Close calls make Aspen avalanche course timely |

Close calls make Aspen avalanche course timely

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Tim Kurnos/Aspen Times fileLocal avalanche forecaster Brian McCall explains the makeup of a snowpack to participants in a previous Avalanche Awareness Workshop on Aspen Mountain. The annual workshop will take place Jan. 21 and 22.

ASPEN, Colorado – Two close calls on area peaks last weekend may make Mountain Rescue Aspen’s upcoming Avalanche Awareness Workshop all the more timely.

A skier was buried Sunday by an avalanche on Marble Peak, but was reportedly dug out quickly and was not injured, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Another skier was caught and carried by an avalanche in Maroon Bowl on Highlands Ridge Saturday, but was able to grab a tree in the slide’s path and hold on, the CAIC reported on Monday.

“There is danger right now,” said Mountain Rescue member David Swersky, coordinator of the annual avalanche workshop. “This is another really representative year of a fragile Colorado snowpack.”

Sunday’s snow fell on weak layers that included surface hoar, faceted snow and crusty snow, according to the CAIC. The avalanche danger increased throughout the day Sunday as snow fell, and the center rated the danger in the Aspen zone as considerable on Monday.

Colorado’s snowpack is often unstable, and judging snowpack conditions is but one part of the curriculum at the avalanche workshop, scheduled Jan. 21 and 22.

“Our workshop once again focuses on safe decisions, as far as when to go and when not to go,” Swersky said.

How to use avalanche gear and conduct a rescue is also a key part of the curriculum, and Sunday’s rescue in Marble is a case in point, he said. One’s best chances of rescue in the event of an avalanche involve speedy, knowledgeable action by one’s companions.

“If you have to rely on Mountain Rescue for an avalanche rescue, it will probably be a body recovery,” Swersky said.

As usual, the workshop involves a classroom session first – on Friday, Jan. 21 at The Little Nell in Aspen. Registration starts at 5:30 p.m, with instruction from 6-8:30 p.m. Speakers will include Mountain Rescue members and Brian McCall, local avalanche forecaster for the CAIC.

Participation on Friday evening is required in order to take part in the Saturday, Jan. 22 field exercise – a day on Richmond Ridge off the top of Aspen Mountain, where beacon practice, efficient shoveling and a simulated rescue are among the activities. Participants also receive instruction in avalanche hazard evaluation, a snow pit demonstration, route selection and safe travel techniques. The field day goes from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m, followed by a wrap-up and group rescue problem at 3 p.m. at The Little Nell.

The workshop fee is $30, including the Friday lecture and Saturday field day, plus a gondola ticket and instructional materials.

The workshop is open to anyone who plays in the backcountry. No pre-registration is necessary; just show up on Friday to sign up and pay the fee. Come prepared with gear for backcountry snow travel on Jan. 22.

Go to to see the statewide avalanche forecast.

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