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The South American Beacon Project

How a U.S. skier is fostering avalanche safety down south.
posted: 08/29/2012

While passion for riding deep snow among skiers is universal, access to avalanche safety equipment isn’t. Pro skier and patroller Alex Taran discovered this after her first year of patrolling at La Parva, Chile, where four beacons were shared between 18 patrollers. “It was shocking to me that the ski patrol didn’t have a beacon for each patroller.” Says Taran.

She also noticed that many skiers lacked basic snow-safety education. She recalls a day she went skiing out of bounds with some friends. The group started out with four beacon-equipped skiers, but by the time they reached the top of a 2,000-foot slide path, it had gained six more people and no more beacons. Taran hesitated. “I’m freaking out!” She told the others. Their response was unnerving.

“Gringa, tranqilla, no tenemos avalanchas en Chile.” Which translates to “Easy, white girl, we don’t have avalanches in Chile.”

Later that year two people were killed on that same exact path.

“It was alarming to me.” Says Taran. “The Andes are some of the biggest mountains in the world. It’s easy to confuse them as safe because it’s a maritime snowpack, and the snow settles quickly.” And while avalanches may not be as frequent here as they are in drier inland snowpacks, Taran wanted to err on the side of safety.

The Beacon Project

So rather than standing by, Taran created the South American Beacon Project, which aims to give donated beacons to those working in avalanche terrain who can’t afford them, and provide free basic snow-safety education to workers and the public.

The program is making progress. This year they brought 45 beacons to South America and have begun to expand into other resorts. They also have expanded the education aspect to include a Spanish version of the Utah Avalanche Center’s “Know Before You Go” video.

There is still plenty of work to be done, but the South American Beacon Project is making progress and Taran welcomes new donations.

For more info, visit southamericanbeaconproject.com

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