Don’t let the elements get the best of you this winter

How to avoid an avalanche

The only way to completely avoid an avalanche is to stay out of the snow, but we don’t recommend that. RN&R hunted down some more realistic advice from veteran snow-goer Mike Ferrari. As Mount Rose Ski Patrol director, he’s seen the sometimes fatal outcomes of avalanches and has learned some things about staying out of their way. “There are natural avalanches, but a phenomenal percentage of the time, avalanche victims trigger their own avalanches,” says Ferrari.

1) Be aware of the hazard. The Sierra Avalanche Center provides local avalanche advisories at its website, but you should also be informed about the signs of avalanches and how to avoid them. Ferrari says good avalanche resources and tutorials can be found at the websites of the Canadian Avalanche Association, the Utah Avalanche Center and Get hands-on, certified training with an organization like Alpine Skills International in Truckee. ASI offers 1- to 6-day, multilevel classes in avalanche education from $165-$1,100. For more information, visit, or call (530) 582-9170.

2) Be willing to change your plan. “The plan’s important so people at home know where you’re going, but you need to be able to alter it because it’s not a static situation once you’re in that terrain,” says Ferrari. “You need to be willing not to meet your goal if your goal is, ‘I’m going to ski that run,’ versus ‘I’m going to get up there and evaluate the terrain and decide if I’m going to ski that run.’”

3) Be prepared. “If you choose to expose yourself in avalanche terrain, you need to have a plan. You need to have a buddy there to rescue you,” says Ferrari. For those traveling in avalanche terrain, he suggests investing in an avalanche probe, avalanche shovel, avalanche transceiver and a friend who has, at minimum, the same gear. “And safe travel habits in avalanche country would be one at a time,” he says. “If there’re two of you, you only want to expose one of you at a time, so there’s somebody who could dig your butt out.”

Kat Kerlin

How to find out about weather on Donner Pass

Driving over Donner Pass in the winter can be a beautiful or terrifying experience depending on what the sky is doing. It’s surprisingly difficult to find a straight answer to the question, “What’s the weather expected to do on the pass?” from local weather forecasts. But there are some helpful resources out there.

To find out what’s happening this very minute on the pass, check out It shows live web cams of I-80 at Kingvale, Applegate, Colfax and Truckee.

CalTrans ( lets you search the traffic and weather conditions along I-80 through California. It also features live web cams. Don’t have the internet? Call them at (800) 427-7623).

As for the forecast, try the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In the search box at, type in a point along Donner Pass, such as “Truckee, CA,” for current conditions and a forecast. The site also has a “Watches/Warnings” feature to the left of the screen.

Just in case, no matter what the forecast says between now and April, if your vehicle isn’t geared for ice and snow, carry chains. Some tire stores, such as Les Schwab, let you return unused chains in the spring.

—Kat Kerlin

How to Keep The Home Fires Burning

Many of the fires that ruin wintertime festivities and destroy homes can be traced back to poorly lit fires in the home fireplace. Here’s a quick how-to.

1) Open the damper (The metal door above the fireplace proper, below the flue).

2) Place kindling on the grate. Add non-coated paper below the grate if needed.

3) Stack dry wood horizontally. Alternate to form a mesh. Do not stack above two-thirds the fireplace height.

4) Light the paper below the grate. If your house fills with smoke, you may have just closed the damper. Be patient, sometimes it takes a second for the hot air to start drafting up through the chimney.

5) Enjoy your fire. As the fire increases in size, add logs to the rear of the grate.

Some quick safety tips: If your smoke is black, your fire isn’t getting enough oxygen—that’s dangerous. Make sure old coals haven’t filled the area under the grate. Before lighting a fire for the first time, be sure the flue is clean and not blocked. When removing cold coals, soak them in water in a metal container. Make sure the area around the hearth is free of combustables.

—D. Brian Burghart