Come next winter, there will be no excuse for your beacon skills to be subpar.
The Teton Backcountry Alliance has purchased the beacon park that was installed over the winter north of the Coal Creek parking lot. By meeting its fundraising goal the nonprofit secured a free place for skiers to hone their companion rescue abilities.
Beacon parks, including the Coal Creek one, have a series of buried transmitters and a central control panel at which skiers can choose which ones to turn on. Then they can run scenarios that include looking for a single beacon or practicing more complicated multiple burial situations.
That area at the western base of Teton Pass used to have one, when Exum Mountain Guides installed one in the Trail Creek drainage, but it closed in recent years. Apparently skiers have been excited about the new one since it was installed in January.
“We did observe a lot of people were using it,” said Gary Kofinas, chairman of the Backcountry Alliancs’s steering committee.
How many isn’t clear, because the nonprofit didn’t track usage, but it garnered enough support that about 30 people (including this writer) donated to the fund to purchase the system. Backcountry Access, the company that produces the beacon parks and other avalanche safety equipment, loaned the system to the alliance and Yostmark Backcountry Tours, a guiding service based in Driggs, Idaho.
The Winter Wildlands Alliance, a nonprofit that works “to represent backcountry skiers and human-powered recreation on America’s public lands,” matched the individual donations, Kofinas said.
Backcountry Access co-founder Bruce Edgerly told the News&Guide in January that his company sometimes loans the systems to ski resorts and other entities so they can test demand and operations before purchasing. Often the parks are situated in frontcountry areas, but Edgerly was drawn by the location at a popular ski touring trailhead.
“One reason why it’s kind of dear to my heart is that it’s a backcountry system,” he said, “and almost all of our other training parks are at ski resorts.”
Because the beacon park is buried in the snow, it is removed each spring when the snowpack recedes, then it will be reinstalled in the same location. Though the permit with the U.S. Forest Service is through Yostmark, Backcountry Alliance volunteers will likely help put the system back in next winter.
The Coal Creek beacon park isn’t the only one that will return next winter. The Jackson Hole Land Trust, with donations from the family of Jarad Spackman, installed a beacon practice area in R Park last winter.
That one will also be in use come winter in another of the Land Trust’s community conservation properties, though the location is yet to be determined.
As for the Coal Creek beacon park, Kofinas hopes the permanent status will allow guiding companies or avalanche education outfits the opportunity to hold community education clinics. He noted the Exum summer clinics for climbing skills held at the boulder park at Snow King Mountain as an example, saying something similar for companion rescue skills would be a helpful resource.
Lynne Wolfe, a guide with Yostmark who spearheaded the installation of the park, said she envisions programs in which guiding companies have someone there on a Tuesday, for instance, giving instructions on multiple burial scenarios. Though using the park is just “part of the puzzle,” she said, it will be helpful for individual skiers and companies,
Skiers will be able to wrap more practice into their daily routines, which pays dividends if they ever get into an avalanche rescue scenario. Guiding companies, whose clients often “want to learn every facet,” Wolfe said, now have a dedicated place where they can bring clients to practice one of the most elemental backcountry travel skills.
She even rolled the park and the practice beacons into her own trips.
“We certainly used them in our later season Level Ones, and we ran a Rec Level Two this year and it was great to have as part of our guiding day,” she said.
Though the Backcountry Alliance held the fundraiser, Kofinas said much of the credit for the beacon park being installed in the first place goes to Wolfe, who told the News&Guide when the park was installed that she saw a need after the Exum-managed area closed, and she wanted an equitable place for skiers to practice.
Now it appears she’s gotten her wish.
“I’m thrilled for our community,” she said.
“We did observe a lot of people were using it.” — Gary Kofinas teton backcountry alliance steering committee