As snow melts to brown grass in Flathead Valley, winter still grips mountain slopes. In upper elevations, lingering cool temperatures and little new snow has preserved a weak layer in the snowpack for six weeks, Flathead National Forest avalanche specialists report. It’s a layer that causes slides – especially when triggered by backcountry skiers and snowmobilers.
All the more reason to pull out the avalanche beacon and probe pole to hit the new Avalanche Beacon Training Park at Big Mountain’s summit. Just west of the snowmobile parking zone, the park looks no different than any treed snow-covered slope. But it hides four buried transceivers.
Just past the entrance sign, look for a wooden box. “It’s simple,” explains Jay Burrell of Whitefish Mountain Resort ski patrol, opening the box. “You just flip the switches for how many victims you want to locate.” Inside the box, a second yellow plastic box contains search tips and eight switches that turn on the buried transceivers.
Opt for one or more beacons, depending on how many victims you want to locate. Currently, only four switches activate four buried beacons. “Next year, we’ll bury all eight avalanche beacons,” says Burrell.
To avoid interference from other nearby skiers or snowmobilers whose beacons may be set to “send,” park users should point beacons downhill. Once the beacon hones in on a signal, probe for the beacon buried in a plastic box rather than digging it up. “Then, just turn off the switches when you’re done,” advises Burrell.
The Avalanche Beacon Training Park – a joint project between the Whitefish Mountain Resort, Flathead National Forest, Glacier Country Avalanche Center, and Flathead Electric Cooperative–will stay open through April 6 for both skiers and snowmobilers to use.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.