Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New life for old beacons

Used avalanche transceivers head for the Andes

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum firefighter Miles Canfield poses with the used avalanche beacons hes collected so far for the South American Beacon Project, an organization that provides avalanche transceivers and training to ski patrollers in the Andes. Photo by David N. Seelig

In a region known for skiing, updating avalanche beacons is a regular ritual every few years. But what to do with the old ones has been a problem—until now, due to a project undertaken by members of the Ketchum Fire Department.

Miles Canfield, a full-time member of the Ketchum Fire Department duty crew, is leading an effort to collect old avalanche transceivers for the South American Beacon Project.

The project works to provide used functional avalanche beacons to ski patrollers and ski resort employees in the Andes who don't have the proper equipment. The project also provides avalanche training for the beacon users.

"The goal is to provide the employees with the education and tools to work in avalanche terrain," Canfield said.

Canfield's involvement began when the Ketchum Fire Department Volunteer Association decided to upgrade the beacons used by its backcountry rescue team. That left the department with a number of used, but still fully functional, beacons.

"We were trying to look for a way to pass on our surplus," Canfield said.

But once he found the South American Beacon Project, he said he realized the collection could be opened to the entire community.

"For myself, I have old beacons at home that I haven't known what to do with," he said. "I just thought, in a ski town, maybe there were other people with old beacons they'd donate."

So far, Canfield has collected 25 used beacons, and he hopes to keep collecting through Feb. 29 before sending the beacons to the Salt Lake City-based organization.

"We're just trying to get as many as we can," he said.

All functional beacons that operate on a 457 kHz frequency can be dropped off at the Ketchum Fire Station on East Ave. in Ketchum. The 457 kHz frequency was accepted as the international standard frequency in 1986, and accepted as the American standard in 1996. Earlier beacons are not usable.

Those who wish to donate to the cause but don't have old beacons can send checks or in-kind donations to South American Beacon Project, 3434 East 7800 South, No. 263, Salt Lake City, UT 84121.

Canfield said every functioning beacon of the correct frequency is welcome, no matter how battered.

"I like knowing that a tool that was once valuable to me can be passed on to someone to appreciate it," he said. "When you have nothing, you are happy to have anything."

Katherine Wutz:

Want to help?

Drop off your used beacons at the Ketchum Fire Station on East Avenue, or visit

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