Photo by Tom Ross
Steamboat ski patroller Deb Holloway, right, helps Marie Starling try on an official Ski Patrol logo hat Monday. The Steamboat Ski Area recently opened Beacon Basin, a training area for users of avalanche transceivers at the top of the Pony Express chairlift. The Ski Patrol is raising funds for its backcountry safety programs.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Current slide conditions
Pending an overnight forecast for snowfall Tuesday into today, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center rates the avalanche danger in the mountains surrounding Steamboat as moderate increasing to considerable on wind-loaded slopes near or above tree line on north- to southeast-facing slopes.
A trip to Beacon Basin could someday save your bacon.
Beacon Basin is a new feature at the Steamboat Ski Area that allows skiers and riders headed for the backcountry to brush up on emergency skills that could save a companion's life. It's a place where skiers and snowboarders can practice using their avalanche transceivers, or beacons.
Steamboat Professional Ski Patrol is tasked with enhancing the safety of skiers and riders within the ski area boundary. Now, individual patrol members, with the ski area's blessing, have taken it upon themselves to raise backcountry safety awareness.
Ski Patrol Supervisor Duncan Draper said Monday was the first day of operation at Beacon Basin, located just outside the ski patrol yurt at the top of Pony Express Chairlift.
"Our patrol felt very, very strongly about this, and we went ahead and equipped Beacon Basin with a permanent avalanche transceiver course," Draper said.
Four avalanche transceivers have been buried in the snow and hardwired to a power source inside the yurt. The course is designed to someday accommodate as many as eight transceivers.
The course will be active every day from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., so backcountry skiers who have their own transceivers can practice on their way to the access points.
"The more you play with a beacon, the better you get at it," Ski Patrol Director John Kohnke said. "If people aren't sure how to use their beacons, they should feel free to stop a patroller and ask about it."
Avalanche transceivers allow members of a backcountry party to home in quickly on a friend who has been buried by an avalanche. Every member of the backcountry party sets out with their transceiver on the transmit setting. In the event that a member of the party is buried in an avalanche, everyone else switches their personal transceiver from transmit to receive. A digital display on the device, which typically is worn around the neck, guides the rescuers to the victim.
Kohnke said ski patrollers get a chance to show off their skills annually during a timed avalanche beacon event at the statewide patrollers convention.
The skiing public can try the same thing at Beacon Basin. Draper cautions the public not to attempt to dig up the hard-wired transceivers. He has buried softball bases above every transceiver so that participants can complete their search by probing for the base. An avalanche probe is kept in the yurt for use while practicing.
Kohnke said his patrollers want to do more.
"Ski Patrol is interested in self-funding a community avalanche education effort," he said. Toward that end, patrollers are selling official Steamboat Professional Ski Patrol logo wear outside the gondola building on weekends this winter.
Draper said he's particularly interested in seeing Steamboat's adventurous young people come to Beacon Basin to learn the basics of backcountry safety.
"Every time you head into the backcountry, you should be carrying an avalanche beacon, shovel, probe, water, food, a cell phone and extra layers of clothing," Draper said. "If you're not properly equipped, you're opening yourself up to some really bad experiences."
The last avalanche death in the backcountry surrounding Steamboat Springs occurred in January 2005.
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