Certainly Unstable: The Story of Taos Avalanche Center

During the month of November, onX Backcountry is donating $10 of every membership purchased through our website to an avalanche center of your choosing. We’re committed to the work they’re doing, the programs they run, and most importantly, the forecasts they publish. To learn more about our Avalanche Awareness month, visit this page.

A Storm Is Brewing

In 2016, skier Andy Bond founded a small, scrappy nonprofit to observe weather and create forecasts in the Taos region and named it the Taos Avalanche Center (TAC). The zone of coverage is nestled just south of Colorado and stretches from Red River west to Questa and south to Arroyo Secco. The heart of the terrain lies in the vicinity of Taos Ski Valley and is inclusive of New Mexico’s tallest peak—Wheeler.  Famed for its breakfast burritos smothered Christmas-style, the area is rich in history, culture, and a fair share of eclectic artists. Lately, it’s started to stake a claim as a pretty killer ski zone. The terrain is massive, the altitude is high, and the sun is present over 300 days a year. Also—The Bavarian Restaurant. ‘Nough said.

With all this existing potential, Andy Bond and the nimble team at the TAC have catalyzed the backcountry ski community there. Prior to their establishment, people would venture into avalanche terrain with fragmented reports, scattered observations, and incomplete pictures of what they were getting into. “We didn’t have great weather station sites inside or outside of this zone. So you’d be blindly forecasting without the ability to get in there and actually see what’s going on,” says Bond. With the advent of the TAC, they were able to regularly distribute avalanche reports for the region. With a successful 2016-2017 season under their suspenders, the center got dealt a devastating blow—record low snowfall.

Winter Never Came to New Mexico

Following its inaugural season, New Mexico received less than 100 inches of snow in 2017-18. The community was hit hard by the drought and as a result, TAC didn’t see reliable funding for that winter, and the following year. On January 17, 2019, an in-bounds avalanche at the ski resort on Kachina Peak shook the community to its very core. Families were watching the rescue unfold in real time. The news spread far and wide and put the town on notice it needed its avalanche center back up and running.

Call It a Comeback

The Taos Avalanche Center has been in uninterrupted operation since the 2019-2020 season. True to its original form, it’s still small and scrappy with Bond being the only paid full-time staff member. The center now reports four to five days a week and is stable—to an extent. Due in part to funding, they need to keep their coverage zone small. Bond goes on to illustrate the other constraints by saying, “We just don’t have the resources our avalanche forecasters need. These zones, compared to a lot of other zones, are very remote. They’re all Wilderness areas, so the traffic isn’t all that busy there and we don’t have access via snowmobile.” 

Despite the relatively small geography, the testimonials Bond has received from the community have ranged from backcountry skiers, snowshoers, to dog walkers. “We have Avalanche paths here that have hit parking lots and buildings. So even just putting on an avalanche warning has resulted in people walking their dogs around here saying, ‘thank you.’ Knowing that today’s maybe not the day to even enter the steep slopes just outside of their houses is impactful,” says Bond.

Shaky Terrain

Starting an initiative like this forced Bond to illustrate a need, but with six avalanche fatalities in their zone, that has spoken for itself. Now, they continue to fight for funding, “It’s hard to compete when we’re not a state or Forest Service entity,” says Bond. As a community-funded effort, Bond has aspirations and a plan to formalize their operations if given the opportunity. “I’d like to be able to have infrastructure set up, like website development, or be able to pay avalanche forecasters.” 

With an eye toward recent history, he has this to say, “I’d also like to have enough money to weather a down year with climate change.” The other element is getting the community involved. As remote as it is, Taos is tight-knit—it has to be. Bond wants to bring in bigger avalanche educators to provide programs to the local schools and get kids involved.

Let’s Chip In

These aspirations are contingent on a regular funding structure, which is where we come in. For some avalanche centers it’s not about just scraping by—some centers have a 10-year growth plan, yet there are others that are hanging on by a thread. By providing a donation to their center we can help turn those aspirations, day-dreams, and plans into realities. Things like in-classroom education for youth, seven-day forecasts, and paying forecasters are all things we are supporting.

Support the Taos Avalanche Center Today
Or choose from the remaining list of 24 all across the nation.

How to Use onX Backcountry In The Field

Not only are you donating to an avalanche center’s stability, you’ll have access to an integral backcountry skiing tool with onX. You’ll have access to onX Backcountry’s suite of tools to maximize a fun and safe day in the backcountry. Bond’s favorite feature? Tracker. “I use tracking all the time when I’m in the mountains. Whether that’s when I’m forecasting or when I’m guiding, I use it because you know you’re gonna be able to get back out if you follow the way you came in.” Beyond that you’re able to see the distance and elevation covered and how fast you did so. In addition to Tracker, Bond uses Waypoint to note where he’s dug pits. “I like to keep all that data in a geographic view that I can have on my phone, so I can say, ‘yeah, I’ve observed this spot,’” says Bond. It’s an imperative tool for making the right decisions, know your exit points, and seeing how steep the terrain is around you.

In the month of November, purchase onX Backcountry to help Bond and centers across the country just like TAC realize their dream of increased snow safety for their communities. Your purchase gives $10 to their efforts and with each referral an additional dollar will be donated to the center you chose. 


Mitch Breton

Mitch Breton was raised on the shores of Maine's coastline chasing fresh snow, trout, grouse, and the best darn mosquito repellent money can buy. Covering topics from fly fishing, car camping, and beyond, he thrives on a story well-told.