Bring Home the Beacon

Cold Front

On a sunny saturday in January, Arapahoe Basin ski patroller Patrick O’Sullivan comes to a flying stop, kicks off both skis, and begins frantically covering terrain with his avalanche beacon. He reaches for his shovel just as another man starts to scream: “He’s still breathing, man! He’s still breathing!”

Two minutes, 13 seconds later, the drama is over. O’Sullivan digs out two backpacks to become the winner of the pro category of A-Basin’ s inaugural Beacon Bowl, a contest aimed at testing recovery skills using an avalanche transceiver. The event was just one of a half dozen transceiver competitions that took place last winter, part of an industry-wide effort to introduce resort skiers to backcountry tools and technology.

“The number of demos and competitions we put on at ski resorts has easily doubled in the past four years,” says Bruce Edgerly, marketing director for transceiver manufacturer Backcountry Access. “Whenever a real competition is involved, it better simulates the stressful atmosphere of a true avalanche rescue, and people tend to pay a lot more attention.”

O’Sullivan’s quick work got the crowd watching, but it was a performance in the Beacon Bowl’s amateur division that accomplished the event’s real mission: convincing beginners they don’t need to be professionals to execute a safe backcountry rescue. In that race, Doug Coyle of Dillon, Colorado, took top honors, finding one pack in just a minute, 23 seconds, despite having never used a transceiver before. “Never been on tele skis either,” Coyle said.