A timely lesson | AspenTimes.com

A timely lesson

Janet Urquhart

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Last month’s deadly avalanche at Snowmass and Saturday’s giant slide near Berthoud Pass serve as precursors to this weekend’s annual avalanche workshop, sponsored by Mountain Rescue Aspen.The course, which serves as both an introduction for novices and a popular brush-up on skills for experienced backcountry users, has become something of an event for Aspen locals.As always, the workshop begins with a Friday evening lecture, this time by Ben Pritchett, education coordinator for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, followed by an all-day, outdoor session atop Aspen Mountain. Friday’s class is from 6-9 p.m. at the St. Regis Aspen; registration begins at 5 p.m., and the fee is again $30.The classroom instruction is mandatory in order to take part in Saturday’s in-the-field training on Richmond Ridge, off the back side of Aspen Mountain. The Aspen Skiing Co. will provide a free gondola ride to participants.The course is particularly timely, given what has been occurring with this season’s snowpack, said Mountain Rescue member David Swersky.”When you really look at what has been happening for the last couple of months, it has really set us up for a severe avalanche cycle,” he said. Big dumps alternating with warm spells and wind-loading have made for “a fascinating snowpack.”Participants will practice using avalanche beacons and probes, and get an introduction to assessing the snowpack, but snow science won’t be the emphasis. Instead, the focus will be avoiding a potential avalanche and what to do when one occurs.”What we really try to focus on is the human factor – making wise decisions,” Swersky said. “It’s being able to drive all the way from Denver to do a hut trip and say, ‘I’m going to do this another time.'”Participants should bring avalanche gear – beacon, shovel and probe, if they have the items – and come equipped with snowshoes, touring skis or tele skis for Saturday’s outing.