February 26, 2021 – SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. — A volunteer ski patroller started an “Are You Beeping?” project to help save lives in the Cascade mountains.
A snowy year in the Cascades
It has been an especially snowy February in the mountains of western Washington. There have been feet of snow falling in a matter of days. Significant storm systems have forced closures at the passes. And raised the avalanche danger for the backcountry.
On Friday Snoqualmie Pass got another foot of snow overnight. This brought the season total to 396 inches, or 33 feet. The evidence of that is clear. There are mounds of snow reaching the top of light poles, and walls of ice taller than semi-trailers.
Stevens Pass closed for a period Friday after avalanche debris covered US 2.
So it’s no doubt that avalanches are on Scott Waller’s mind. He’s a volunteer ski patroller with King County Search and Rescue. He started a project to improve avalanche safety a decade ago.
The “Are you beeping?” Project
Waller’s project “Are You Beeping?” installs avalanche beacon test sites and signage at resort gates and forest trailheads before users enter risky terrain. It’s a chance for explorers to turn on their avalanche beacons. The signs also include information about avoiding risky terrain and unstable snow conditions.
Waller sees it as a friendly reminder to be prepared.
“It’s amazing how people will intend to put on their avalanche transceiver. But then they forget it in their car,” he said.
Some ski resorts have purchased the signs at cost, and some are funded by non-profit donations.
On Friday he installed a new one on the Pacific Crest Trail near the Alpental exit off I-90. Which is a popular snowshoeing and touring destination. It was funded by Ski Patrol Rescue Team (SPART). Which is a volunteer group that works with King County Search and Rescue. Two more check stations will be installed at Alpental’s backcountry gates this weekend.
It’s tough to know if the signs have saved lives, Waller said, but that’s the goal.
“That’s the hope,” he said. “It’s hard to measure, or quantify it. But know I’ve sat at trailheads putting these up all over. And it’s amazing how someone will show up, they’re a backcountry skier, and they forgot to turn it on. Yeah, it happens. Just reminding them.”