Flathead Avalanche ‘Friends Fest’ Fundraiser Kicks Off

Hosted by the nonprofit Friends of the Flathead Avalanche Center, the four-day event runs Feb. 21-24 and features activities at local watering holes, a wet snow avalanche presentation and backcountry partner speed dating

By Maggie Dresser
Students probe the snow near a loose ski during a ladies level one avalanche course at Whitefish Mountain Resort on Jan. 31, 2020.

Following a successful inaugural event last year, the Flathead Avalanche Center’s (FAC) nonprofit partner Friends of the Flathead Avalanche Center (FOFAC) is throwing another four-day party to raise snow safety awareness and funds in a mid-winter celebration.

The second annual Flathead Avalanche Friends Fest runs from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24 with a slew of events that include beacon-searching activities, avalanche trivia, workshops and a new event – backcountry partner speed dating.

In response to a steady stream of inquiries that flood FOFAC’s inbox from backcountry users asking how to find touring partners, Executive Director Emily Struss came up with a new spin on speed dating as an efficient way to help.

“It’s a question we get all of the time – where do I find partners?” Struss said.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 5:30 p.m. at the Montana Tap House in Whitefish, a moderator will facilitate the backcountry partner speed dating event to allow participants to meet up to 20 potential partners in five-minute intervals. Cards with question prompts will be distributed to each individual.

“We’ll have a card with questions that you might ask,” Struss said. “These are questions you should be asking anyway so it’s kind of two-fold – you’re being introduced to new people but it’s also food for thought.”

Later in the evening, raffle prize winners will be announced, which includes prizes like a flight to Schafer Meadows in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, courtesy of Red Eagle Aviation.

Other festival highlights include a presentation by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) snow scientists and Going-to-the-Sun Road forecasters Erich Peitzsch and Zachary Miller. They will present their research on wet snow avalanches at The Patio in Whitefish on Friday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m.

The Friends Fest comes on the heels of the Flathead Avalanche’s 10-year anniversary, which officially launched as a rebranded center during the 2013-2014 season.

During that season, the avalanche center started with Peitzsch as the only staff member covering the 1 million-acre forecast region that includes the Flathead, Swan and Whitefish ranges and Glacier National Park. Then a Type 3 center, he issued avalanche advisories roughly three times per week while working with FOFAC.

A decade later, FAC has graduated to a Type 1 Avalanche Center and there are now five full-time forecasters under the leadership of Director Blase Reardon that produce daily advisories from December through April.

At FOFAC, Struss has tripled her staff since its launch in 2013 while delivering consistent avalanche education throughout the winter. As part of the collaboration, five new weather stations have been installed in the forecast region and Struss has helped grow the annual budget to more than $300,000 in fundraising dollars and federal money. She also helps plan events like the annual Northern Rockies Snow and Avalanche Workshop and Friends Fest.

Now in its second year, Friends Fest is another example of Flathead Avalanche’s growth and Struss says its success illustrates the community’s support for the organization’s services.

“It’s just going to be a really fun way for our community to get together,” Struss said. “Hopefully it reinvigorates us for fun and avalanche safety, and it will get us some support.”

For more information, visit flatheadavalanche.org/event/friends-fest.

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The Flathead Avalanche Center’s Motorized Level 1 participants discuss terrain management on Red Meadow Road on Dec. 19, 2021. Courtesy image

Flathead Avalanche Friends Fest Schedule:

What: Beacons and Brews
When: Feb. 21, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Gunsight Saloon, Columbia Falls

What: Name That Tune, Name That Avalanche Trivia
When: Feb. 22, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Bias Brewing, Kalispell

What: Wet Snow Avalanche Workshop with Going-to-the-Sun Road forecasters Erich Peitzsch and Zachary Miller; State of the Snowpack update from FAC Avalanche Specialist Cam Johnson
When: Feb. 23, doors at 6 p.m. and first remarks at 6:30 pm
Where: The Patio, Whitefish

Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Sign up here.

What: Hot Dog Day with Flathead Nordic Backcountry Patrol and the Flathead Snowmobile Association
When: Feb. 24, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Whitefish Mountain Resort, top of Flower Point; and Canyon Creek Trailhead

What: Ultimate Après – Backcountry Partner Speed Dating and Big-A$$ Raffle
When: Feb. 24, 5 p.m.
Where: Montana Tap House, Whitefish