Beacons of Life; Suzy Greene Memorial Fund donates life-saving avalanche equipment to Western
Mar. 31, 2010 -- This winter Western State College freshman Max Seeger saved his friend’s life by digging her out of an avalanche.
WSC students Corey Dusin (l) and Max Seeger (middle) discuss the use of avalanche beacons with David Greene.
Recently, Seeger met the family who donated the avalanche beacon he used to locate his friend. Seeger rented the beacon from the college’s Wilderness Pursuits program, which received an additional donation of eight beacons in March from the Suzy Greene Memorial Fund. Several of Greene’s family members, including her sister Peggy Petroff and brother David Greene, visited the WSC campus to celebrate a recent donation.
The Wilderness Pursuits (WP) program at Western received a donation of eight new Backcountry Access Tracker beacons in March from the fund. WP offers student-led outdoor recreation trips and gear rentals to WSC students, faculty and staff at affordable prices. Each beacon costs around $300 each.
Seeger learned to use beacons, shovels and probes through WP courses and though his outdoor leadership classes. In February, while skiing in the backcountry near Leadville, his partner was buried in an avalanche. She was buried for 35 minutes, but Seeger was able to locate her using a beacon, and then dig her out in time to save her life.
“For us, the story sent the signal loud and clear of how much difference a beacon can make,” Petroff said. “We are very glad of the outcome and that the beacons donated in our sister’s name could have played a role in saving a life."
“I’m really thankful that we found a great home for the beacons, where we know they will be well used,” Petroff said after her visit. “Our goal for the foundation is to provide beacons to people who love the outdoors, but may not necessarily be able to invest in their own.”
Suzy Greene climbed mountains and ran marathons with a passion before her untimely death in an avalanche in the Cascade Mountains, Wash., in 2003.
At the time of her death she had all the necessary gear to travel in the backcountry in the winter, except a beacon.
Shortly after her death, friends and family started a foundation in her honor, one that provides avalanche beacons to outdoor organizations that use the devices when travelling in the backcountry.
WP provides the beacons for free to members of the WSC community. A shovel and probe are two other items essential to using a beacon when travelling in the backcountry. Additionally each individual must have a beacon in order to transmit and receive a signal. The signals are then used to pinpoint the location of the individual.
Recreation courses at Western also use the beacons while in the field.
The connection to Western came from family friends, Christina and David Hill, who are WSC alumni and were involved with the WSC Mountain Rescue Team during their time in Gunnison.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, an average of 25 people die every year from avalanches. This year alone in the United States, there have been 23 recorded fatalities, including six in Colorado.
For the supporters of the Suzy Greene Memorial Fund, the goal is to have beacon use become more widespread and to be accessible to those who cannot afford them.
“Safety can be one of the things that is sacrificed if money is short,” Petroff said. “We hope that we can start a ripple effect. No one drives in a car without seatbelts, but we used to. Hopefully there will be a day when climbers, snowshoers and skiers don’t go out without beacons either.”
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations and communications