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Big deals in the backcountry

Veronica Whitney

BEAVER CREEK – We are at the bottom of a hole in the snow four-feet deep at the top of Beaver Creek Mountain. Though the surrounding walls of snow look the same from our vantage point, it isn’t. It’s all white, but that doesn’t make it all the same, said Beaver Ski patrolman Jim Clancy. And understanding that can mean the difference between getting in an avalanche accident or not, or surviving a slide.”In Colorado we have the most dangerous and unpredictable snowpack in the world,” said Beaver Creek patrolman Jim Dasilver, who together with Clancy and other ski patrollers gave a back country safety and avalanche awareness workshop at Beaver Creek Sunday as part of the National Safety Awareness Week, which ended Friday. The workshop included as a short classroom presentation, hands-on practice including beacon and snow pit work, and snow evaluation.”You always want to dig a pit to the ground in Colorado. It gives you a sense of what the snowpack is like out there,” Clancy said. The snowpack here in Colorado is always evolving because of the depth of the snow and the temperature. Cold temperatures, for example, are bad for the snowpack, he said.

“This is a map of this winter’s weather,” Clancy said pointing at the different layers of snow in the pit. “You’re looking for places where there could be a surface, where it could collapse.”It could take only 10 minutes to do the snow evaluation and other tests, Clancy said, and the results could prove vital.”It won’t prevent an avalanche,” he said. “It will just educate you on whether it’s safe to go there.Skiers and snowboarders headed to Beaver Creek’s popular “bald spot,” shouldn’t even consider the area without doing a pretty thorough analysis of the snow, Clancy said.”We go out there and dig pits on a daily basis so people will check the snowpack,” he said. “Those heading to the bald spot should take a shovel and a beacon.”Not until springOf all the things a skier can take when heading to the back country, perhaps the most important are what’s called an avalanche beacons. If a skier or snowboarder is buried, their beacons will send signals to their companions’ beacons. This should make it easier to locate the buried person and start digging.

“You don’t go to the back country without it,” said Tyler Chapman a ski patroller from Edwards. Chapman said he believed the man who died in the Jan. 14 avalanche in The Canyons ski resort in Utah didn’t have a beacon. The avalanche also may have killed other people, but rescuers haven’t been able to find them after days of probing the area, reports say.”They say they won’t find them probably until the spring,” Chapman said.Beacons can cost between $200 and $300,.”Three years ago we had a guy buried up to his chest in the snow there and he didn’t have a beacon,” Clancy said. “He said he had it at home.Cell phones, if they are turned on, can interfere with a beacon’s signal, Clancy added, so phones should be turned off. In-bounds under control



Eric Noreen, 58, of Seattle, was among participants in the avalanche workshop.”The reason I came is to familiarize myself with the use of the beacon and talk to the ski patrol about where there could be avalanche problems here,” said Noreen, who doesn’t do a lot of backcountry skiing, but likes to go in the glades. Chapman said there’s nothing to worry when skiing in bounds in Beaver Creek mountain.”We control everything that is in bounds here to make sure that is 100 percent safe,” he said. “If its open we have control.”The workshop was an addition to a series of avalanche and back country awareness workshops offered by the Beaver Creek ski patrol in the past weeks that focused on snow physics, route selection, evaluating snow stability, beacons, and avalanche phenomenon and rescue techniques.Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or vwhitney@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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