Mountain Rescue Aspen expands education effort to try to boost mountain safety

Mountain Rescue Aspen trains for a technical rescue. The rescue organization is hosting a Mountain Safety Workshop for the public on June 8.
Sallie Shatz/courtesy photo


What: Mountain Safety Workshop

When: June 8, from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Where: Mountain Rescue Aspen’s C.B. Cameron Rescue Center

Cost: $30, registration at

Although snow and avalanche debris on numerous roads and trails will hinder access into the backcountry this summer, Mountain Rescue Aspen anticipates another busy season.

The people who live and visit the area tend to find a way to pursue their passions regardless of conditions, said MRA member Greg Shaffran.

“People in this valley make it happen,” he said.

The heavy snowpack and resulting above-average runoff in a winter like this typically lead to a unique summer, with increased rockfall on popular climbing routes and treacherous stream crossings on well-traveled hikes, he noted.

Mountain Rescue has to be prepared for it all and part of that preparation is hosting its second annual Mountain Safety workshop in June. The workshop was born from MRA’s decision to ratchet up its education efforts after nine people died in the Elk Mountains in Aspen’s backyard, most of them from climbing accidents, in summer 2017.

“We’re trying to reach a broader audience,” Shaffran said.

MRA realizes the mountain safety workshop reaches primarily a local audience, but providing additional training to Aspen-area residents will pay off in a couple of ways — first, by helping them keep themselves safe on backcountry travels and, second, by ensuring that better-educated eyes and ears will be out in the field this summer.

The workshop could conceivably provide vital skills needed in a life-threatening situation. If a local resident attends the session on altitude illness, for example, they will be better prepared to recognize when a visiting party is suffering from altitude sickness on a high mountain pass and advise them to seek aid, Shaffran said.

The mountain safety workshop will be held June 8 from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at the C.B. Cameron Rescue Center. The cost is $30 and it is limited to the first 100 people to sign up. All participants will receive lunch and a medical kit.

MRA has held a successful avalanche safety workshop in January for 35 years. Officials anticipate the summer safety course building into something equally as successful.

At this year’s summer workshop, attendees can sign up for a variety of classes that fall into four tracks — navigation, first aid, self care and survival. Some of the classes are a lecture and some are skills training.

In one class, “How to Pack,” world-class mountaineers Lou Dawson and Jordan White will share information on properly preparing for a backcountry adventure. Dawson also is teaching a “Gear Repair” class to help adventurers prepare for those times when they need to improvise damaged goods.

Another class, “Outdoor Navigation,” will put attendees’ skills to test on using a GPS to find a specific site and applying good-old map and compass skills.

There will be classes on nutrition from a nutritionist at Aspen Valley Hospital. An officer from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will provide tips on avoiding encounters with wildlife and handy information on what to do when a moose is on the loose in your neck of the woods.

There is even a class on “Pooping in the Woods.”

Attendees can mix and match classes from different tracks. They could take “Digital Resources” from the navigation track, for example, and follow it with a CPR class in the first-aid track.

The format is designed so people can return in future years to take classes they couldn’t attend this year.

So far about 40 people have registered for the workshop. The navigation classes have been the first to fill. Once registered, participants will be able to sign up for their preferred courses.

Shaffran said the workshop has attracted everyone from a 9-year-old boy to a woman in her 70s, and all experience levels in between. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged because the 100 spaces are likely to be filled. Register at

MRA also is in the process of ramping up educational efforts through videos on its YouTube and webpage. Shaffran said planning is underway to create short videos on safety practices. That is intended to help reach a broader audience, particularly people from outside the area.

But no matter which education tools are made available, some people won’t prepare and research their trips, Shaffran said. They think they can show up and scale one of the 14,000-plus peaks in the Aspen area with no advance work.

“The reality is, some people we’re not going to reach,” Shaffran said. “A lot of the time, the people that we rescue don’t live here.”

MRA’s activity has been consistent in recent years. The number of missions ranged between 63 and 73 for each year between 2013 and 2017, the latest available. The number of body recoveries ranged from one in 2016 to nine in 2017.

“We didn’t have any fatalities last summer,” Shaffran said.

Among all missions between 2012 and 2017, 34 percent were searches, 18 percent required assisting the party out of the field on their own power, 12 percent involved carrying a victim out of the field and 7 percent were recoveries. Aircraft were used on 17 percent of the missions.

Nearly half of the missions involved aiding a hiker while 26 percent of missions involved a climber. Another 11 percent were backcountry skiers with the remainder scattered among various users.


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