It Pays to Practice: Tracker2 Avalanche Beacon Success Story on Grizzly Peak

Crown from initial slide and propagation over to the adjacent slope, Grizzly Peak, CO.

Are you tired of people telling you to “practice, practice, practice” with your beacon? Here’s a little evidence that practice pays off.

Team Summit big mountain coach Jason “Soda Pop” Anthony won third place last year in the highly competitive Pro division of the annual A-Basin Beacon Bowl. A year later, just recently, Soda put his skills to the test on nearby Grizzly Peak, saving buddy Joel Flack with a Tracker2 in about six minutes, including the shoveling phase.

The beacon search was the easy part, Anthony said. Since Flack was buried slightly uphill of Soda, he had to make an uphill traverse through the debris after picking the signal up from about 50 meters away. Anthony got out of his bindings when he was about 8 meters away, then pinpointed Flack with his beacon, not bothering to probe before he started to shovel.

“I knew he was right there,” said Anthony. “I’m not going to waste my time getting my probe out.”

This brings up a point that has been debated more often recently as beacon technology and skills have improved. With three-antenna beacons providing so much precision during the fine search phase (within three meters), if you’re confident in your beacon skills, do you need to spend time probing before you get out your shovel?

The group had just skied Butt Crack, a gaping feature adjacent to Grizzly Peak, accessed from Highway 6 just uphill of Arapahoe Basin ski area. After descending Butt Crack they crossed the drainage for one more pitch on the lower shoulder of Grizzly. This slope, however, drains into a deep gully, making it a classic terrain trap.

“That entire gully is a terrain trap,” said Anthony. “We shouldn’t have been in there. There’s no good way out. If anything breaks, you’re in trouble.”

  • Crown line highlighted from the CAIC report. Crown line highlighted from the CAIC report.
    Debris pile in the terrain trap below. Debris pile in the terrain trap below.
  • Burial site. Even a small hole can take a while to dig out! Burial site. Even a small hole takes a while to dig out!
    Soda stoked! Practice put to the test. Success!Jason “Soda Pop” Anthony

In this case, the burial was relatively shallow, with a low distance reading of less than one meter. And Anthony was alone at this point since his other partner was searching the lower part of the debris. So Soda decided to just start digging instead of probing. And he dug straight down. This is an important point from our training guide, The ABC’s (and D) of Digging. In burials of one meter or less, go ahead a dig straight down the probe (if you use one) instead of backing off 1.5 times the burial depth.

It’s more important in shallow burials to reveal the airway as soon as possible, rather than focusing on excavating a big enough hole. What other lessons did Soda bring home?

After staring into the avalanche debris pile, he says: “I’m ready to buy a Float avalanche airbag now,” he told BCA.

Moral: practice with your beacon because you just might need it some day.

Jason “Soda Pop” Anthony manages Luigi’s restaurant in Keystone and coaches the Team Summit big mountain team, based out of A-Basin.