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Class to teach avalanche skills

Tim Mutrie

Members of Mountain Rescue Aspen and an educator from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center are hosting a two-day introductory avalanche education workshop in Aspen this weekend.The Avalanche Awareness Workshop, an annual MRA event since the mid-1980s, includes a lecture and slide show by Halstead Morris of the CAIC on Friday night at the St. Regis, then an all-day field day on Richmond Ridge atop Aspen Mountain with MRA volunteers on Saturday.The course costs $25, with registration running from 5 to 6 p.m. Friday at the St. Regis. The lecture and slideshow will run from 6 to 9 p.m.The field day will cover “a myriad of things from terrain recognition to snow science, beacon trainings and rescue scenarios,” according to David Swersky, one of the workshop organizers.”We’re trying to reach everybody who travels in the backcountry, including snowmobilers, who have become the largest demographic for avalanche fatalities in the United States,” Swersky said. “We also want to reach people who go on hut trips, backcountry skiers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers.”In the early days, the annual Avalanche Awareness Workshop drew about 25 to 30 participants each year. Since the 1988-89 season, the winter three local residents perished in a large avalanche near Pearl Pass, the workshop’s attendance has spiked to about 100 participants a year, Swersky said.”We’re trying to teach people how to make appropriate decisions and be responsible for self-rescue if things go bad,” Swersky, an Aspen dentist and longtime MRA volunteer, said. “Because in an avalanche situation, you are your brother’s keeper. If you need to call Mountain Rescue, it will be a body recovery. You’ve got to do this stuff yourself.”The cost of registration includes a ride up the gondola for Saturday’s field session. Every group of 10 participants will be led by two MRA volunteers.”It’s going to be a good year for this course,” Swersky said. “We’ve had such funky weather the last couple weeks, and it should make for some interesting conditions to study.”Over the years we’ve learned to shift our focus away from the snow science and more toward the human-factor stuff. Being able to say, ‘I’m not going,’ when it may be shaky. So there’s a lot of emphasis on good decision-making. And it’s a formal stepping stone into more advanced avalanche training courses.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com


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