Whoompf. A slab avalanche breaks underfoot, and you tumble tips over tails down the mountain. Seconds stretch, and finally the slide stops, burying you. You open your eyes and try not to panic—the signal transmitting from your avalanche beacon will bring rescuers in seconds. But what if you forgot to turn the beacon on?
A program called “Are You Beeping?” that recently launched in Wyoming’s Tetons aims to prevent this scenario. It’s pretty simple actually: Checkpoints at backcountry trailheads and gates will confirm that a beacon’s transmission signal is on and working. Outerlocal.com, a social media website for adventure athletes, partnered with Backcountry Access, Outdoor Research, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center to establish the system.
“It adds one extra measure of safety for those people who are going to ski in the backcountry,” says Christian Beckwith, the founder of Outerlocal. Beckwith is a climber and skier with 20 years of experience in the Tetons, but he admits he has been a victim of forgetfulness when it comes to activating his beacon. At a recent community presentation of the program in Jackson Hole, he was surprised by a show of hands admitting the same mistake.
Look for seven checkpoints at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort; one at the Bradley-Taggert trailhead in Grand Teton National Park; and two on Teton Pass (one on the north side, another on the south). Beckwith said four more are planned, with two possibly located at Grand Targhee Resort on the western slope of the Tetons.
Large black and red posters asking “Are You Beeping?” mark the checkpoints. To use them, pass through one person at a time. A BCA Beacon Checker—run on marine batteries—detects your transmit signal. If the signal is working a green “O” appears on the Checker; a red “X” indicates no signal. Beckwith warns that batteries can fail past the checkpoints, which don’t test battery life, and that anyone planning to travel in the backcountry should take an avalanche course. The checkpoints are designed as reminders. “Experience sometimes can breed complacency,” he says. —Olivia Dwyer