Last November, we profiled Alexandra Taran, founder of the South American Beacon Project, and organization that brings avalanche education and donated beacons to mountain workers in Chile. A year later, South American Beacon Project is thriving. We caught up with Taran three weeks after she returned from Chile on a day off from patrolling at Snowbird.
For the original profile of Taran and the South American Beacon Project, check out the November 2011 issue, available here.
Backcountry: How many beacons did you distribute this last season?
Alex Taran: Ninety. We got a couple bigger donations, one from MEC in Vancouver, and the other from Ortovox out of Germany with 30 beacons, 15 shovels and 15 probes. And then the Ketchum Fire Department gave us their old beacons because they were updating their fleet, and they also did a drive in Ketchum, which was awesome.
BCM: So thatís been pretty cool then, to see your exposure go up into Vancouver and all the way to Germany.
Workers at Corralco. [Photo] Courtesy of Alex Taran
AT: Yeah. Itís huge. Itís really exciting for us to expand. I mean, thatís almost 10 times what we did the first year. I canít even count the classes [we taught]. Weíre in 14 communities and there were about 250 students.
BCM: Did you go back to any of the mountains you had previously been to?
AT: Yeah, definitely. We went back to La Parva. We went back to Nevados de Chillan. Itís cool to see how the education is building there. Once we put this bug in their ear, people are just wanting more and more. The interest is not in some gringo coming in. Itís them going and developing interest themselves in their free timeógoing to find more resources. In Nevados de Chillan, I was really excited to come back and see they started a snow study plot. Thatís not something I told them about, itís something they did because of their own interest.
BCM: And you did some work in Argentina, too?
Patrollers at Nevados de Chillan. [Photo] Leonhard Habersetzer
AT: Yeah. We worked with a resort called La Hoya and in Bariloche and also in Rio Turbio. Argentina is definitely somewhere weíre looking to expand.
The expansion we made throughout Chile was huge. We divided the country into four different sectionsóthe Central Cordillera, Chile Sur, Lakes District and Patagonia Sur. The idea is that in each area weíre having a local who organizes the classes and co-teaches them. Obviously we donít want this project to be like, ďOh, look. Some gringo is coming in an teaching you everything.Ē We want to come in, give the information and bring something to the table that can eventually take control of itself and become something bigger.
BCM: So within two years, itís getting to a point where itís running on its own and youíre just facilitating?
AT: Itís great. Itís helpful for me becauseÖthe beacon project is not my only focus. Having these other folks help and the beacon project take on a mind of its own not only helps me but helps the program reach out to so many more people.
Workers at Villarica. [Photo] Courtesy of Alex Taran
BCM: Where there any standout moments that affirmed what youíve done in the last two years?
AT: Utah Avalanche Center has a program called Know Before You Go. So we translated Know Before You Go into Chilean Spanish and we brought that video down. We did a basic presentation in Las Trancasówe had about 60 people show up to this talk, which is awesome. A lot of them were the local freeride kids who are starting to venture into the sidecountry.
After the presentation, this guy Alejandro comes up to me, and he said it meant a lot to him. Then he explained that 15 years ago, his brother had died in an avalanche at the resort. Eight years ago, his friend had died in an avalanche in the sidecountry. And then last year, a worker had died while clearing the road in a plow. There had been three deaths in 15 years in the area and nobody had ever done a public class like this. People were just being quiet about the problem.
People donít talk about it. People just donít really think there are avalanches ítil they see them or are affected by them. It was really cool to see this guy come up to us and thank us for making the community aware.
BCM: What are your future plans?
AT: Weíre moving on from just beacons to becoming an avalanche awareness organization in general. Weíre compiling an archive [of avalanche accidents in Chile and Argentina] right now. And this is the time of the year weíre collecting beacons, so for folks out there who have a beacon theyíre upgrading or not using, donate now. People donating beacons is the only way we get them down there. Itís basically the fuel to get tools to these rescue personnel.
To learn more about the South American Beacon Project, or to donate a beacon, visit southamericanbeaconproject.com.