Colorado skiing: Test your avalanche search & rescue skills and some new gear at Arapahoe Basin’s annual Beacon Bowl

Pros and amateurs test their beacon skills; along with joining clinics and demos of new gear

Arapahoe Basin Beacon Bowl
A participant in the 2010 Beacon Bowl at Arapahoe Basin prepares to deploy a probe after locating a buried signal with an avalanche transceiver.
A beacon search during the A-Basin Beacon Bowl, 2010.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —If you got a new avalanche beacon for Christmas but haven’t taken it out of the box yet, this coming weekend might be a good time to test it at the Feb. 11 Beacon Bowl at Arapahoe Basin.

The annual event is huge fundraiser for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, and a chance to measure your beacon search skills in a competitive setting, with the adrenaline flowing — the follow up with ongoing practice sessions, because statistics show that rescue experts who practice on a regular basis are about twice as fast at finding and uncovering a buried victim than the average recreational user.

That’s critical in an avalanche rescue situation, because the odds of surviving a burial drop rapidly after the first 15 minutes, and outside help is unlikely to arrive within that that timespan after a backcountry slide.

“That 15 minutes goes by really fast,” said Dale Atkins, president of the American Avalanche Association.

The latest avalanche rescue transceivers feature three antennas, which help speed the final phase of the search, when a rescuer must decide where to probe and dig in order to recover a buried victim.

“The scenarios they set up at the Beacon Bowl are really a great test,” said CAIC director Ethan Greene, encouraging everyone to come out and support the avalanche center and try out some of the newest avalanche beacons available. “It’s a little more than just an beacon drill,” he said.

Most of the latest beacon models feature triple antennas, which really help speed up the final, critical phase of a search, according to Atkins.

“Today’s models are a whole lot better than the old ones. If someone has a beacon that’s 10 years old or older, it’s really time for an upgrade,” he said. “Your buddy’s life is worth the price on a new transceiver.”

Additionally, the new beacons have marking or flagging functions, helping with searches when there are multiple  burials. The flagging and masking function helps searchers mark a signal and concentrate on searching for one victim at a time.

Research has found that people tend to over-rate their beacon search abilities.

“Even with a textbook rescue, people die. You have to know how to get to site safely, move around avalanche debris swiftly and dig effectively,” he said.

In most scenarios, it takes rescuers about nine to 12 minutes to uncover a victim buried under three feet of snow, which means that, in most cases, searchers are bumping up against that 15 -minute limit even when they’re doing everything right.

Along with clinics, demos and the competition, the Beacon Bowl always features a killer apres ski party (3:30 p.m. in the A-Frame) with an awesome raffle, and a silent and live auction, with a New Belgium crusier bike up for grabs.

The competition features pro and amateur divisions, with early registration between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. in the A-Frame and another on-slope registration between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

Updated 2/6/12 – List of items in the raffle, silent auction and live auction

A-Basin Shot Ski

Avalanche vs Canuck Club Level Tickets

Ski Logik Skis – Your choice

Brain Egan Tickets

New Belgium cruiser bike

DU Hockey Tickets with dinner and parking pass

BCA packs, probes and shovel

Hestra gloves – men’s and women’s

Lift Tickets to – Aspen Mtn, Eldora, Echo Mtn, Loveland, Monarch, Ski Cooper, Sunlight Mtn

Dillon movie tickets

$50 Dillon Dam Brewery certificates

$40 Arapahoe Café certificates

Bern gear

Columbia gear

Nuggets Tickets

Salomon BBR Skis

Snake River Saloon Dinner

Ski Goggles

Monarch Snow Cat Tour trip – includes dinner and hotel

Scarpa boots and trail running shoes

Dillon Water Taxi Ride

Smith Gear

And that’s not all of it!


One thought on “Colorado skiing: Test your avalanche search & rescue skills and some new gear at Arapahoe Basin’s annual Beacon Bowl

  1. Worth while event. I would think that with the avalanche possibilities today, that every skier would want to equip themselves with one of those beacons. I don’t know what the price is, but, what price, can one put on ones life?

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