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Avy center intros users to their beacons at Bridger

Outlaw Partners

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By Tyler Allen Explore Big Sky Associate Editor
BRIDGER BOWL – The Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center this
winter offered free, one-hour introductory beacon classes at Bridger Bowl. This was
the first time the GNFAC hosted these courses, which were targeted at first-time
beacon users.
“[We wanted] to not only discuss how to use a beacon, but also to talk about the
dangers associated with sidecountry,” said GNFAC Director Doug Chabot. “Since
Bridger sells about 150 beacons per year, we figured this was a good audience to
start with.”
On Dec. 21 and Jan. 4, educator and instructor Mark Greeno with the Friends of the
GNFAC – a nonprofit that helps support the GNFAC through fundraising and
education – taught students how to use their beacons and probes, conduct
searches, dig out buried victims and stressed to participants that the sidecountry is
backcountry. “We had four people show up [for the Jan. 4] beacon course,” Greeno
said. “It was a good thing we did [have them in attendance], because they had
beacons but didn’t know how to use them.”
The classes met outside the Jim Bridger Lodge and then moved under the awning at
the ski patrol clinic. They began by discussing the protocol when you arrive at the
parking lot – ensuring all your ski partners have a beacon and checking the battery
life in each. From there, the classes moved into the parking lot above the clinic and
the adjacent woods where the instruction focused on what to do when a ski partner
is buried.
“I tell them we [all] need to understand our equipment,” Greeno said. “They pull out
their probes, and some still have the sticker on them.”
After they practiced assembling the probes, participants used them in the soft
powder snow, then moved to the parking lot to practice probing and shoveling in
the hard snowbanks. This simulates the challenges of finding a partner in firm
avalanche debris, Greeno said.
Students conducted a search for beacons Greeno had previously buried; once they
were located, the students probed to find exactly where the units were buried. They
used the spiral probe search technique that’s standard in avalanche rescue, moving
outwards in a counterclockwise direction until they hit the target.
In total, five people participated between the two classes, which was a good turnout
considering they both fell on huge powder days, Greeno said.
The Friends of GNFAC has also conducted two, four-day Montana State University
Introduction to Avalanches courses this year, which included weekend-long field
courses at Bridger Bowl. The first one offered in December had 175 participants.

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