New beacon park debuts at Snowmass |

New beacon park debuts at Snowmass

Madeleine Osberger
Snowmass Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Snowmass Sun/Ann Larson/

SNOWMASS, Colorado – Skiers and riders who venture beyond ski area boundaries and into the danger zone can now hone their avalanche transceiver skills at Snowmass.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has built a beacon park where people can test their avalanche transceivers before they head into the backcountry. It’s located just below the Burlingame double chairlift and may be used free of charge by all who are interested in checking the batteries as well as the controls of their avalanche transceivers.

The park is a joint venture between Snowmass Ski Patrol and Mammut, a clothing and climbing equipment manufacturer that also makes beacons.

“The transceiver targets five buried beacons,” explained patroller Matt Huber on a recent afternoon. Walking around the small park with transceiver in hand, Huber demonstrated how the beacon park could help backcountry enthusiasts to help themselves.

Using a beacon to search for the transmitting signals of the buried beacons, a user can practice finding what would be, in the backcountry, an individual buried in an avalanche. Information posted at the self-service site makes practicing in the park literally a walk in the park for beacon users.

A similar park is located atop Aspen Mountain.

Last winter, a number of locals and guests – estimated by patrol to be in the “high hundreds” – ventured beyond the Snowmass ski area boundary signs in search of pristine snow. Some were prepared for the experience while others were not. Those who found themselves in trouble sometimes had to rely upon the ski patrol or, in the most extreme of cases, on Mountain Rescue Aspen, for help.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time and money going out and rescuing those folks,” Huber said.

To use the park, bring your own beacon or, if you can gather a group of interested searchers, the patrol may be able to loan you some transceivers for practice. During National Ski Safety Week, which takes place Jan. 15-23, a staffer will be on site daily between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to show people the basics, according to Snowmass Patrol Director Craig Chalmers.

Last year, Chalmers said, there were 15 people who needed patrol assistance after venturing beyond the Snowmass ski area boundary. Carrying and knowing how to use an avalanche beacon increases the odds that backcountry enthusiasts can rescue members of their party who get into trouble.

Chalmers joked that a teaching tool such as the Snowmass Beacon Park could not only make his job easier, but provide more anonymity to those particular mountain users.

“I’d like to know no people who are going out there,” Chalmers said with a grin.

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