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DENVER (KDVR) — New beacon technology installed on select Flight for Life helicopters can now be used to locate missing people wearing avalanche transceivers.

“This technology is another tool in our toolbox,” says Dale Atkins of Alpine Rescue Team.

The helicopter beacon can detect any avalanche transceiver on the market today (at 457kHz).

Alpine Rescue Team, Loveland Ski Area Ski Patrol, Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), and Flight for Life Colorado gamed out new (to Colorado) technology on 1/10.

I talked with Dale Atkins of Alpine Rescue Team about how this technology works and how it will be used. Atkins has been involved in avalanche rescues since the 1970s.

Notice the beacon hanging from the bottom of the helicopter. Photo Dale Atkins on 1/10.


Search and Rescue is a two-part operation and involves several agencies. First, you must locate the missing the person(s) before any rescue can be performed. Atkins said, “This is another tool in our toolbox. The helicopter can cover great distances in a short amount of time.” Atkins stressed to me that this technology can’t be used for all SAR missions, but when deployed it will likely increase SAR efficiency.

Search and Rescue involves several agencies. Photo Dale Atkins on 1/10.


Weather, type of emergency call, location of emergency, and size of avalanche are all considered before Flight for Life is deployed.

“I could see using this technology for very large avalanches with numerous missing people. It could be used just outside of ski area boundaries. I could see using this technology in remote locations with numerous small avalanches that would normally take ground crews a long time to search,” Atkins said.

Demonstrating the new (to CO) beacon technology with responding agencies. Photo John Kyler, CCSO, on 1/10.

Colorado Avalanche Risk

Colorado leads the United States in avalanche deaths per year. In between storm cycles, we see numerous sunny, dry days dominated by high pressure. These frequent changes in temperature and humidity create rotten snow layers (snow faceting).

Atkins also says we have a large population with easy access to high risk terrain.

Ethan Greene (CAIC) and Dale Atkins. Photo John Kyler, CCSO, on 1/10.
Search mode. Photo John Kyler, CCSO, on 1/10.

As we wrapped up our chat, Atkins said staying safe in the backcountry is largely about terrain selection.

“Know where you’re going. How steep is it? Are there signs of other avalanches? How stable is the snowpack? Get educated before buying any gear.”