This is the mantra for backcountry skiers checking their packs before heading out, with each component playing a critical role in backcountry avalanche rescue should a worst-case scenario occur.
But while the essence of probing and shoveling for buried skiers seems intuitive, the use of transceivers is not, says Steve Karkanen, director of the West Central Montana Avalanche Center (WCMAC). Practice is required to be efficient, he says, and can mean the difference between a rescue and a recovery.
“All recent research shows that if you’re fully buried you have about 15 minutes to be dug up, but realistically, without an air pocket, you have a whole lot less time than that,” he says. “After that, odds drop off very quickly.”
To prepare backcountry users for the grave work of locating buried partners, WCMAC has teamed up with the Lolo National Forest to install a transceiver test facility at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center.
This “Beacon Park” is a way for backcountry enthusiasts to become familiar with their transceivers—while avoiding the time-consuming and repetitive work of digging holes and reburying beacons, says Karkanen.
To use the park, users must check out a control unit from the visitor center. The panel turns each of eight transmitters on or off, allowing participants to practice both single-victim and more complex “multiple burial” situations.
“People heading out are often all razzed to get out there and don’t find the time to practice,” Karkanen says. “That’s the beauty of a Beacon Park, because it allows for a user-friendly and fun kind of practice, and it’s really good for multiple burial scenarios.”
More than 30 Beacon Parks exist throughout the country. Whitefish Mountain Resort, Bridger Bowl and Moonlight Basin/Big Sky Resort already have facilities in operation, and Karkanen says Montana Snowbowl will likely open one later this year.
The Lolo Pass Beacon Park is free and open to the public during visitor center hours.