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Flathead Valley offers checkpoints for avalanche safety

By Rebecca Vogt, KCFW Reporter, rvogt@kcfw.com
Published On: Jan 29 2013 06:15:52 PM MST
Updated On: Jan 29 2013 06:21:46 PM MST
FLATHEAD COUNTY, Mont. -

Big Mountain Ski Patrol's Kyle Fedderly tells NBC Montana it's popular for skiers and snowboarders to jump out of bounds, with Whitefish Mountain Resort as their starting point.

"Hundreds of people on a busy weekend are dropping off into Canyon Creek or hiking up Hellroaring Peak and beyond and skiing down," explained Fedderly.

That's why the ski patrol maintains a beacon park at the Summit. It allows folks to test out their beacon skills with transceivers that buried beneath the snow.

"[It's] to have an opportunity like this to practice with your transceiver, to get used to all the ins and outs of whatever you happen to be using so that when you actually need it it's second nature," Fedderly said.

It's one thing to practice with a beacon, but another to have it in working condition. The Flathead National Forest recently installed "Are You Beeping?" signs at three trailheads - Canyon Creek, West Side Hungry Horse Reservoir, and Skyland.

Flathead National Forest's Chris Prew said those locations are heavily trafficked by snowmobilers, "It's a demographic of folks that we really want to emphasize safety with in light of the fatalities we had last year and incidents we've had in those three areas specifically."

A sign with a beacon checker lights up green if an avalanche beacon is transmitting properly, and red if something is wrong.

"Seeing the flashing light, folks are interested in it," mentioned Prew. "They'll stop and read the sign and we're trying to get folks just to think about what they're getting into."

Fedderly and Prew agree though that everyone should check advisories or attend a class before even heading past the orange tape.

"It's just a piece of the puzzle." Fedderly explained about carrying avalanche gear. "Keeping those avalanche eyeballs open, being aware of what's going on with the conditions, and keeping the lines of communication open between all the different users."

The Flathead National Forest hopes to add more Are You Beeping? signs to other trailheads like Camp Misery in the Jewel Basin.