Headed into the backcountry? | AspenTimes.com

Headed into the backcountry?

Avalanche training is a lot like a flu shot, according to David Swersky, a longtime member of Mountain Rescue-Aspen.

You never know whether it’s the shot or pure luck that keeps you healthy. And, you’ll never know when the decisions you make in the backcountry save your life.

This weekend, Mountain Rescue-Aspen will conduct its annual Avalanche Awareness Workshop, giving outdoor enthusiasts the knowledge to make wise decisions in the backcountry.

“This is designed for anybody who travels in the backcountry – skiers, boarders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and especially snowmobilers,” Swersky said. “We’re really pushing this year to get snowmobilers involved.”

Colorado regularly records among the most avalanche deaths in the nation, and snowmobilers have become the largest segment of avalanche victims, as machinery advances take them onto steeper pitches and through deeper snow, he explained.

Although the workshop has been offered each winter for some 17 years now (Swersky has lost count), it has been attracting between 80 and 100 participants a year for the past several seasons.

“It’s a great introduction to backcountry safety, and it’s a great refresher,” Swersky said. “For as long as I’ve been teaching it, I still learn something new every year.”

The $25 workshop includes a lecture this evening at the St. Regis-Aspen, followed by a day of in-the-field instruction atop Aspen Mountain on Saturday. Participants must attend today’s session in order to take part in the fun stuff tomorrow.

“If you can’t do Saturday, it’s still worth coming to the lecture,” Swersky added.

Today’s session will feature Halstead Morris of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. On Saturday, Mountain Rescue members will work with small groups of participants on things like route selection and safe travel techniques, conducting a search using avalanche beacons, and snowpack evaluation.

“What we’re trying to do, number one, is teach people to collect the proper data to make decisions to stay safe,” Swersky said.

Participants learn to evaluate “the avalanche triad”: weather, snowpack and terrain.

In addition, participants will learn what to do in the event of an avalanche to help keep themselves or their companions alive.

Registration for the workshop begins today at 6 p.m. at the St. Regis; the session will run from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. There is no cap on enrollment.

The Saturday session on Aspen Mountain runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., followed by a group rescue problem back at the St. Regis at 3 p.m.

The $25 fee covers the workshop sessions, a gondola ride to the top of Aspen Mountain, and the CAIC booklet, “Avalanche Wise. Your Guide to Avalanche Safety in Colorado.”

For more information, check out the http://www.mountainrescueaspen.org Web site.

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