Turning the Page on Avalanches

Jackson's Picnic in the Park aims to create positive change in backcountry safety

Marquee Photo: Elizabeth Lamphere and her daughter, Maddie, in Crested Butte, Colorado. Lamphere started the IAN Fund to help support families of avalanche victims. This weekend in Jackson, she joins with the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation to help raise awareness for backcountry safety. PHOTO: Trent Bona

It’s an unfortunate reality that the only time avalanches get widespread attention is in the immediate aftermath of a fatality. Responses range from shock, confusion, sadness, vitriol for the victims, and anger.

Then, we move on, looking for the next item in our news feed, making plans for the weekend, wondering when the next powder day will come. For loved ones left behind, however, the avalanche never goes away. It’s something they carry for the rest of their lives.

Attempting to change this negative feedback loop, the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation and the IAN (International Avalanche Nest-Egg) Fund are partnering for an event this weekend in Jackson, Wyoming, called “Picnic in the Park.” The immediate goal is to build awareness while ushering in some fundraising, but behind it all is a push to create positive change in how backcountry users approach the mountains.

Turning the page from the dark side of avalanches, Picnic in the Park is intended to be a casual affair, with live music, food, and games for kids. There is no cost to attend, though donations to both foundations are appreciated, either at the event or online at Teton County Search and Rescue or the IAN Fund.

Three years ago, Elizabeth Lamphere founded the IAN Fund after her husband, Ian, perished along with four others in the Sheep Creek Avalanche—one of the deadliest slides in Colorado history. Left alone to raise her then-8-month-old daughter, Lamphere says the IAN Fund is a “small, family run charity born selfishly out of our desire to make ourselves feel better by bringing some hope and relief…to others who are going through the same thing we are.”

Read more about the IAN Fund.

Lamphere’s story has resonated with the search and rescue foundation, which last fall started its own regional campaign called “Backcountry Zero” to reduce outdoor fatalities and injuries in Jackson Hole. In the past several years, Jackson, like many mountain towns, has been rocked by a series of tragic backcountry deaths. “We immediately felt connected to the IAN Fund and their mission,” says Stephanie Thomas, executive director of the TCSAR Foundation. “Living in a small community, every loss is felt strongly and personally and to be able to support those who are hurting the worst is important. The IAN Fund also helps us remember those we have lost, the accidents that have occurred, and to give thought to how we move forward.”

It’s important to note that the event—from 4-7 p.m. Sunday at 165 E. Broadway, in downtown Jackson—is not just for those personally impacted by avalanches. As those who’ve been involved in a slide can tell you, it can happen to anyone. And as we have all benefited in one way or another from winter sports and backcountry activities, there comes a time to support those who have fallen.