Avalanche bea­con park in Rocky could be first in a na­tional park

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Pamela John­son

Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for snow sports in the back­coun­try, ar­eas that can carry avalanche risks.

As part of an ef­fort to en­cour­age peo­ple to re­duce those risks with safety, the na­tional park has added an avalanche bea­con train­ing park in Hid­den Val­ley.

“There are a num­ber of bea­con parks in the state, but we be­lieve this is the first bea­con park in a na­tional park,” said Kyle Pat­ter­son, spokes­woman for Rocky.

A bea­con park is an area with avalanche bea­cons buried in set, yet hid­den, lo­ca­tions for out­door en­thu­si­asts to prac­tice us­ing avalanche bea­con tech­nol­ogy.

“It’s a great tool,” said Mike Lukens, a climb­ing ranger at the na­tional park who spear­headed the ef­fort to in­stall the train­ing area in Hid­den Val­ley. “It helps sharpen those skills.” Bea­con parks are not new and are in­stalled at most ma­jor ski ar­eas. How­ever, of­fi­cials be­lieve Rocky is the first na­tional park to open its own.

The Hid­den Val­ley train­ing spot, which opened in Jan­uary, is com­pletely self-ser­vice. Peo­ple bring their own probes, trans­ceivers and bea­cons, and then se­lect dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios at the main con­trol sta­tion. Then, they prac­tice safely read­ing the sig­nal from the bea­cons, which in a real avalanche would be on a buried per­son, and find­ing the vic­tim as quickly and as safely as pos­si­ble.

“If you don’t prac­tice, it be­comes rough when you get put in a stress­ful sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “In an avalanche burial, time is of the essence.”

Sur­vival in an avalanche is more likely if the per­son is found within the first 15 min­utes, and prac­tice builds skills and mus­cle mem­ory, Lukens said.

The na­tional park, which Lukens de­scribed as “prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar back­coun­try ski area on the Front Range,” has been reach­ing out with classes and in­for­ma­tion on pre­vent­ing tragedy in avalanche coun­try. Park of­fi­cials of­fer “Know be­fore you go” lessons on how to check con­di­tions and aware­ness of the risks along with safety equip­ment and pre­cau­tions.

Part of that pre­ven­tion ef­fort is the bea­con park.

Lukens said that $3,500 from the park’s search and res­cue fund paid for the tech­nol­ogy that was in­stalled when a only a few feet of snow cov­ered Hid­den Val­ley. Con­tin­ued snow­fall has fur­ther buried the bea­cons, which will re­main in place un­til the snow melts away and then

Spe­cial to

Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park of­fi­cials be­lieve an avalanche bea­con train­ing park that opened in Jan­uary at Hid­den Val­ley, shown here, is the first to be in­stalled in a na­tional park.

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