Snow and Avalanche Center 2006 Avalanche News

Signs will beckon backcountry skiers to turn on beacons
By Brett Prettyman - The Salt Lake Tribune
11/09/2006 09:38:39 AM MST

Are you beeping? It is not a question a polite stranger might ask if you failed to answer your mobile phone. It is an inquiry from the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) that might save your life, and it's a message coming to ski resorts along the Wasatch Front this winter.

The new campaign involves eight signs equipped with avalanche beacon detectors placed in key locations at the Town of Alta, Snowbird, Snowbasin, Brighton and The Canyons. The signs are equipped with built-in Ortovox avalanche beacons that emit a loud beep when other beacons are within range. Beacons are how people buried in avalanches are most easily located.

Officials hope that in addition to serving as a reminder to those who are properly equipped with beacons to turn them on or replace the batteries, the signs will send a clear message to all skiers and snowboarders about to leave the safety of the controlled environment within the resort.

Some Utah ski resorts allow customers to leave resort boundaries and access adjoining public land. That was the case in January 2005 when Idaho snowboarder Shane Maixner rode the Ninety Nine 90 Express lift at The Canyons and then crossed through a gate warning him of the dangers before dropping into Dutch Draw and being buried in a massive avalanche that took his life.

"What people need to realize is that crossing over the boundary to the other side of the rope is the difference between night and day when it comes to snowpack," said Craig Gordon, a forecaster with the Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center. "There is no avalanche control work and no ski patrol on the other side of that rope."
That means all backcountry users in Utah mountains in the winter - skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and snowmobilers - should check with the center for the latest snow conditions, study the area upon arrival and carry a beacon, probe and shovel.

"People who are not familiar with the dangers of avalanches get lured into the backcountry areas that surround ski areas because they see people skiing powder while they are on groomed runs," Gordon said. "We want them to reconsider that decision when they see the signs."

The Are You Beeping? campaign was funded by the Forest Service with a donation from the family of Atilio Giorgio Cremaschi Yavar, a snowboard instructor from Chile who was living in Utah when he died in an avalanche in the backcountry near Brighton Ski Resort in April 2006.

The Town of Alta, Snowbird and Snowbasin will each get one of the signs, The Canyons will get two and Brighton will receive three. Partners in the campaign include the resorts, UAC, Ortovox and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.

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