Aspen Skiing Co. employees fund videos to improve safety on Colorado’s big peaks |

Aspen Skiing Co. employees fund videos to improve safety on Colorado’s big peaks

Conundrum Hot Springs are a popular hiking destination near Aspen. It is a 8.5-mile hike from the trail ahead to the springs, which sit at 11,222 feet.

Two high-profile initiatives in the backcountry surrounding Aspen got financial boosts Wednesday, Dec. 27, from workers at Aspen Skiing Co.

The Skico employees’ Environment Foundation awarded an $11,500 grant to the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District to help implement a reservation system for overnight visitors to Conundrum Hot Springs.

In addition, a $5,000 grant was awarded to Colorado Fourteeners Initiative to produce safety videos emphasizing the dangers of climbing some of the tougher mountains in Colorado, including Capitol Peak and the Maroon Bells in Pitkin County.

“Just given the tragedies we experienced on Capitol and other peaks, it had a real relevance,” Matt Hamilton, Skico sustainability director, said of the application by Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. He said many people in the Roaring Fork Valley were friends and neighbors of two local victims in a climbing accident. Their deaths had a big impact on people.

The videos will be timely. Six people died in mountain-climbing accidents on the Bells and Capitol last summer. Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, officials with the U.S. Forest Service and Mountain Rescue Aspen are contemplating how to increase education to prepare people for the tougher peaks in the Elk Mountains. Evidence indicates that hikers on Capitol Peak in particular weren’t prepared last summer for what they encountered.

The contributions were part of $90,132 awarded to 14 causes or groups by the Environment Foundation during its winter grant cycle. Skico workers voluntarily contribute to the foundation. The Aspen Skiing Co. Family Fund and the Aspen Community Foundation match the contributions.

Lloyd Athearn, executive director of Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, said the organization received an additional $5,000 for the mountain safety educational videos from the Colorado Tourism Office.

CFI has already produced videos on topics ranging from avalanche safety to fast-changing mountain weather. The grants will allow the nonprofit organization to add six to eight videos on aspects of mountain safety. Athearn said research shows short videos of two to three minutes each are more effective than longer ones.

One topic to be broached is how five or six of the peaks higher than 14,000 feet in Colorado are in a league of their own. Many of the fourteeners require a long slog through forest and rock scree. But a handful require keener skills, such as route finding and more technical maneuvering. Another video will aim to educate climbers that equipment such as an ice ax, climbing helmet and crampons may be needed on some of the trips.

“We’re looking at this as a mental trip wire — if you’re going to climb here, realize a number of people have died climbing these peaks,” Athearn said.

The existing CFI videos were viewed about 50,000 times by November 2017, according to Athearn. The views accounted for about 18,000 minutes. That’s the equivalent of about 12 days and 12 hours.

“I would say a lot of people are watching them,” he said.

The beauty is once they are loaded on YouTube and other platforms they can be pumped out in a moment’s notice via social media at particularly appropriate times.

CFI is working with the Forest Service to secure permission to shoot video on Capitol Peak and the Maroon Bells next summer. Athearn said it is important for the safety videos to showcase some of the tougher terrain on the routes. With luck, the videos will be ready for viewing by mid-summer, depending on how soon the routes can be climbed and video shot.

Hamilton said the grant to the Forest Service was a continuation of support for protecting heavily visited places in the wilderness. The foundation awarded an earlier grant to study overnight use and problems users created in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The baseline data helped the White River National Forest craft an overnight visitor management plan earlier this year. Conundrum Hot Springs was selected as the first site to implement the reservation system.

Aspen-Sopris District Ranger Karen Schroyer said the $11,500 grant will allow the district to hire a wilderness ranger who will camp at Conundrum next summer to check permits and ensure compliance. That will free up funds to be used for other wilderness patrols.

Details of the reservation system are still being worked out.

“We’re hoping to go online sometime in April,” Schroyer said.

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