Written by Nick Crews

There is a secret buried in the yard of the Outdoor Education Center on Nevada Avenue. It was neither gold nor jewels that were hidden last summer during the remodel of the center. Instead, an advanced year-round avalanche beacon park can be found amidst the landscaping.

Beacon parks are automated systems which are used to practice avalanche rescue with avalanche beacons and probes. The system, designed by Backcountry Access located in Boulder, consists of eight transceivers scattered around the yard of the OEC, buried under rubber pellets and disguised with mulch, and a wireless control box.

Any number of transceivers can be activated, and there are buried pressure sensors which will alert the user upon a successful probe strike. The park has something else to brag about as well. “We are the only known year-round beacon park in the country, and are the only college or university that has a beacon park,” says Rachael Abler, the head of Outdoor Education’s winter sports program.

The main goal of the park is to provide an accessible way for members of the CC community to practice avalanche rescue scenarios.

“We wanted to have an opportunity for students to continue to practice and hone these skills in as accessible a manner as possible,” explains Rachael.

“When you’re not practicing these skills all the time you can easily lose them, so the idea is that you can run through a scenario in only about 10 minutes,” elaborates Kaitlyn DiMarco, the current student winter sports coordinator.

With so many different transceivers, it is possible to practice multiple burials, and users can come back multiple times, since they will be able to search for a new beacon each time. The fact that the park is usable year-round and is located on campus makes it obvious that the park is one of the most accessible and user-friendly in the country.

So far, the park has been a huge success. It has been used for the backcountry skiing hut trips during fifth Block Break, a level II ski leader training, an AIARE Avalanche I course during Block 5, a private clinic with OESIC, and all of the practices that individuals have initiated.

During this trial year, Outdoor Education is trying to limit the use of the park to the CC community, but next year they hope to expand the user audience to Colorado Springs in general. Community groups, clubs, youth programs, other outdoor programs, UCCS, Fort Carson, Colorado Mountain Club, and the Mountain Chalet community are all specific groups that are expected to use the park.

Although backcountry skiers are the primary user group of the park, snowshoers, ice climbers, nordic skiers, and anyone else going into avalanche terrain is encouraged to come take advantage of this incredible resource.

If you are a student who knows nothing about avalanche safety, Outdoor Education has a way to help as well. “Look for clinics we are rolling out 6th and 7th block,” encourages Kaitlyn.

There will be different levels depending on past experience, which will cover topics including terrain choice and basic snowpack analysis, as well as how to perform companion rescues and how to use the park. Keep your eyes out on Summit!

It’s also possible to practice independently if you already have some avalanche knowledge. Just come by the Outdoor Ed Center during normal hours, and someone can set you up with the control box key, a beacon and probe, and a quick tutorial.

Whether as a complete beginner or as a seasoned mountain veteran, the new beacon park on campus will be a huge help to practice staying safe out in the mountains. Come on down to the Outdoor Education Center and see what the beacon park can do for you!

Leave a Reply