Beaver Creek encourages skier safety | VailDaily.com
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Beaver Creek encourages skier safety

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com
Beaver Creek, CO Colorado
CVR Beaver Creek Safety Drill DT 1-14-09
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Perched on the front seat of a snowmobile, Blu, a black Lab and veteran member of the Beaver Creek Safety Patrol, doesn’t notice the beautiful backcountry views or the pristine meadows of untouched powder.

Tail wagging and whimpering with excitement, the avalanche dog has one thing on her mind ” she’s going to dig someone out of the snow today.

Somewhere in the backcountry behind the ski area, Blu’s handler Brent Redden has buried another ski patroller, Andrew Hedrick. At his command, Blu takes off across the snowy slope, and within a minute, she’s dug out Hedrick and is looking expectantly at Redden for more.

The rescue scenario is one of many the ski patrol stages to train its elite team of rescue dogs, Redden said.

Blu and the mountain’s other avalanche dogs will be practicing similar rescues and showing off their skills as part of the mountain’s safety week starting Saturday.

The mountain’s ski patrol will be putting on events, giving out swag and teaching free classes with the goal of educating skiers and snowboarders about mountain safety.

This year, safety week will actually take its focus off the ski area and into the backcountry, said Beaver Creek spokeswoman Jen Brown.

This been a particularly active year for avalanches in Colorado, including a slide in late December on the Bald Spot, a popular out-of-bounds area accessible through Beaver Creek.

As more and more people are skiing the unpatrolled backcountry accessible from Beaver Creek and mountain’s newer “extreme terrain” areas such as the Stone Creek Chutes, safety education is needed, Brown said.

“I think the idea of adventure has changed,” she said. “People coming out (on vacation) get here and say, ‘I want to ski the backcountry because I’ve heard its great, or I want to ski trees.’

This year’s safety events will include backcountry training classes, a beacon finding workshop, and of course, the presence of the avalanche dogs.

But even if you aren’t skiing the backcountry, there’s plenty to learn about being safe within ski area boundaries, said Zander Kestly, Beaver Creek’s mountain safety attendant supervisor.

Ski patrol pays particular attention to slow zones ” such as Gold Dust run or the intersection at the base of Cinch Express ” and during the week, they will be handing out swag to people they see abiding by the Skier Safety Code.

The nationwide safety code is a set of seven rules, including yield to uphill traffic, obey closure ropes and signs and skiing within control.

The safety code is simple, and if guests follow the code, they can better react to their surroundings and have a safer and more enjoyable experience, Kestly said.

“The more people who know these rules, the less people we end up carrying down the mountain,” he said. “It means fewer injuries, and that’s really the goal.”

Kestly said the patrol’s approach isn’t to police the slopes, but to educate guests and encourage them to ski safely.

“We try to keep it positive,” Kestly said. “We’re all out here for the same reason. We want people to have fun, but you need to be safe. We like to educate first, and enforce second.”

And it seems some awareness might be needed as far as safety rules go.

“I’ve heard of it,” said Wisconsin skier Kelly Kratky when asked if she’d heard of the skier safety code. Her friends shook their heads blankly.

Texas skier Ethan Lowe said he didn’t know about the code, but that he definitely keeps safety in mind when skiing.

“You hear about all the injuries,” he said. “It’s a great sport, but if you’re stupid, it can end it for you.”

As locals who always ski the area, Brad Meeks and Tara Clark said they definitely consider safety, especially when it come to wearing a helmet.

“I didn’t always (wear one),” Clark, a snowboarder, said. “But I started to. I’m more confident, knowing I’m not going to bash the back of my head against the ground.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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