Two opportunities in Aspen this week to improve avalanche awareness

Staff report

Backcountry travelers in the Aspen area will get two opportunities this week to learn more about conditions and how they can help stay safe.

Mountain Rescue Aspen is presenting an avalanche workshop open to the public Friday and Saturday.

Powder to the People will kick off its annual backcountry awareness series Wednesday with a presentation by Blase Reardon, avalanche forecaster for the Aspen zone with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. He will give an overview of the current snowpack, backcountry conditions and recent backcountry activity. Reardon will share tips for safe backcountry travel.

The event will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the GrassRoots TV studio at 110 E. Hallam St. in Aspen. It is free, but donations to Powder to the People will be taken at the door. The nonprofit is dedicated to backcountry access, safety and etiquette.

The event also will include a presentation by Kelly Cordes, alpine climber and author of “The Tower: A Chronicle of Climbing and Controversy on Cerro Torre.” He will talk about the fascinating history and bizarre controversies of Cerro Torre, a 10,262-foot peak in Patagonia.

This will be Mountain Rescue Aspen’s 30th annual avalanche workshop. The event started in the mid-1980s and would typically attract 20 to 25 people, according to former facilitator David Swersky, a longtime member of the rescue organization who now handles publicity for the event. After an avalanche near the Tagert Hut killed three people in 1989, the attendance vaulted to between 80 and 100 participants each year, according to Swersky.

There has been a spike in backcountry travelers in recent years, in large part because of advances in equipment. Adventuresome snowmobilers account for part of the spike, and the Mountain Rescue Aspen avalanche workshop has attracted greater numbers of them in recent years, Swersky said.

The workshop will focus on “making safe decisions” and “what to do when everything else goes wrong,” he said.

The training will include analyzing the terrain and reading the snowpack. “Right now, we’re in prime time of deep instability,” Swersky said.

During the field day, the students will break into small groups of six to eight participants that will work with members of the Mountain Rescue team. The participants will be able to tap into the knowledge and experience of several Mountain Rescue volunteers who have participated in rescues and recoveries over the years.

The cost is $30 and covers the Friday lecture and Saturday terrain tour plus a one-ride ticket for the Silver Queen Gondola and educational avalanche materials. Mountain Rescue Aspen recommends the class for snowshoers, skiers, snowmobilers and snowboarders. Limited space is available, so preregistration is advised by visiting


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