Slide drives man to sharpen his skills |

Slide drives man to sharpen his skills

Bob Berwyn
Bob Berwyn/Summit Daily\Avalanche survivor Mark Layden demonstrates the use of an inclinometer at A-Basin's Beacon Bowl Saturday. The pocket-size instrument helps backcountry travelers determine whether a given slope angle falls into the avalanche-prone category.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Beep … beep … BEEP … BEEP!With the signal from his avalanche transceiver growing louder and louder, Denverite Mark Layden drops to his knees, heart pounding, adrenaline coursing through his muscles and veins, and tries to pinpoint the buried signal.Turning his receiving beacon left, then right, he hones in until the LED readout and the audio signal show that he must be right above the transmitting beacon. He grabs a probe pole and begins systematically poking holes deep into the chunky snow, hoping to feel the strike that will tell him where to start digging.

The search is just a drill, part of Arapahoe Basin’s fourth annual Beacon Bowl contest. But for Layden the exercise has a certain urgency. Just a little more than a year ago, he was skiing in the Jones Pass area with three friends when a huge slide blasted down from above, burying all but his hand beneath a dense, stifling blanket of avalanche debris.That Easter Sunday slide drives Layden to hone his avalanche search-and-rescue skills every chance he gets.”You start to take the consequences much more seriously,” Layden says, describing his brush with the white death.”The report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said it was a good chance it was a natural release,” he says. “I was ripped off the snow by the wind blast. I didn’t hear a thing. It happened so fast. I was fighting it, fighting to stay up.”In the end, Layden was able to free himself from the debris. But since then, he’s spent a day with a guide learning how to travel safely in avalanche terrain, and decided to attend Saturday’s Beacon Bowl to brush up on his beacon skills.

A couple of dozen people participated in the event, including 13-year-olds, Jake Brauns and Matt Means. “We love powder and we’re starting to do some backcountry stuff. We’re good friends and we like to do stuff together,” Brauns said. “We want to be well-geared and know what we’re doing.”Brauns and Means were by far the youngest participants in the friendly competition, which also included ski patrollers from A-Basin, Keystone and Breckenridge. The friends are preparing themselves at an age when it should pay off. Typically, avalanche victims fall into a very distinct demographic group – young males between the age of 18 and 30.Breckenridge ski patroller Jeff Ferragi won the event for the third time in a runoff against Steve Christie (second) and Bruce Edgerly (third), both of Backcountry Access, the Boulder-based company that makes the popular Tracker beacons.

In the first round of competition, the three finalists were each separated by a second, with all of them finding one buried beacon in under 50 seconds. The second round was more challenging, as the organizers simulated a search for two victims. In addition to the bacon contest, A-Basin ski patrollers demonstrated a dog search-and-rescue operation and explained the mechanics of digging and evaluating a snow pit to test snowpack stability. Patrollers and beacon reps with Backcountry Access and Ortovox also conducted one-on-one beacon clinics. Proceeds from the event benefited the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.Vail, Colorado

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