Frisco avalanche rescue training park reopens, providing free area to practice backcountry skills
The Summit County Rescue Group trains there regularly, including in dark, frigid conditions
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Matt Zagorski’s job title and to correct information about beacons and transceivers.
The avalanche rescue training park at the Frisco Adventure Park reopened this winter, providing a free location for people to practice searching for buried avalanche transceivers.
The training park is a collaboration between the town of Frisco and the Summit County Rescue Group. It closed the past two years first due to a lack of snowfall and then due to logistical issues, according to Anna DeBattiste, a spokesperson for the rescue group.
Matt Zagorski, the operations supervisor at the Frisco Adventure Park, said the reopening of the park is important in a region where backcountry activities are popular. The training park can be used at any time and is located just south of the Frisco Day Lodge, he said.
“Any backcountry enthusiast should be proficient with their beacon, shovel probe and avalanche equipment,” Zagorski said. “Having a partner who is proficient is important. They’re the one digging you up.”
Directions for the use of the training park are posted on a board at the park. Multiple transceivers are buried under the snow and can be turned on or off with a control box. Users then use their own transceiver to pinpoint those under the snow and poke a probe pole in the area of the signal, until they get a hit.
Zagorski recommends practicing with one transceiver under the snow, before moving on to a multiple burial situation.
Though the training area is called the Frisco Beacon Park, the Summit County Rescue Group prefers the term transceiver to beacon, according to DeBattiste, because personal locator beacons are sometimes mistaken for transceivers. That confusion has led search and rescue teams to get called out for nothing in the past, she said.
“If you think your (personal locator beacon) is a transceiver, you will turn it on every time you go backcountry skiing or snowmobiling, causing a distress signal to go out,” DeBattiste explained.
‘You can always learn more’
Around 6 p.m. on the Wednesday before Christmas, about 12 members of the Summit County Rescue Group practiced locating the transceivers under the snow despite dark, frigid conditions with a windchill near zero.
Lynn Schlough has volunteered with the rescue group for 14 years. Though she first started with the group when she moved to Summit County from Arizona in 2008, she said it is important to keep rescue skills sharp.
“You can always learn more,” she said.
Schlough practiced a multiple burial situation that day, with the display on her transceiver showing three signals from transceivers buried under the snow. Once she narrowed in on a signal, she would use her probe pole to poke into the snow until she hit a piece of plywood — a substitute for what would, in a real rescue situation, be a buried body.
When someone becomes buried, you usually have only about 15 minutes to dig them up alive, Schlough said, so being well-practiced can mean the difference between life and death. And training in rough conditions is important too.
“Very few people get lost and buried in a nice, warm, sunny situation,” Schlough said. “It usually is cold, frigid, blowing, dark.”
Because of that, one of the Summit County Rescue Group’s favorite mottos is “See Summit by headlamp,” she said.
As wind whipped around him, Summit County Rescue Group President Ben Butler agreed that training in unfavorable conditions is important.
“We never know when we’re going to be called out for a mission,” Butler said. “Training in conditions like this, it’s the real world. We get to see how our equipment works. We get to see how our clothing works. We get to see how we work when it’s cold, windy, snowy, etc.”
The reopening of the park is a big deal for the rescue group, he said, because it means more opportunities for members to train.
On Saturday, Jan. 14, the Summit County Rescue Group plans to have a Friends of Colorado Avalanche Information Center trailhead educator at the avalanche rescue training facility from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Rescue group members will also be there that day to assist those looking to learn how to do a transceiver search.
“The best beacon that you have is the one that you know how to use,” Butler said. “So by getting out there and practicing we’re going to refine our skillset, and we’re just going to become more proficient when it really matters.”
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