Local nonprofit promotes backcountry safety with upcoming education programs | VailDaily.com

Local nonprofit promotes backcountry safety with upcoming education programs

Gore Range Gravity Alliance hosts navigation training and annual beacon hunt competition this month

The second annual beacon hunt competition will take place on Jan. 14 at the avalanche beacon training park in Minturn.
Gore Range Gravity Alliance/Courtesy photo

Colorado snowpack numbers are soaring after a slew of early season storms, and local nonprofit Gore Range Gravity Alliance is offering various events in the coming month to help people plan and prepare for safe backcountry trips throughout this active winter season.

Founder ​​Amanda Marchiani created the group one year ago with a focus on bringing women interested in backcountry skiing and boarding together. Since the alliance’s first meeting last January, the group has regularly hosted social and educational events in the valley that enable women to further their backcountry skill sets while meeting new friends to recreate with in the outdoors.

“That first event had 15, maybe 18 girls at it, and now we have events where 40 women sometimes show up,” Marchiani said. “A lot of times we get the response, ‘This is exactly what I’ve been looking for’ — a way to learn whatever it is we’re teaching that night, but also get to chit chat amongst some other women, to be able to make friends as an adult.”

On Thursday Jan. 5, Gore Range Gravity Alliance is hosting a mapping and navigation lesson led by Meg Twohig, a trainer with the backcountry planning company CalTopo, at Cripple Creek Backcountry in Avon from 6-8 p.m. Over the course of the free two-hour session, Twohig will teach attendees how to map out a backcountry route before departing and how to use the map to stay on track while on the mountain. People are encouraged to bring their own laptops to participate in hands-on learning exercises.

The alliance hosts education sessions in the valley throughout the year. This Thursday, Meg Twohig teaches a navigation and mapping course at Cripple Creek Backcountry.
Gore Range Gravity Alliance/Courtesy photo

Then on Saturday, Jan. 14, the nonprofit will host its second annual beacon hunt competition at the beacon avalanche training park on Meadow Mountain from noon-4 p.m. The event combines avalanche rescue practice with friendly competition, holding a beacon retrieval contest and a snow-digging contest over the course of the day. 

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The beacon contest will be a timed trial to see how quickly competitors can find and probe strike a buried receiver in the park. The top three qualifiers will then go head to head in a championship round where they must find the beacon and then dig it up to top the podium.

The digging contest will pit teams of three against each other to see who can uncover an object buried deep in the snow fastest, simulating the level of energy and physical strength required to reach someone trapped under heavy snow.

The beacon training park is a short climb up the slope at the Mountain Meadow Trailhead on U.S. 24, around a quarter mile from the I-70 Minturn exit.

Gore Range Gravity Alliance is not a formal avalanche training organization and does not offer certifications, but Marchiani said that the competitions are open to all experience levels.

“If somebody wants to participate and they want to learn but they don’t have the gear yet, or they’ve never even seen a beacon, this is a really welcoming atmosphere,” Marchiani said. “We’ll show you how to use that stuff, we’ll lend you our gear, in a way that you don’t feel intimidated.”

In addition to offering education and practice experiences, the alliance promotes the growth of community around backcountry adventures through gatherings. The next gathering will take place from Feb. 12-14, when the organization hosts a women’s hut trip to the Point Breeze and Continental Divide Huts. Limited space is available, and those interested in participating can contact amanda@gorerangegravityalliance.com for details.

Alongside pre-set gatherings, the group’s Facebook page posts opportunities for uphill meetups and creates a space for women to connect and meet around their own adventures. Marchiani said that finding people to go backcountry skiing with was one of the most difficult parts of getting into the activity, and she wants to bring down those barriers for other women facing the same challenges.

“Even now that I have the experience, sometimes it’s still tricky,” Marchiani said. “Even when there are people that you do know you can go with, schedules are hard to line up, so it’s nice to have our Facebook group where you can reach out and say you’re going to ski and find other people who want to join.”

For more information about upcoming events or how to get involved, visit GoreRangeGravityAlliance.com or reach out to Marchiani at amanda@gorerangegravityalliance.com.

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