Ski Haus offers avalanche workshops

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Backcountry users eager to increase their knowledge of avalanche safety practices have opportunities Friday and Saturday.

Ski Haus will host a pair of clinics with Nick Logan of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Friday night's session, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, is free and open to the public, though donations to the CAIC are encouraged. Reservations are required for Saturday's all-day field session on Rabbit Ears Pass, and participation is limited to 25 people. The fee of $25 goes to the CAIC.

"These clinics will be valuable not just for people concerned about snow conditions in our area, but people planning a yurt trip to the San Juans or a hut trip to one of the 10th Mountain Division huts," Murray Selleck of Ski Haus said.

People who take part in the field session will have a chance to practice their transceiver location skills, learn how to plan safe routes around avalanche hazards, and gain an understanding of snow layers by digging snow pits.

Students will be encouraged to adopt the habit of beginning every trip into avalanche country with a transceiver practice session, even if they are well versed in its use, Selleck said.

"We'll find out who has new batteries and has a strong signal, whose batteries might be low and have a weak signal and who might not be transmitting at all," Selleck said.

The snow pit exercise will allow skiers and snowshoers to identify weak and strong layers in the snowpack and form a picture of its history. People who are in the habit of digging pits throughout the season will learn how to dig a "hasty pit" to assess the effect of recent snow events.

The field session will take up most of the day Saturday, and participants are encouraged to dress in layers and bring lunch and hot drinks. Although there will be a few loaner avalanche transceivers, participants are encouraged to bring their own or borrow one from a friend.

Ski Haus has been hosting an annual avalanche clinic with the CAIC for more than 15 years, and the Friday night session typically attracts more than 70 backcountry users, Selleck said. But this year's clinic is being held against the backdrop of one of Routt County's most active avalanche seasons in years -- one that included a fatality Jan. 3. Michael Gebhardt, 26, of Steamboat Springs, died when he was trapped by an avalanche on Soda Mountain.

Planning this "wasn't just a reaction to the snowpack or current events," Selleck said. "We've had this booked since August."

There are spots remaining for Saturday's field session, and reservations can be made at Ski Haus, U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road. Or call 879-0385 for information.

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