In the winter of 2012, local resident Nickolay Dodov lost his life in an avalanche at age 26 while heli-boarding in Haines, Alaska.
Following this tragedy, Dodov’s parents, Natalia and Alex Dodov, started the Nickolay Dodov Foundation (NDF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youth and all ages of winter sports enthusiasts on how to stay safe in the mountains.
Since then, the NDF has provided free avalanche education through presentations, workshops and classes to over 8,000 skiers, snowboarders, students, coaches, teachers and parents.
Nickolay Dodov was born in Bulgaria and began skiing with his parents shortly after taking his first steps. He soon switched to snowboarding and eventually joined the Bulgarian National Junior Team.
After moving with his family to the United States at age 12, Nickolay Dodov continued to compete in competitive snowboarding events, including the Junior World Cup, the Tahoe Snowboard Series, the U.S. National Championship and the U.S. Open.
As he grew older, Nickolay Dodov turned to freestyle, slopestyle and backcountry snowboarding. After graduating from Bret Harte High School, he spent much of the last seven years of his life as a sponsored snowboarder in Truckee, snowmobiling and splitboarding with friends in the Sierra backcountry.
“We mostly go to youth, but we go to everyone who asks us,” Natalia Dodov said.
Last year, the foundation organized 12 “Know Before You Go” (KBYG) avalanche awareness presentations and seven avalanche workshops for more than 2,000 athletes and students, and also put on the sixth annual Nickolay Dodov Slopestyle competition at Bear Valley.
While most events are held in California, the NDF has also presented in Nevada and Montana, and organizes events in the Dodovs’ home country of Bulgaria. The organization has even translated the KBYG program into the Bulgarian language.
Eight avalanche instructors work to carry out the mission of the foundation. The Dodovs organize and attend all of the events themselves, with the exception of those in Bulgaria.
The presentations are designed to engage young athletes and students with quizzes, interactive tests and outdoor avalanche companion rescue practices. NDF-sponsor Skullcandy provides free headphones to be awarded afterwards, and NDF-sponsor Backcountry Access provides free avalanche gear – beacons, shovels, and probes – for the avalanche workshops.
In addition, NDF Avalanche Educator and chemistry scholar Michael McCarthy recently developed a five-hour interactive avalanche educational workshop for youth to fill out the gap between the KBYG program and a Level 1 avalanche class.
The foundation works with various partners, including Sierra Avalanche Center, Utah Avalanche Center and National Avalanche Center, which all operate in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
Karl Birkeland, director of National Avalanche Center, has been one of the foundation’s biggest supporters. Following the accident, the Dodovs reached out to him
“They were sort of searching to make sense of the accident … which was an unspeakably difficult and trying thing … and one of the things that they were wanting to do was to try and make a real positive influence on people, and especially kids and avalanche education,” Birkeland said.
Birkeland connected the Dodovs with the KBYG program, which is operated out of Utah Avalanche Center and geared towards educating youth on avalanche safety.
“The National Avalanche Center is the small avalanche center with the big name, because we just have two employees, so you can imagine that there is only so much that we can do,” Birkeland said. “We really rely on the private sector and nonprofits and other people in the avalanche community to do a lot of the avalanche education.”
Over the past six years, National Avalanche Center has provided resources to help the NDF carry out its mission.
“To have really committed people like Alex and Natalia and all of the educators that work with them out there providing this information to all these kids, I find it just incredible and super gratifying,” Birkeland said. “They’re great people and I think they’re doing really great work … They can be a really powerful voice for avalanche safety.”
In 2014, the NDF created the Schmidt Award in honor of Marty and Denali Schmidt, a local father and son who lost their lives in an avalanche while climbing K2 in 2013. The award is given out annually to individuals or organizations for providing snow safety awareness and avalanche education to the snowsports community.
Since the NDF began organizing presentations, the Dodovs have received an abundance of positive feedback.
“You are making an incredible impact for our snowsports world,” Sugar Bowl Ski Team and Academy Board Member Daron Rahlves said. “Thank you so much! Nick is with you every step of the way!”
This year’s series of NDF programs will kick off on Oct. 26 with a presentation at a Bear Valley Adventure Company event in Bear Valley, where the Dodovs have lived and skied for the past 20 years.
“We are already scheduling many avalanche educational presentations and workshops for the upcoming snow season,” Natalia Dodov said. “It looks like it will be another busy winter with avalanche education. We will encourage and teach as many as we can to play on the snow and be safe. We believe that by educating youth we will save lives.”
The NDF accepts donations through Paypal on its website, nickolaydodovfoundation.com. Checks can be addressed to PO Box 5035, Bear Valley, CA 95223. The Nickolay Dodov Foundation is a charitable 501c3 nonprofit organization (#46-3764229). All donations are tax deductible and supporters will receive an NDF invoice for their records.