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970-925-1120

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Heading into the backcountry? Here are some pro tips from Aspen Ambulance critical care paramedic, Mark Falender

Mountain Living

Heading into the backcountry? Here are some pro tips from Aspen Ambulance critical care paramedic, Mark Falender

by Aspen Valley Hospital

November 29, 2021

The backcountry has inherent risks, but with the right skills, resources and preparation, you can set yourself and your group up for a successful trip and enjoy everything the backcountry has to offer. 

Don’t go alone: 

Ski area services like ski patrol and avalanche mitigation aren’t available beyond the resort boundaries and aren’t available on the resort outside of daytime operating hours. You’ll need to be self-sufficient or rely on the group you’re with, in case of emergency. A reliable partner (or two) is a requirement for backcountry skiing and can also make a trek up the ski hill a bit more enjoyable.

 

Be prepared: 

Even for short trips, pack a first aid kit and know how to use it. A small number of supplies can help you control bleeding, splint a broken arm, or sling a dislocated shoulder to get back to town on your own. More significant injuries may require external resources, so whether you’re on the resort or deep in the woods, bring a communication device to summon help. For areas without cell phone coverage, consider bringing along a satellite communicator 

 

Take care of yourself

Don’t underestimate the temperature drop and wind chill as you gain elevation or the sun begins to set. Weather forecastswebcams and remote weather station data are great resources to get an idea of what to expect. At a minimum, pack a wind shell, a warm insulated jacket, dry gloves and a hat. For longer outings, include plenty of snacks and water. A warm drink in an insulated thermos will make you look like a pro. If you are traveling in the backcountry, be sure to bring avalanche rescue equipment including a transceiver, shovel, and probe. 

 

Plan ahead

If you’re heading up the resort, Aspen Snowmass uphill policies have been updated for the 2021–2022 season and vary by mountain. Research the rules including designated uphill routes, time restrictions, and dog policies. Remember that uphilling access is a privilege, and resorts are designed for downhillers. Keep yourself visible at all times, wear lights at night so the groomers can see you, and stay out of closed areas where the ski patrol may be conducting avalanche control. 

If you’re exploring the backcountry, you’ll need to do a bit more preparation. Check the local avalanche forecast to help determine appropriate options. Plan your route on a map paying particular attention to slope angles, slope aspect and elevation. If you aren’t sure what those terms mean and why they’re important, then take an avalanche education class. 

 

For more information to help you get started, visit a local retailer, or hire a guide. Enjoy the winter! 

 by Mark Falender, Critical Care Paramedic, IFMGA/AMGA Mountain Guide. 

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