Now that all of Colorado’s ski resorts are closed, powder-seekers are flocking to the backcountry despite coronavirus risks and the additional strain it puts on search and rescue teams around the state. Backcountry recreation is currently ill-advised and banned in some spots.
Over the course of 3 days this past week, 7 human-triggered slides and multiple close calls have occurred across the San Juan Mountains, according to the Friends of Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC). Eight people were caught by the slides, 4 carried, and 2 partially or fully buried.
The areas mentioned to have the most avalanche risk in the report were slopes 35 degrees or steeper on northwest to northeast-facing slopes. Beyond avalanches dangers in the backcountry terrain, large crowds of skiers and riders are posing major risks for the spread of COVID-19.
Skiers and riders flooded the backcountry over the weekend disregarding social distancing measures. Here’s a video of Loveland Pass showing hundreds of cars lined up the mountain, posted by Parker the Snow Dog, honorary Mayor of Georgetown:
To further fight the spread of COVID-19 and to prevent potential strain on medical services, a number of resorts have banned uphill access, including Loveland, Arapahoe Basin, Keystone, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain.
Outdoor recreation hotspots are also making adjustments amid the viral outbreak, with the recent closure of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Manitou Incline. While many of the visitor centers have closed around the state, Colorado’s state parks currently remain open for outdoor play.
Home to Silverton, San Juan County has also implemented a ‘locals only’ policy, banning all backcountry skiing and subjecting car not registered in the county to fines and towing. Highway 550 will remain open for non-local travel, but only to those passing through.
Also in the latest news, Boulder joined Denver in issuing a ‘stay-at-home’ order with the goal of limiting the spread of the virus across the cities. Pitkin County, home to Aspen, has also issued a similar order. Colorado Springs, however, says they will not at this time.
Editor’s note: It’s a dangerous time to venture out into the backcountry as risks are extremely elevated for first responders and search and rescue teams amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Before heading into the backcountry, always let someone know you’re going and the time you expect to return. Never travel into avalanche terrain alone. Always bring a beacon, shovel, and probe with you and know how to use them. Check the daily avalanche forecast at avalanche.state.co.us.