Skiers sharpen avalanche rescue skills
BRECKENRIDGE – Scott Beegun’s ski partner was buried deep beneath the snow following an avalanche Sunday – and every minute spent searching for him was a minute closer to his death.Beegun kicked off his skis and headed out over the snow, waiting for a beep from his avalanche beacon pointed to the ground in front of him. Nothing. Beegun then headed down the slope, listening. After about two yards, he turned back into the slide, his face intent on the beacon. Still nothing.A few more yards and the beacon started to beep softly. Beegun turned down the slope and the beeping became louder. He turned to the right and it faded. He turned to the left, adjusted his beacon and narrowed his search to a 3-foot-square area.
Then he began to probe, stabbing his metal pole into the snow that had turned as hard as concrete in the slide. After three stabs at the snow, his probe hit something.”Ten minutes,” he said. “A little too long. Ten minutes and you’re going to die.”But his “friend” was far from dead. The search was just practice.
Beegun was one of about two dozen who took advantage of the Breckenridge Ski Resort’s new Beacon Basin on Peak 8 last weekend. It’s the first of its kind in the state and gives skiers the chance to practice avalanche rescue skills that many rarely do.”It’s a constant criticism of people who have beacons – they seldom, if ever, practice,” said Will Barrett, an avalanche specialist for the ski resort. “A lot of it is five minutes at the trailhead. It’s time-consuming to set up scenarios, and if it takes a lot of time, people don’t do it. The more you practice, it becomes second nature. That’s the key – to do it under pressure without thinking about it.”
Beegun has been a backcountry skier for about 12 years, and the last time he practiced using his beacon was a year ago. “It’s cool to practice,” he said. “But it would’ve been a lot faster if I’d seen the (ski) tracks going in.”Each morning, Breckenridge ski patrollers prepare a 10,000-square-foot area north of the Vista Haus restaurant, burying up to seven transceivers in a mock avalanche. Skiers then use their beacons to locate the transceivers.”We’ve had a lot of local folks,” Barrett said. “And we had a few people from England who were excited to see it. They don’t have anything like that in Britain.”
The Tracker transceivers, made by Backcountry Access, only send signals and are useless if someone were to take just one. Probe poles are available on site, but skiers must bring their own beacons. The site is open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.Vail, Colorado