Recognizing potential avalanche hazards and selecting safe terrain are the best ways to avoid avalanches. That said, it’s not easy to pinpoint every avy hazard and the danger can change unexpectedly as you move though variable terrain and snow conditions.
Wearing an avalanche beacon and knowing how to use it is the most basic safeguard you have against this unknown danger potential. Regardless of how safe you think the snowpack might be, you should always wear your beacon in the backcountry. It’s a no-brainer - the consequences of not having a beacon on should you need it are just too grave.
But just wearing a beacon is not enough. You must know how to use it like your life depended on it! No doubt you’d want your backcountry partner to have the same skills. The above video by Backcountry Access gives a good overview as to how to use a beacon but it’s no substitute for actually practicing with your beacon. Repetitive hands-on timed practice is what hammers home how to use your beacon and will improve your search times.
One of the best places to practice with your beacon is at your local resorts’ Beacon Training Park. Over the last five years, Beacon Training Parks have popped up at most major US resorts and many in Canada and Europe. Beacon Training Parks typically feature 4-8 permanently buried transmitters wired to a central control panel. To change the scenario, just flick the on/off switches on the control panel. Instead of digging holes and reburying beacons all day, you spend your time actually practicing with your beacon.
Early season when the snow conditions aren’t so hot is the perfect time to rally the crew and head into the Beacon Park for some practice. Here’s a list of most resorts in the US where you can find a training park:
Monarch Mountain Basin
Powder Horn Resort
Silverton Avalanche School
Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort
Alpine Safety Awareness Program
Mt. Baker Ski Area
White Pass Ski Area