Slide into avalanche safety

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— Seasoned and beginner backcountry adventurers have the chance to brush up on avalanche safety this weekend.

The annual Ski Haus Avalanche Clinic includes an indoor discussion on Friday night as well as field sessions on Rabbit Ears Pass all day Saturday and Sunday.

"It's not even a level one course, but it's quite good if you're the occasional backcountry skier, snowshoer or snowmobiler" Murray Selleck of Ski Haus said.

Colorado Avalanche Information Center, or CAIC, forecaster Brad Sawtell will present the free clinic from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

"It will help people be aware of conditions and it might get people to listen to that voice in their head that is saying 'maybe yes or maybe no,'" before they head into the backcountry, Selleck said.

Space is limited to 20 people for each of the field sessions Saturday and Sunday. People can sign up at Ski Haus. The cost is $30, with proceeds going to the CAIC and Routt County Search and Rescue.

"We'll dig some snow pits, look at the different snow structures, perform stability tests, and do some basic beacon practice," Sawtell said.

Digging snow pits essentially involves digging a big hole in the snow to look at the different layers and strength of the snow.

The field sessions will last most of the day. Participants are encouraged to pack a lunch and hot drinks along with their avalanche transceiver.

"They need to be prepared to be on the pass all day," Selleck said.

The avalanche clinics are being offered a week after an avalanche near Winter Park Ski Resort attracted national media attention. On Saturday, a large slide buried two cars near 11,307-foot Berthoud Pass, but all the cars' eight occupants survived.

"From a historical standpoint it's not unusual, but slides like that don't happen every day," Sawtell said. "Unusual weather creates unusual avalanches."

Avalanches do occur in Routt County, and people sometimes forget that, Selleck said.

"There are small pockets here that can slide, and it doesn't take a big slide to bury you," he said.

Last year was one of Routt County's most active avalanche seasons in years - one that included a fatality Jan. 3, 2006. Michael Gebhardt, 26, of Steamboat Springs, died when he was trapped by an avalanche on Soda Mountain.

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