While most of the county was getting ready to carve some fresh tracks in 7 to 11 inches of new snow Saturday morning, a handful of professional ski patrollers and backcountry enthusiasts geared up for competition in Arapahoe Basin Ski Area’s 12th annual Beacon Bowl and Avalanche Awareness day.
“We had people getting here early and ready to go — a good mix of pros and recreational backcountry users,” ski area spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said.
Part of a day filled with avalanche awareness events and fundraising for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the annual avalanche beacon search competition took place at mid-mountain — on a simulated avalanche debris field — below the Lenawee Chair.
“It’s pretty competitive, guys take it pretty seriously,” A-Basin patroller Dominic Vellone said. “Basically, we’re looking for one beacon — simulating an avalanche victim — and trying to get to him as soon as possible.”
Vellone won the preliminary round by navigating the course and finding the buried beacon in 1 minute, 9 seconds. He also took top honors in the pro division later in the day.
The timed competition had individuals start 100 yards uphill from the debris field and race down to the search area. Once there, competitors used avalanche beacons to home in on a buried backpack containing a beacon set to transmit. In the first round, participants only had to make contact with the buried pack with an avalanche probe. In the final round of the open division, competitors had to locate and dig up the packs. Pro competitors had to locate and uncover two packs.
It was a clean sweep for the home team in the pro division as ski patrollers from A-Basin claimed the top three spots over representatives from Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort.
Vellone took first place, uncovering the two packs in 4:10, followed by fellow A-Basin patrollers Ryan Evanczyk (4:59) and Jeremy Dobish (8:14). Evanczyk was on pace with Vellone, but after discovering the second pack he was unable to remove it from the hole as quickly.
David Gidley, of Silver Plume, took the top spot in the open division, uncovering his lone target in 2:23. Previous winner Cheyen Wills took second in 2:49, and Justin Laughner was third with 3:45.
Giddley — an avid backcountry skier — credited practice for his success. “I try to practice throughout the summer, then before I go out in the fall and on my first backcountry run of the season.”
As for the Beacon Bowl, he said, “I like the competition part of it. There’s an adrenaline factor.”
The day’s events also included avalanche dog demonstrations, beacon and ski demos and an apres ski party with raffle and silent auction. All proceeds benefited the CAIC. Last year’s event raised more than $10,000 for the organization, making it the CAIC’s second-biggest fundraiser behind the annual CAIC Benefit Bash in Breckenridge, held in November.
“I think this event is one of the more important events that we do,” Saia Isaac said of the Beacon Bowl. “This one not only raises money for the CAIC but it raises awareness about backcountry safety protocol and search and rescue.”
Avalanches have already claimed the lives of two skiers this season.
In addition to backcountry forecasting and avalanche awareness, the CAIC works with CDOT on avalanche mitigation and keeping the highways clear in the winter.