Conditions change but Mountain Rescue Aspen’s Avalanche Awareness Workshop has been constant for 32 years
SNOW INCREASING RISK
Backcountry avalanche conditions in the Aspen area could shoot up to “high” if the snow that is forecasted materializes this week, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
The first round of snow Monday night increased conditions to “considerable” near and above treeline, the center said. Six to 16 inches of snow fell overnight Monday on the upper reaches of Castle, Maroon and Snowmass Creek valleys as well as the upper Crystal River Valley.
More snow is expected throughout this week, with potentially heavy amounts Wednesday night.
“The avalanche danger will rise over the next few days as new and wind-drifted snow accumulate. Be alert for rapidly changing conditions,” said the CAIC assessment by Aspen zone forecaster Blase Reardon.
In a broader discussion of conditions, he wrote, “The avalanche danger is rising across the zone, and may reach High on Thursday.”
The full avalanche forecast can be found at http://avalanche.state.co.us/forecasts/backcountry-avalanche/aspen/.
The Colorado mountains didn’t experience the typical weather pattern where they got blasted by early-season snow that deteriorated into a weak, sugary base layer after conditions dried out.
Instead this winter has brought its own unusual circumstances — with wind weighing in heavily — that make it equally intriguing to study for avalanche risk, according to two Aspen-area avalanche experts. The conditions aren’t necessarily better or worse this season, said David Swersky, a longtime member of Mountain Rescue Aspen. Every winter brings its unique characteristics, he said.
Mountain Rescue Aspen is hosting its 32nd annual Avalanche Awareness Workshop Jan. 13 and 14. It features a classroom session on Friday evening and a field session on Richmond Ridge on the back of Aspen Mountain on Saturday.
The MRA poster for the workshop says this is “another great year to study the Colorado snow.”
Swersky, who handles publicity for the workshop, built off of that theme in an interview. Conditions are so variable that the workshop is a good introduction for people beginning to dabble in backcountry travel and it’s a good refresher for experienced skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and snowshoers.
“It’s day by day,” he said of the slide risk. “It changes by exposure. It changes by elevation.”
Blase Reardon, forecaster in the Aspen zone for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, will give a presentation at the classroom session and help lead the field studies with MRA officials.
Reardon said it is largely irrelevant if the weather strayed from a typical pattern. He doesn’t look more than one or two weeks behind or gander more than one or two weeks ahead when discussing snowpack conditions. Therefore, he said, he deflects a lot of questions about how “the season” is going.
“It’s not about the season. It’s about the current conditions,” he said. Conditions are constantly changing based on the weather (see related story).
Reardon said his one of his goals at the workshop is to get backcountry travelers to recognize terrain traps — natural features where a person could face a greater risk in certain conditions. Another goal is to be able to recognize the conditions that should produce a red flag.
He will go over basic knowledge and terminology of avalanche awareness and how to use the information center to get details.
Swersky said other aspects of the workshop will include good route selection and how to overcome peer pressure. One big focus, he said, will be proper planning and preparedness.
“You are your brother’s keeper in the backcountry,” Swersky said. It’s important to pick the right people to travel with and be prepared for self-rescue.
“Your best chance of coming out alive is the first half hour” after burial by a slide, he said. By the time Mountain Rescue is called to help with a slide, it’s often too late for a rescue, according to Swersky.
The workshop will include practice locating a victim by using beacons and “strategic shoveling,” Swersky said.
The cost of the workshop is $30. The classroom session will be held 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 13 at the C.B. Cameron Mountain Rescue Center. The Jan. 14 field session will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aspen Mountain. The cost covers one ride up the Silver Queen Gondola.
Pre-registration is advised by going to http://mountainrescueaspen.org/about-2/public-avalanche-seminar/.