Avalanche awareness seminar this weekend | AspenTimes.com

Avalanche awareness seminar this weekend

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Mountain Rescue Aspen will offer its 26th annual community avalanche seminar on Friday and Saturday with a bit of a new approach.

This year’s seminar will emphasize techniques of avalanche avoidance in addition to snow science and rescue, according to event coordinator Dave Swersky, a 23-year veteran of Mountain Rescue.

“People love to go into the backcountry, love to snowshoe and cross-country ski,” he said. “It’s really good to know where the hazards are.

“We’re trying to keep people safe, to make safe decisions, and that includes things like self-rescue techniques, avalanche avoidance and safe route selection.”

The seminar will emphasize the importance of self-rescue.

“You are your brother’s keeper,” Swersky said. “If you are in an avalanche situation and you need Mountain Rescue, it will be way too late.

“You have a half hour to 45 minutes to get people out [before they die].”

The seminar will begin Friday night with a lecture and slide show from Colorado Avalanche Information Center educator Halsted Morris at the St. Regis Hotel.

“He’s got a lot of great stories and slides,” Swersky said.

The event will continue Saturday with hands-on field instruction, which will include a series of workshops situated around the top of Aspen Mountain. Groups of 8-10 people will rotate between stations where they’ll encounter a variety of different scenarios, including avalanche rescue, snow stability evaluations and beacon practice.

Swersky invites all backcountry enthusiasts to participate, and that includes snowmobilers.

“The largest increase, demographically, in avalanche fatalities are snowmobilers,” he said.

The cost of the seminar is $25, which includes a gondola ride to the top of Ajax Saturday. Registration begins at 6 Friday night at the St. Regis Hotel, which will be followed by Morris’ lecture and slide show from 6:30-9:30.

Saturday’s field day will run from 9:30 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., and the seminar will conclude with a group rescue problem at 3 p.m. at the St. Regis Hotel.

There is no preregistration, and all participants must attend Friday evening’s lecture to participate Saturday.

“This course is very relevant because we’re in a very heavy avalanche cycle right now,” Swersky said. “Over the years, Colorado has had more avalanche deaths than any other state.”

Participants are encouraged to bring whatever backcountry gear and equipment they have. Mountain Rescue will provide the rest.

[Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com]