Backcountry Access during the Pandemic: Doing Our Part

Like you, we’ve been stunned by how fast our worlds have closed in, and at the same time, we all just want to get outside. If you choose to get out—or introduce a friend or family member to the backcountry–we encourage you to recreate responsibly and to follow the recommendations of your local communities and avalanche centers. Make sure you respect posted signage and uphill policies, make decisions that are safe for everyone, and stay away from large groups, including tailgate parties and trailhead meetups.

TAKE SOME BACKCOUNTRY ADVICE FROM THE PROS

  1. Avalanches don’t care that we’re in a pandemic. Our friends at AIARE are right on point: “the natural environment is going to keep doing its thing. The snowpack will keep changing, and it’s the people who might be paying less attention. Keep an eye on yourselves and your backcountry partners – there’s a good chance we have extra human factors in the mix. Check the forecast, opt for the mellow line, breathe deep and be safe out there.”
  2. Travel with someone who has training. With most ski resorts now closed, many outdoor enthusiasts are seeking ways to enjoy the backcountry. You may have read how ski touring equipment sales are booming now that resorts have shut down. If you don’t have avalanche training and you’re thinking of heading into the backcountry, make sure you go with someone who has training. While it’s no substitute for a real avalanche course (which have all been canceled), take a look at our Backcountry Basics video series.
  3. Resort avalanche terrain is no longer controlled. Some resorts are closed, but still open to the public. If you’re riding at one of these resorts, keep in mind that terrain you used to rely on the patrol to control for you is no longer being mitigated for avalanches. Anything with a black diamond rating is generally avalanche terrain.
  4. Travel in the backcountry together, but please stay apart. Here’s the recommendation from the Utah Avalanche Center: “Travel in the mountains is still a relatively safe way to get out, exercise, find joy, and maintain a sense of normalcy. But do not carpool with people who live outside of your household, keep your groups small, and don’t have social gatherings at the parking lot before or after your day out. Please take extra precautions to avoid the risk of accidents that could require medical attention. Any backcountry accident can stress the capacity of our medical system.” 
  5. Backcountry communication remains paramount. The American Avalanche Association reminds us: “Safe inter-group travel practices are crucial. Communicate route plans with other groups, spread out, and avoid traveling underneath common ski paths. Above all, be aware of what’s going on around you!”
  6. Watch where you park. Whether you are sticking close to home or traveling further out, please remember to park only in designated areas. Here in Colorado, we are seeing trailheads and parking lots at capacity, with an increase in the number of vehicles dangerously parked along road shoulders. The USFS reminds us that many road gates are still closed and there is still a lot of snow in all ranger districts. You can visit the Forest Service website and view their Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMS) to see when roads are scheduled to open. 
  7. Avy centers’ data flow is constrained due to the pandemic. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports: “Our priority (like all avalanche centers) is to provide accurate avalanche forecasts. They rely on weather stations, forecaster field days, and observations from the public and professional operations such as ski areas, cat ski operations, guide companies, etc. to build these accurate forecasts. Due to the early closure of many of these operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the observation data stream will be affected.” 
  8. Consider restraining backcountry activities during the pandemic. Avalanche Canada’s forecasters are urging backcountry users to be extra vigilant to the possibility of any incident that could add more load to a system already under huge pressure. And backcountry skiing has actually been banned in some regions, including the French Alps and southern Colorado. Please consider this when planning your recreation. This could be a time to avoid the backcountry in some areas. 

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL OUTDOOR RETAILERS AND AVALANCHE CENTERS

All of us recognize that the mountains continue to be a source of refuge and importance for our community, especially given the current uncertainty. Many of our outdoor retailer partners, regional forecast centers, small businesses, and community members, are feeling the economic stress of the pandemic with stay-at-home orders, canceled fundraisers and programming. 

We will all get through this together by doing our part. Thanks for your support. #doingourpart #avalanchesafety #sendandreturn