WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 12, 2019) - BRASS Secretary Cindy Berlack took the BRASS message of avalanche safety to Congress with a formal presentation to the bipartisan Ski and Snowboard Caucus on Wednesday, June 12. The presentation was part of a concerted effort by BRASS and other avalanche safety organizations together with the U.S. Forest Service. Among the Congressional leaders who took a special interest was New Hampshire Congresswoman Annie McLane Kuster. She was joined by Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton who spoke to the need to support for avalanche safety in Colorado, due to increasing numbers of backcountry users.

In addition to Berlack’s address, the caucus heard a passionate appeal from Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin by video.

Cindy Berlack Presentation to Congress
It’s great to be here. Thank you Mr. Tipton and Ms. Kuster for inviting us.  

We Berlacks have lived everyone’s worst nightmare. Our son, Ronnie, was killed in an avalanche in 2015, along with teammate Bryce Astle. Both were skiing with the U.S. Ski Team and were on track for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Out of this has come a passionate cry: improve avalanche education and warning systems!

With the support of U.S. Ski & Snowboard, we parents of the victims formed our Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety foundation: BRASS.

The major objectives of BRASS are snow safety systems and education.

So far, we have:

  • Completed, along with Utah Avalanche Center, the 13-minute “Off Piste” video, which we will show in a few minutes.
  • Completed a detailed accident report, on our website: brassfoundation.org.
  • Steve, my husband, right here, displays BRASS banners at race series that he attends as an alpine coach for Burke Mountain Academy.  He has presented short Snow safety programs to more than a thousand coaches young athletes over the last three years.
  • BRASS has been interviewed for TV, most notably the CNN piece which aired world wide last winter.
  • I was privileged to take the message of BRASS to 1,200 snow science professionals in Austria last fall.

About safety systems:

  1. With the U.S. Ski & Snowboard, the governing body for all racing in the US, we are setting snow safety procedures for groups which train and race close to avalanche prone terrain, both in the US and in foreign countries.  Ronnie and Bryce’s accident happened in Austria, where snow control practices are very different from here in the US. On the day of the accident, the athletes were not aware of that difference.
  2. Today we bring to the attention of you esteemed policy makers that the US avalanche forecasting centers do a fantastic job. Most receive funding from the U.S. Forest Service, but also need to raise local funds in order to do their important, often dangerous, work. They are up to their eyeballs handling not only ever increasing usage of the back country but changing snow scenarios due to climate change.

Regarding Education:

With sponsorship from Tecnica Blizzard ski company, we offer one-hour introductory programs, called BRASS 101 to outing clubs, college ski teams and ski academies. Also, in partnership with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, we hold three-day level 1 courses for coaches and athletes.

There are on-line opportunities to learn snow safety available now, and more developing.  Here is a message from the Director of Utah Avalanche Center, Chad Bracklesberg, about that.  

BRASS thanks all groups which offer snow safety courses, everywhere. These are key to reducing the loss of life to avalanches.

My big dream is to put snow science in the public high school curriculum. Then a basic understanding of snow danger will be acquired through our required education system. No one’s life ever depended upon how to dissect a frog. But snow science in schools could save lives.  

Here is our safety-teaching video Off Piste. It’s not easy to watch, but learning from it is easier than deleting your son’s phone number from your contacts, because he will never call again.

Show Off Piste


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