ROUTT COUNTY, Colo. — In an effort to educate more people about how to use safety equipment in the case of an avalanche, the Routt County Search and Rescue (RCSAR) has opened a new Beacon Training Park at a ski area in Steamboat Springs.
RCSAR invested in a BCA Beacon Training Park System and partnered with the City of Steamboat Springs to create the Beacon Training Park at the base of Howelsen Hill Ski Area, near the bottom of the Barrows chairlift.
RCSAR President Jay Bowman said more people are venturing into the backcountry this winter, so they decided to provide a safe and accessible place for people to practice their skills.
“You can have all of the right equipment, but without practice, it will not help you in an emergency situation," Bowman said.
Currently, snow is shallow around the park, but the sloped and wooded terrain can provide a realistic scenario of what an avalanche field would look like, he said.
Six waterproof transmit boxes are buried around the area and can be activated with a control panel attached at the Beacon Basin sign in the park. The sign also includes information on avalanches, search techniques and links to online resources.
RCSAR and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s Winter Backcountry Education program will use the park, but it's also open to groups and individuals who want to learn potentially life-saving skills.
“Whether a seasoned veteran or backcountry novice, we unfortunately know first-hand what can happen when people venture into the woods and are not properly prepared,” Bowman said. “Avalanches continue to be one of the most prominent dangers to backcountry travelers and we want folks to be armed to act should it be necessary.”
Colorado's Rocky Mountains have endured moderate, considerable and high avalanche risks in the past few weeks due to heavy snow and wind, plus weak snowpack.
Parks like this are traditionally located in ski areas.
In December, the White River National Forest announced it was opening its new beacon training park outside Minturn. The self-operating system is open all day to the public.
The best way to avoid an avalanche is to understand the forecast and conditions. Before going into the backcountry, check the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's website. As of Friday, eight people have died in avalanches in 2021, including one man near Vail Thursday and three men near Silverton Monday.