Avalanche danger has not been a huge issue in the Aspen area so far this winter, but the situation can change rapidly.
What hasn't changed is Mountain Rescue Aspen's commitment to its annual public avalanche seminar, which it will host Jan. 20 and 21.
"It's still a good idea for this to happen even though there's very little snow this year," said David Swersky, a Mountain Rescue member. "When it does snow, there will be significant avalanche danger."
This year, in an unusual twist, the event will evoke the memory of a local man who died in a slide last spring. Aspenite Adam Dennis, who had a passion for photography, died in April in an avalanche near Aspen Highlands. Members of his family will have some of Dennis' photographs available for sale at the Friday night session, benefiting Mountain Rescue Aspen, Swersky said.
An avalanche also claimed the life of Snowmass Village resident Brandon Zukoff last winter. He died in a slide outside the Snowmass Ski Area in February.
Both families have provided support to Mountain Rescue Aspen, Swersky noted.
The existing area snowpack, subjected to plenty of freeze-thaw cycles in this winter of less-than-normal snowfall, is what backcountry travelers call "rotten." While that's a typical condition for Colorado's snowpack, it is more pronounced this year, raising the danger if and when a storm dumps a heavy load on top of it, according to Swersky.
Participants in next weekend's workshop will have a chance to study the existing snowpack, but snow science is a small part of the seminar, which begins with a classroom session from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 20 at the Little Nell in a conference room donated to the cause by Aspen Skiing Co. Registration begins at 5:30 p.m. Local avalanche forecaster Brian McCall will give the presentation.
Attendance Friday is required in order to take part on Jan. 21, when participants head out onto Richmond Ridge, off the summit of Aspen Mountain, for in-the-field instruction, including practice in the use of a shovel, probe and beacon. Making wise decisions in the backcountry and companion rescue remain the focal points of the workshop, according to Swersky.
"We always say when you're in the backcountry, you are your brother's keeper," he said.
Quick recovery of an avalanche victim is key, Swersky said. By the time Mountain Rescue arrives, it's a body-recovery mission.
Seminar participants should be prepared for backcountry snow travel, with suitable skis or snowshoes, for the Saturday session.
The $30 registration fee covers the workshop, a gondola ticket and educational materials. Go to www.mountainrescueaspen.org to preregister or for more information.