Aspen Community Avalanche Seminar

Post by blogger | January 15, 2005      

Avalanche seminar for backcountry skiing: Our community avalanche seminar last evening was EXCELLENT. Organized by Mountain Rescue Aspen and presented by Halsted Morris of the Colorado Avalanche Info Center, the three hour “mini-course” gave a concise overview of avalanche safety that I’m certain will save lives. Several hundred people attended, including quite a few young men in that 17-28 year old demographic that really need to hear just how dangerous avalanches are. They’re having a field day today, with beacon practice etc.

There is much discussion in the avalanche community about teaching people how to make good decisions in the backcountry — rather than dinking around with snow science and traveling in denial. More, it’s becoming clear that many individuals simply do not know how much risk they are taking when they ski avalanche terrain, and are thus not making informed decisions — though the consequences of their actions affect everyone from family, to rescue teams, to tax payers. All that was covered last evening.

For starters, Halsted mentioned actuarial studies, and opened everyone’s eyes with the fact that in our Colorado area (Pitkin Country), a person has a 1.5 in 100,00 chance of dying in a car accident, and a 1.7 in 100,000 chance of dying in an avalanche accident! Considering we backcountry ski MUCH less than we drive, this shows that we shouldn’t be letting our guard down while out in the wild — and that we may be taking more risk than we think we are.

Beyond numbers, Halsted spent quite a bit of time on the “human factor.” He presented an excellent decision making process that over-simplified the problem and process, but will help folks who need to get started making informed decisions about backcountry skiing avalanche terrain. Listening to the presentation got me thinking about improving my own approach — my main reason for attending these seminars almost every year for several decades.

Lastly, community avalanche seminars are a terrific way to meet people and catch up with old friends. I enjoyed meeting blog readers Dennis and Jay, and seeing all my old mountain rescue friends was special — especially former MRA president David Swersky, and the amazing Deans who own and operate T-Lazy 7 Ranch and snowmobile tours, and have contributed so much over the years on countless backcountry skiing rescues and community endeavors. Then there was Galvin, who I shared one midnight snowmobile rescue with (clear goggle lenses essential), and my old climbing buddy Bruce Gordon, who now operates EcoFlight.

And speaking of decision making: This morning I had to decide if our 14-year-old son could ski up in Highland Bowl frontcountry by himself, on a day when there could be inbounds avalanches. I knew from reading reports that the ski patrol had a lot of trouble opening the bowl these past days after our huge storms. Basically, they were under-gunned, using small dynamite charges that made the process resemble throwing fire crackers at a whale. I respect what they do, but we told our boy he’d need to wait a few more days to go up there.


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