Mountain Rescue Aspen to host workshop on staying safe on backcountry tours |

Mountain Rescue Aspen to host workshop on staying safe on backcountry tours


What: “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour”

When: Dec. 5, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mountain Rescue Aspen HQ

Cost: Free and open to the public

Mountain Rescue Aspen wants to get the winter off on the right foot by holding a free, public workshop to train or refresh skiers on how to plan a trip in the backcountry.

MRA will host “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour” on Dec. 5 at its CB Cameron Rescue Center at the Aspen Airport Business Center.

“We keep hearing that people want to learn more about planning,” said MRA representative Greg Shaffran.

The volunteer organization is happy to oblige. It has increased its winter and summer workshops to try to help people stay safe in their travels — whether that’s skiing and riding in the winter or climbing and hiking in the summer. It’s now holding four backcountry safety events per year.

Aspen was hit hard by avalanches last winter. Three local residents died, one near Green Mountain in Express Creek and two others on the Pearl Pass Road in Brush Creek drainage near Crested Butte.

MRA obviously wants to help reduce the community tragedies, Shaffran said. The December event will feature an exercise where five friends plan a backcountry ski tour. Shaffran will introduce the event and talk about route selection and navigation resources.

Brian Lazar, assistant director of Colorado Avalanche Information Center, will discuss avalanche conditions and applying them to terrain during planning. Debbie Kelly of MRA will discuss emergency response plans and group rescue gear. Famed Carbondale mountaineer Michael Kennedy will discuss group dynamics and the human factor. Rich Burkley, a longtime Aspen Skiing Co. executive, will discuss “sidecountry” access and concerns.

Shaffran noted that most avalanche accidents in the Aspen-Snowmass area occur in the sidecountry — backcountry terrain just outside ski area boundaries.

A Q&A session will be held after the presentations.

MRA has made changes that will allow it to vastly expand its capacity at public events. Vehicles will be moved out of the garage to accommodate more people. Light snacks and beverages will be provided starting at 5:30 p.m. The event is 6 to 7:30 p.m. The workshop also will be livestreamed on the MRA Facebook page.

“We want to grow these community events,” Shaffran said.

The targeted audience is everyone from newcomers planning their first backcountry excursions to savvy adventurers who are brushing up on their skills.

There has been an explosion in backcountry travel over the past decade or so. Shaffran said he has also become aware of a growing ethic for backcountry travelers to be prepared.

MRA also will hold its annual avalanche workshop in January. This will be the 35th annual event, which features classroom and field work. This winter, people who took the class last winter will assist the MRA team in teaching skills to attendees.

“The idea snowballs from there — they’re teaching people to teach,” Shaffran said.

The audience at the December backcountry-planning workshop will be encouraged to enroll in the avalanche workshop.