About the N.A.C.

Our goal is to improve backcountry and ski area safety by reducing avalanche risk on and around National Forests.

Avalanche Hazard

Snow avalanches kill more people on National Forests than any other natural hazard. Each winter, 25 to 30 people die in avalanches in the United States, and nearly all of these deaths involve recreation on National Forests.

N.A.C. Support

The National Avalanche Center (NAC) provides program guidance and support to Forest Service avalanche centers and military artillery programs. We also provide field support and the transfer of information and technology. 

Avalanche Centers

Avalanche centers provide information and educational opportunities to empower individuals to better manage their own risk in avalanche terrain.

Photo: Eric Knoff

Avalanche Information

Avalanche danger is dynamic. Avalanche conditions vary due to seasonal weather variations, snowpack structure, and local weather patterns. The Forest Service operates a network of 14 backcountry avalanche centers and works closely with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Public and Private Partnerships

Each center is supported by an affiliated nonprofit entity, or Friends group. In essence, the agency provides the structure and technical know-how and the non-profit entity engages in fundraising and outreach. Nationwide, more than 50% of the operational costs are covered by community donations and other partnerships!

Military Artillery

Ski areas, highway departments, and railways use a variety of methods to mitigate avalanche danger. In special cases, military artillery allows workers to more safely protect infrastructure and the public.

Forest Service snow rangers introduced avalanche forecasting, mitigation, and the use of military weapons for avalanche control to the U.S. in the 1940s. Although the agency transitioned out of much of the avalanche mitigation work at ski areas by the 1990s, a number of ski areas on Forest Service land have terrain that is best mitigated using artillery. Currently, the Forest Service holds weapons on loan from the US Army and operates the program in close cooperation with ski area snow safety teams.

Field Support & Tech Transfer

People living, travelling, and working in the mountains face a variety of avalanche related questions. The N.A.C. is here to help.

Photo: Packy Cronin

Field Support

In addition to the danger avalanches pose to recreationalists in backcountry and ski area settings, they may also threaten some structures, trails, roads, campgrounds, and industrial sites. The Forest Service addresses a number of avalanche-related questions, and the National Avalanche Center provides expertise and advice to decision-makers.

Technology Transfer

We also work as a focal point for the transfer of information, tools, and techniques between scientists / developers, avalanche workers, and the public. This information exchange helps drive improvements in avalanche forecasting, mitigation, safety, and education. You can view a library of our work here:

Technical Paper Library


Karl Birkeland – Director

Karl grew up skiing in Colorado, chasing his folks around the backcountry and the local ski hills before finding ski patrol work in high school. He has worked with snow and avalanches for over 35 years, including jobs as a professional ski patroller, backcountry avalanche forecaster, and avalanche researcher. He has earned MS and PhD degrees doing avalanche research. After founding the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center in 1990, he co-founded and began working for the National Avalanche Center in 1999. His work as an Avalanche Scientist involved cooperating with several universities and international research institutes to transfer new and emerging technologies to the US avalanche community. He became the Director of the National Avalanche Center in 2011. Contact: karl.birkeland@usda.gov

Simon Trautman – National Avalanche Specialist

Simon grew up running around in hay fields outside of Lander, Wyoming. Following a stint as a US Navy Corpsman, he earned a BS in Geology at Western Washington University and an MS in Earth Science from Montana State University. His research focused on wet snow avalanche phenomena. He has worked as an avalanche forecaster for the Moonlight Basin Ski Patrol, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and the Sawtooth Avalanche Center (where he served as the Director from 2012-2014). Simon joined the National Avalanche Center in the summer of 2014. Contact: simon.trautman@usda.gov