It’s time again for avalanche course |

It’s time again for avalanche course

Tim Mutrie

In keeping with a popular 15-year-old tradition, Mountain Rescue Aspen will offer its basic avalanche awareness course this Friday and Saturday.

“For many locals, it’s their introduction to safe backcountry travel,” said David Swersky, a 20-year Mountain Rescue veteran and the program’s coordinator. “It’s a real good introduction, and it’s also a good continuing education.”

The class size is unlimited; anyone interested in participating should bring $25 to register at the St. Regis hotel, starting at 6 p.m. Friday. The course will get under way at 6:30 p.m. with a classroom presentation by Scott Tepfer of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

“Friday night is a lecture, slide show, and introduction basically designed for anybody who travels in the backcountry in the winter – including snowboarders, cross-country skiers, skiers, snowshoers, and especially snowmobilers,” Swersky said. “Snowmobilers have become the largest statistic in avalanche deaths in the last few years throughout the country.”

Saturday’s “hands-on” portion of the course will take place atop Aspen Mountain. “It’s a day of avalanche beacon training and usage, snowpack analysis, and terrain recognition,” Swersky said.

Day two will run from roughly 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Swersky said, though further instructions for Saturday will relayed to participants Friday night. Swersky, along with a handful of other local rescue team members, will help teach the hands-on part of the course.

“Our goal in this is really two-fold,” Swersky said. “One is to teach people to make smart decisions concerning backcountry travel. And two is what to do if something bad happens, because if you need to call Mountain Rescue, it’s bound to be a body recovery – you are your brothers’ keeper in the backcountry.”

The snowpack that covers nearby mountains is less than average to date this winter, but despite that, Swersky said, there’s still a great deal the present conditions can teach people about snow safety.

“There’s hardly any snow this year,” he said, “but this is still a good year to study snowpack, because if we ever do start to get some snow, it could turn into a pretty tough avalanche cycle. There’s a lot to learn out there, and there’s also a lot of potential for weak snowpack, and that’s forming right now.”

The annual course typically draws between 80 and 100 people, Swersky said. “It’s been a very successful program,” he said.

Periodically throughout the winter, Mountain Rescue Aspen also offers another course, “An Evening with Your Beacon.” The informal program is designed to help wintertime backcountry users familiarize themselves with avalanche transceivers.

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