2014. Her position became a permanent position with the USFS in the fall of 2015. Meanwhile, bolstering the team since 2011 is Graham Predeger who runs the Rec program on the Ranger District. Predeger has been instrumental in engaging the motorized community in their avalanche center. John Fitzgerald forecasted for the center from 2012-2015. He has migrated back to the lower 48 and will be missed. Heather Thamm began forecasting during December of 2014 and Aleph Johnston-Bloom is the newest member of the forecasting team, starting full time in January 2016.
Today the CNFAIC is the only Forest Service National Avalanche Center in Alaska. With funding help from Friends of the Chugach, CNFAIC is able to employ 3 avalanche professionals who provide daily forecasts from November through April and provide detailed observations and forecasts in the Turnagain Arm area. Read more about our present and past forecasters below:
Wendy Wagner, Director and Forecaster
Wendy began working with the CNFAIC during the 2010/11 winter season. She comes from the Wasatch Mountains of Utah where she was not only born, raised and learned to ski, but melded into the avalanche field under the mentorship of the Utah Avalanche Center. She has a Master’s degree in atmospheric sciences from the University of Utah, with an emphasis in mountain weather and snow science. Wendy has presented her research at the Mountain Meteorological Conference and multiple ISSW’s. Two of her projects, co-authored with Utah Avalanche Center forecasters, include monitoring near surface faceting and defining travel advice for the avalanche problems. Wendy spent time in Anchorage during her first career as a US Ski Team Nordic athlete and is a two time Olympian (2002 and 2006). Any spare time found is spent perfecting her snowmachine powder skills and geeking out over snow grains. Certifications:
Heather Thamm, Forecaster
Heather grew up in Northern Idaho where she started skiing at Schweitzer Mountain. Determined to go to college in a place with big mountains she moved to Alaska in 1998 to attend Alaska Pacific University. She graduated in 2003 with a degree in Outdoor Studies. Heather has been a ski patroller for Alyeska Ski Resort since 2003 and served 3 years as the Assistant Ski Patrol Director. She enjoys the occasional month long expedition course working with college students at Alaska Pacific University teaching wilderness skills. She spends her summers working for the Ecology Department with the Forest Service. Heather calls Girdwood her home and feels incredibly blessed to be able to work and ski tour in her back yard. Certifications:
Aleph Johnston-Bloom, Forecaster
Aleph grew up in Vermont exploring the woods on her cross-country skis. She ventured out west and fell in love with snow and avalanche studies at Prescott College while pursing her degree in Outdoor Experiential Education. After college an internship with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center landed her in the San Juan Mountains, based out of Silverton. This launched her into a diverse career, since the winter of 2000 she has garnered experience as a highway avalanche forecaster, a backcountry avalanche forecaster, a patroller and a ski guide. She has worked and skied in many of the western states, experiencing different snow climates and spent a summer patrolling in New Zealand. Through all the jobs and travels she has been an avalanche educator sharing her passion for snow. She is the former director of both the Silverton Avalanche School and the Alaska Avalanche School. She is an American Avalanche Association Certified Instructor, Professional Member and former Governing Board trustee. She is an American Avalanche Institute Level 3 graduate, a Wilderness First Responder, loves working on her snowmachine skills, and exploring wild places in Alaska.
Graham Predeger, Recreation Operations/ Forecaster
Graham was born and raised in Anchorage. He began skiing the Chugach backcountry in high school as a naïve, uneducated teenager. He migrated to the Vail Valley after receiving a natural resource management degree from CSU spending eight seasons working in Colorado as a USFS backcountry snow ranger on Vail Pass. During this tenure, Graham absorbed all the information he could regarding snow and avalanches thru formal classes, practical experiences and a few near misses. Working as a forecaster for the CNFAIC since 2011/12 has allowed his snow and avalanche education to continue, bringing Graham full circle back to a more coastal snowpack. A personal goal for Graham has been to further involve and engage the motorized community in their local avalanche center. Spare time is spent sled-skiing, mountain biking and chasing his 5-year-old Daughter around! Certifications:
Alex Mclain, Summit Lake and Seward District Observer
Alex McLain was raised in New Hampshire and started backcountry skiing and mountaineering in the late 80’s. He worked for the White Mountain NF as a trail ranger, several ski areas as a ski patroller, and was a member of several rescue teams and ambulance services. While in NH he assisted in numerous backcountry rescues in the White Mountain National Forest. In 2006, he moved to Seward, AK working for the USFS managing campgrounds and working with the winter program on the Seward Ranger District expanding the CNFAIC to include the Summit Lake Area.
Jeff Nissman, Honorary Forecaster
Jeff was killed in a roof avalanche in 2004 in Portage Valley while working for CNFAIC. Jeff helped Skustad in the early years of the avalanche center as a forecaster. Jeff’s love and spirit for the mountains can be felt above tree line in Turnagain Pass most every day. Jeff developed the first avalanche website for the Avalanche Center and this new site is dedicated to his memory.