As we head into the new year, most of us want to escape to the mountains and find that feeling of weightlessness that only comes from the most enchanting of powder turns. If you head into the backcountry now, there is a chance you can link a few nice surfy turns together, but there is also a chance your skis may meet some nasty sharks lurking beneath the surface or some serious wind crusts. On top of that, there is the ever present risk of avalanches, which is currently heightened, due to the unfortunate early season weather patterns that we have seen so far this year. So how, you may ask, do you nourish your wild winter needs right now?
Well, you’ve come to the right place, because we have a solution for you that will feed your need to freeze your feet off as you tromp through the snow, in search of something more. A solution that will allow your bases to stay intact another day, and keep the p-tex and base weld at bay. A solution that will benefit your future self as you continue to be a student of the mountains and the avalanches they can produce. This amazing solution we speak of so highly, is none other than Avalanche Beacon Training Parks.
Avalanche Beacon Training Parks are a great tool to help you hone your beacon skills, and practice how to do a beacon search. Most parks consist of multiple buried beacons that can be turned on and off via a user-friendly control board, allowing the user (you) to play out various burial scenarios and improve your ability to locate one or multiple beacons.
Beacon searches are not something you do once and call it good, you are never an expert and never immune from making mistakes. The pros practice them at least weekly. The non-pros but avid backcountry seekers like myself, practice multiple times a season. While I’m on a tour out with friends and the ski conditions are kind of crummy, or the avalanche danger is high and we don’t want to get into any consequential terrain, or even when we are just waiting for that one friend to show up who always oversleeps, my partners and I will set up beacon search scenarios for each other as a productive way to pass the time and still have a good day. Lately, Avalanche Beacon Training Parks have been popping up across our state as an even more convenient way to practice with your beacon, that requires zero set up on your end.
The latest and greatest beacon training park to grace our presence was just revealed last week by the White River National Forest, at the Meadow Mountain Trailhead, near Minturn. 8 beacons are buried in the park and can be controlled for various scenarios by a control panel. While most beacon parks are typically located at ski resorts, this new beacon training park at Mountain Meadow requires no pass to access, and it is always open and free to the public. All you need to do is show up with your personal beacon and probe, and you can conduct your very own free beacon training session. More information on the Mountain Meadow Avalanche Beacon Training Park can be found here.
One thing to remember when visiting a beacon park, is that most of them ask that you do not dig up the buried beacons. The main goal of beacon parks is to help you practice with your beacon and your probe. Make sure to check all instructions for each individual beacon park to know what is and isn’t allowed. Here we have compiled a list of Avalanche Beacon Training Parks throughout Colorado, organized from closest to furthest from the Front Range. Sing a carol, drink some eggnog if you are into that sort of thing, and head out to these beacon training parks this holiday season (and later)!
Arapahoe Basin: A Basin sets up an Avalanche Beacon Training Park yearly. The park has been confirmed for this year, however it is not yet open. Keep an eye on their social media for updates.
Winter Park: Ski Patrol at Winter Park sets up buried beacon/rescue scenarios at both Winter Park and Mary Jane. They typically change up locations and scenarios through the year in order to make it very realistic and educational for all types of scenarios. Both the Winter Park and Mary Jane stations are set up, please call dispatch at 970-726-1480 to get the exact location of the current scenarios, and check back in each time you want to go for any updates.
Hidden Valley in RMNP: 8 beacons are buried in a marked area just west of the parking lot and can be turned on/off by the user via a control panel. Rangers advise that an entry pass is required for RMNP, and the Hidden Valley area can be busy on weekends.
Avalanche Beacon Training Park by Summit County Rescue Group: SCRG sets up a beacon training park each year. It has previously been at the Frisco Adventure Park. It has been confirmed that the Beacon Training Park will be set up again this year, however when and where is still to be determined. Keep an eye on SCRG’s social media channels for any updates.
Breckenridge: Breckenridge has 2 beacon training areas. One is currently open on Peak 9, just below the top of Beaver Run Super chair. The other beacon park is located on Peak 8, on Upper 4 o’clock, adjacent to Colorado Chair, however this area isn’t open yet. Watch their social media for any updates.
Vail: Vail Ski Patrol occasionally sets up a temporary beacon course for the patrollers to practice on that can be used by guests. You can call patrol at 970-754-4610 to find out if one is set up, where it is located, and if it is available for the public to practice on.
Beaver Creek: The Ski Patrol at Beaver Creek buries beacons around the mountain (pending snow cover) and changes the location weekly. Contact ski patrol at 970-754-6610 for general location and information.
Meadow Mountain Trailhead: As mentioned above, this is the newest beacon park just outside of Minturn, on the White River National Forest. 8 beacons are buried and can be turned on and off via a control panel.
Monarch Mountain: A practice area is set up at the base of Panorama Lift, in the runout of B’s Bash and Doc’s Run. The practice area consists of 2 buried targets that are changed periodically by Patrol. This area is open and more information can be found here.
Steamboat Ski Resort: Steamboat Ski Patrol has set up a Beacon Practice Area for the public to use next to the ski patrol headquarters at the top of the Sundown Express Lift. Patrol buries 4 targets which get changed periodically. Users should bring their own beacons and probes. You can call ski patrol at 970-871-5911 for more information.
Aspen Highlands: While there is no established practice area, ski patrol does bury beacons around the mountain for patrol training. The public is welcome to use these areas and are advised to contact ski patrol for general location and info, at 970-544-3052.
