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Gallagher: The unsung heroes of Mountain Rescue Aspen

R.J. Gallagher Jr.
Philantopia

“Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting. So, get on your way!” — Dr. Seuss

There is one common denominator that exists throughout our little corner of the world. It’s the mountains. They provide a magnificent and ever-changing backdrop. Day after day. Season after season. They also are our playground and provide us unlimited places to discover and conquer. And that’s where Mountain Rescue Aspen comes in.

Mountain Rescue Aspen is a volunteer organization dedicated to saving lives through backcountry rescue and mountain safety education. Mountain Rescue Aspen was incorporated in 1965 as a nonprofit organization and is one of the oldest search-and-rescue teams in the entire state of Colorado. It is accredited through the Rocky Mountain Region of the Mountain Rescue Association and work as a volunteer arm of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office providing search-and-rescue services for Pitkin County and mutual aid for other counties in Colorado.

Did I mention that Mountain Rescue Aspen is a nonprofit organization that is operated by an all volunteer staff and team of backcountry professionals? It is completely supported by the funds raised by its unpaid volunteers and from the solicitation of public donations and applications for local and state grants. There is no tax base or public budget to fund Mountain Rescue Aspen.

According to the Mountain Rescue Aspen website, Pitkin County is about a third the size of Rhode Island, and more than 80 percent of it is identified as “backcountry.” Backcountry is defined as land that is not accessible by road. Think of the backcountry as Mountain Rescue Aspen’s office. And then remember that its office is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In other words, its “we’re open” sign on their backcountry office front door is always up, and its volunteers are always willing and able. Think how comforting that is.

Residents and visitors of Pitkin County are the beneficiaries of the efforts of the 50-member team of dedicated professionals who form Mountain Rescue Aspen. Volunteers are trained and accredited to the highest industry standards.

For most of us, it’s the Mountain Rescue Aspen rescue efforts that we read and hear about, which formulates our understanding of what the organization does. But, their mountain safety education programs are a significant component of Mountain Rescue’s mission and are as equally beneficial as the search-and-rescue missions it conducts. Its website has several educational links that provide potentially lifesaving, valuable information on avalanche awareness and mountain-peak awareness and safety information for mountaineers, hunters and hikers. There is even a program focused on children.

Each year, it also conducts a two-day avalanche awareness program for the public. Over the years, this program has educated more than 3,000 backcountry enthusiasts by providing safety information on the hazards of avalanches and the techniques and strategies of avoiding winter hazards. Check out its website at http://www.mountainrescueaspen.org.

As part of their dedication to their craft, the 50 Mountain Rescue volunteers spend thousands of hours to train, attend meetings, prepare, educate and, of course, perform search-and-rescue missions. They spend countless hours away from their families and work environments, and they personally pay for most of the gear they need to do what they do. Family members and the companies that support their efforts are the unsung heroes of this program. Without their unwavering support and encouragement, the Mountain Rescue program as we know it would not exist.

If you are interested in trying to be one of the few who make up this highly acclaimed volunteer team, or for an introduction to Mountain Rescue Aspen, it invites you to attend its monthly meeting, which is held the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m at 37925 Highway 82, which is near the ProBuild Lumber yard toward the east end of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport runway.

For those of you who want to financially support this amazing and critical organization, please reach out directly by phoning its non-emergency number at 970-429-3400 and leave a message. Someone will get back to you as soon as they can. Or you can go to its website and click on the “donate” button. Let’s all join in to help keep its doors open to its backcountry office.

The mountain is calling. So head for the hills. Take a hike. Hit the trail or climb a rock. Go ahead and enjoy, because if in the event that you need them, you can trust that Mountain Rescue Aspen is “rescue ready.”

R.J. Gallagher Jr. is a three-decade resident of the Roaring Fork Valley community. He proudly serves on numerous nonprofit boards, including the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, Aspen Community Foundation and Komen Aspen. His firm, Forte International, is a supporter of local philanthropy that makes a difference on a global level. “Philantopia,” is a monthly column of The Aspen Times focused on philanthropy and community involvement. R.J.’s always open for ideas. You can reach him at rjg@forteinternational.net.


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