Brush up avalanche-safety skills |

Brush up avalanche-safety skills

ASPEN ” Colorado is a state known for its high rate of avalanche accidents and its typically weak and variable snowpack conditions. At the end of 2006, Pitkin County found itself at the top of the list for accidents occurring within county borders.

Since 1950, 40 people have died in avalanches here in Pitkin County, putting us ahead of Summit and Clear Creek counties. These statistics are even more alarming when you look at the relatively low number of backcountry travelers we see in this area compared with those counties closer to the Front Range and the I-70 corridor. It really is time to take a fresh look at the way we approach backcountry travel in this valley.

If you are heading anywhere in the backcountry this weekend make sure you are properly equipped. An avalanche beacon, shovel, and a probe are mandatory equipment, as well as the knowledge to use this gear. Beacon technology has improved greatly in the last few years making searches quicker and easier, but frequent practice is still required to perform a rescue when you really need to. Next time you’re riding Aspen Mountain, take your beacon with you. Beacon Basin, just to the south of the gondola, is the perfect place to keep those rescue skills current.

Take an avalanche class. If you have never taken an avalanche course, sign up for one soon. If it’s been a few years since you have taken a course, think about a refresher. Recent research in the snow-science world has started to trickle down to recreational avalanche courses. Some of this new research may change the way you approach a tour in the backcountry or conduct the rescue of a partner. Classes being taught this season may look very different than the one you attended just five years ago. Be safe out there!

The Aspen Skiing Co. reported 3 inches of new snow in the past 24 hours at Snowmass and Aspen Highlands in its Friday morning report. Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk picked up 1 inch.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center’s Friday report for the Aspen zone: Above treeline the avalanche danger is moderate on all aspects. Near and below treeline, danger is moderate on slopes facing west, northwest, north, northeast and east. The danger is low on other aspects. Unstable wind slabs are possible on most steep slopes above 12,000 feet. Higher-elevation, shady slopes have a weak layer at the bottom of the snowpack. If triggered, this layer could result in some large avalanches.

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