Aspen Mountain (Ajax): A practice area is located near the top of Gent’s Ridge Lift. In addition to this, ski patrol buries beacons around the resort and changes the location weekly, marking the burial sites with green dots. Contact patrol for the general location of beacons buried around the resort at 970-920-0723.
Telluride: Telluride’s Beacon Basin is located on Lower Woozley’s between the top of lift 5 and the bottom of Lift 14. It has 7 buried targets that you can turn on in any combination to work on your beacon and probing fundamentals. The Beacon Basin will be active this year, however it is not open yet for the year.
Purgatory: Purgatory has a beacon park at the base of lift 3. There are 8 beacons buried in configurations that can simulate single and multiple burial scenarios by using the control panel. Wickets are available at the park to simulate probes, just bring your beacon! Contact ski patrol with any questions at 970-247-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
-From all of us at FOBP: Happy hunting out there and stay safe in 2021!
Fear was the one sense that quelled my inane gift. I was humbled by fear and its presence created a crystal-clear reality, where there was no room for Mr. Know-it-all. Having lived in CO a whole 2 years and put a solid 100+ days under my belt at the resorts, I was already looking for a less manufactured experience. Enter “backcountry skiing”. I had turned down invites to go touring and to go out gates because of this unknown. The only way that I knew how to conquer this fear was to outsmart it with knowledge. I made it my job to network as many people that backcountry skied as possible and picked their brain for how it worked because of my fear of this unknown force that could go from delight to death in the blink of an eye. One of my new friends gave me a copy of “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain” by Bruce Tremper. Now my eyes got wider. This same friend took two of us out on Berthoud Pass and taught us a full set of pit skills and tests. So now I know how to “check” for avalanches right? WRONG, BRIAN!
Luckily that same friend was part of my new network of BC skiers. Several of them went out and started FOBP, which I have been fortunate to be a part of since day 1. First, I was just hanger-on and lingering around to pick up and glam as much knowledge off of these folks as I could. Then I started to see the picture of what they were trying to do and I needed to be a part of it, to make a difference, to enlighten others on HOW they should be thinking. Being a part of this group kept me from developing bad habits, making me a bit over-analytical at times but overall an adept decision-maker. Why? The time that I spent with these BC travelers was one without judgment similar to a learning environment. Sometimes it was heckling, but that is my love language. There was no “hand smacking”, but the guidance of the discussion to keep me in the correct lane of thinking. These “mentors” made sure that I was making the right decisions based on the knowledge at hand. Because, in the end, you are the most responsible person in the backcountry. Hopefully, everyone in your group feels the same way.
This is a great time to define “mentors”. Take a minute to close your eyes and imagine what you think a backcountry mentor looks, acts, and talks like. One would think they are a cloak and gown, intellectual type, unquestionably infallible of mistake, mastery of their craft, and so on. Perhaps I spent too much time in educational institutions in my youth, so WRONG AGAIN BRIAN. Those cut from that cloth are definitely not the characters that you find at your neighborhood BC trailhead. They don’t have a common look from which you can identify them visually. A mentor is a person who has humility in the presence of avalanche terrain, does not brag about their exploits, is a good listener, respectful. Cross-pollinate a Boy Scout with a mountaineer then throw in a dash of Zen. Mentors come in different forms, depending on what you are looking for. Most of all mentors are your friends, they share a load of decision making with you, even if they know better than you, because otherwise, how will you get it right? Lastly, mentors don’t have to be someone of greater knowledge than you but could be on equal educational paths while sharing a similar goal, where you can grow together through similar experiences. They aren’t someone you spend every outing with either but are a sounding board for open and honest discussions about avalanche science.
Photo: Zach Wilson
An important lesson that I learned on that first day of BC education with Ben, was that avalanche avoidance is best paired with a keen sense of observation. What is going on around you? Wind direction and temperature, recent snowfall, signs of instability, recent avalanches, and everyone’s favorite brown pants moment “shooting cracks and whumpfing”. Avalanche education is truly a multi-dimensional and complex science. Anyone that tells you differently has more dumbass merit badges than I do. You have to be able to manage personal metrics like “risk management” multiply by “tolerance”, carry the 2, divide by the level of danger in the CAIC forecast, square that answer then solve for EGO. (This equation is complete BS and made up for the sake of this blog entry’s point, which I promise I will get to) While I still have yet to solve this equation, with time and experience, I have learned some parameters to make more sense of it.
One way to solve a complex equation is to simplify the problem. The equation gets easier to solve when you lower the risks, lower the tolerance, ski on low danger days, and don’t have to square an answer because of EGO. How about you remove EGO all together? Seems impossible right? How can we possibly take this OUT of the equation? My perspective became that of humility. I don’t know it all, I won’t ever be able to know it all, the best that I can do is bow down before the almighty avalanche of education being and mutter my prayer.
“Dear big scary white dragon monster, know that I am not here to wake you but to celebrate your presence by staying far far away from the temptation of super steep north-facing wind loaded slopes. I come to make a few measly turns and perhaps a slash that allows me to enter the happy white room place and retreat back to my family with a smile and a smidge of joy. Please rest and don’t wake from my giggles or acoustic slaps from my high fives with friends. AMEN”
Author - Brian Pollock
Brian has been a team member of FOBP since 2003, 15 years instructing, 10 years as Director of Education.
Friends of Berthoud Pass is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charitable organization based in Colorado.
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Preserving the Legacy of Public Recreation at Berthoud Pass