Bob Comey is the head avalanche forecaster for both Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center. Under his purview are thousands of acres of avalanche-prone terrain enthusiastically accessed by one of the most aggressive and active backcountry ski and snowboard user groups in the country. Donations are a vital part of what enables BTAC to offer its world-class services, and there’s never been a better time to donate: Funds raised through September 13th at 5:00 PM will be matched through Old Bill’s Fun Run. We caught up with Comey to learn more about BTAC’s mission, history, and needs:
TGR: What is BTAC’s mission?
Comey: Our mission is to provide backcountry users with the information necessary to make good decisions. More specifically, we produce daily forecasts, offer raw weather and snowpack data, and host a repository of avalanche event information.
TGR: What goes into the daily avalanche forecast?
Comey: There are four main components. We look at macro-level trends within the snowpack (such as deep persistent slabs), the information that we gather from our system of autonomous weather stations (including temperature trends, wind, and new snowfall), the weather forecast that we get from the National Weather Service, and any reported avalanche events.
TGR: How many people are involved with BTAC’s work?
Comey: We only have three forecasters and around five educators, but everyone who submits an avalanche event report is helping us make our avalanche forecasts as helpful and accurate as possible.
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Join Sarah in Giving to the Friends During Old Bill's. "The Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center is essential to my success as a backcountry traveler, avalanche educator, and ski guide. On a daily basis in the winter, I look at weather data, reported avalanches, as well as the avalanche forecast. The ability to access both current and historical snow, weather and avalanche data makes the Bridger-Teton website an important tool for every backcountry traveler. I strongly urge you to support Friends of the BTAC." — Sarah Carpenter, Owner of American Avalanche Institute
TGR: How long have you been involved with BTAC?
Comey: I’ve worked at BTAC since 1992, but I’ve wanted to do this since middle school. I read about Jackson Hole in the library, and decided that I needed to move there. I moved to Jackson after graduating in ‘78, got involved with the avalanche safety scene, and in ‘88 I was hired by the resort to help with avalanche forecasting and mitigation. I then took over as the lead forecaster at BTAC, and the rest is history.
TGR: So you’ve been around for a while. How have things changed?
Comey: There have been a few big areas of change. First of all, the tools used to access avalanche terrain have improved dramatically, so there are now many more people accessing far more terrain. Another big change has been in how we share our forecasts and information. Before the internet, people would call our hotline and listen to a recorded forecast. These days, we’ve got a website, Instagram, app, and we still run the hotline. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve; for example, we’re adding an avalanche heatmap to the website for the upcoming season.
TGR: You’re raising money through Old Bill’s Fun Run. What will the money go towards?
Comey: The money goes towards operations. We’re technically a part of the US Forest Service, but the government-supplied funding only goes so far. Without donations, we wouldn’t be able to do our job nearly as well. Around 70-80% of our budget comes from donations, and a big chunk of that comes through Old Bill’s Fun Run. Last year’s Fun Run raised about $55,000 for BTAC—almost half of our total donations. Donate to BTAC here.