Vail Pass to get avalanche beacon checkpoints

'Are you beeping?' stations coming to popular backcountry recreation area

Backcountry skiers and snowboarders take to a skin track on Vail Pass in December 2019.
Photo by Jacob J. McEachern

EAGLE — The Vail Pass winter recreation area will receive a pair of beacon checkpoints next week thanks to the efforts of local gear manufacturer Weston Backcountry, in collaboration with Backcountry Access, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the National Forest Foundation.

Sean Eno with Weston said the checkpoint station will be similar to the one atop Teton Pass in Wyoming, a backcountry area that also sees lots of traffic in the winter.

Eno said Weston, as part of the company’s donation efforts to the National Forest Foundation, had suggested some of the funds go toward efforts involving safe winter recreation on Vail Pass.

“We started conversations around doing the ‘Are you beeping?’ checkpoints,” Eno said.

Dangerous conditions

Eno said the backcountry community is expanding in Colorado, and the presence of beacon checkpoints serves as a reminder to all that a properly working beacon is always recommended in the backcountry. As a manufacturer of equipment that gets people into the backcountry, Eno said Weston leadership feels a duty to try to forward that message.

“The general awareness around safe backcountry travel is getting a lot better,” Eno said. “But at the same time, there’s new people getting into it. So we’re trying to do our part in that realm.”

The snowpack has been poor in Colorado this season, making avalanche danger worse. Four people were killed in avalanches over a nine-day period in December.

A backcountry skier died in a Dec. 18 avalanche outside Crested Butte and two skiers were killed by a slide outside Silverton the following day. On Dec. 26, a skier was swept up and killed in the Chimney Chute area of the First Creek Drainage on Berthoud Pass.

Colorado has averaged 5.9 avalanche fatalities a year over the past decade.

A snowmobile is pictured at the Vail Pass Recreation Area in February. The winter playground, which is popular with backcountry skiers and snowmobilers, is receiving beacon checkpoint stations next week.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

Similar to Teton Pass

In Colorado, beacon checkpoints are often found at sidecountry access points, where they can be managed by a resort that operates in the nearby national forest.

Eno said in finding a comparable scenario to present to the U.S. Forest Service, he used Teton Pass as an example of an area of national forest that is not managed by a resort and has a beacon checkpoint.

“We teamed up with (Backcountry Access),” Eno said. “They will do the signage and provide all the tech for the beacon checkers. CAIC helped out, as well.”

The Vail Pass checkpoints will be installed Monday, Jan. 25. One will be located at the Vail Pass Recreation Area’s main access point at Shrine Pass road and the other will be placed near the skin track entry to Uneva Bowl.

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