Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo Credit: RondaKimbrow (iStock).

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Photo Credit: RondaKimbrow (iStock).

I write about death in outdoor recreation in hopes that doing so will result in fewer deaths to write about.

It’s always tragic when someone dies in nature, even if they die doing something they loved. I wish they had lived longer and had a chance to experience more of that thing they cherished.

It breaks my heart that Colorado has seen so many outdoor recreation fatalities this year, from what was one of the deadliest ski seasons in history to a whitewater season that has already resulted in double-digit drownings.

The reason I’ve chosen to direct the OutThere Colorado team to cover many of these stories is so that these deaths won’t be in vain.

I hope that someone reads these stories, and it results in a second test of their safety line or someone checking the water flow levels prior to diving in, or even someone simply taking the time to consider the skill level they’re at and whether they might be headed in over their head.

As heartbreaking as these stories are, there are often lessons to be learned – ones that might save a life.

The reason I cover the risks associated with outdoor recreation is so those risks are harder to ignore.

It seems as if many marketing schemes and social media shots feign ignorance of these risks. In my opinion, this results in people pushing the potential danger to the back of their minds. Or in many cases, they’re simply unaware the danger lurks in the first place.

As more newcomers are attracted to outdoor recreation, communicating the risks is crucial. This effort is the responsibility of the entire outdoor recreation community, both those in media and those with boots in the dirt.

One misconception about covering death seems to be that the stories are meant to inspire fear or at least meant to strike the morbid curiosity that’s buried deep within most of us.

That’s not the case.

The reason I cover death is to inspire informed caution.

I cover death so that the next time you’re on the trail, you check the map an extra time. I cover death so that you remember to pack your helmet. I cover death so that you think twice about going so far outside of your comfort zone that you might not be able to come back.

I write about death in hopes that it might save a life.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published two years ago, in July of 2019. During this time, numerous water deaths were occurring around the state of Colorado – eventually 24 in total. The following year would be the deadliest year ever seen on Colorado's waters, leaving 34 dead.


Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run. He's on a mission to summit all 58 of Colorado's fourteeners and has already climbed more than half.


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(5) comments


I lived in Lake City for 13 years and was the Deputy Director of Search and Rescue for most of that time. I appreciate your comments on the inherent dangers of the beautiful Rockies. I located and transported many deceased persons many of whom simply used poor judgment and paid a terrible price. Visitors to our mountains need to learn how to avoid accidents while in the back country.


Spencer, thank you for writing about death in the great Colorado outdoors. It’s too easy to feel invincible out there! For ten years I hiked alone. I’ve come between a bull and cow moose during rut in the Tetons. I’ve found myself on a game trail, unable to make my way back to the “people trail” in Idaho. I’ve both dehydrated and come too close to a bear on Colorado trails.. I’ve also turned back when weather threatened, now scout water sources and take time to filter water along the trail, and no longer hike alone. Live, so we can explore tomorrow!


The Telluride airport is no big deal-if you had flown into Lukla airport (Nepal Himalayas about 7,500’) where, until recently there was only a dirt runway, that went uphill, hewn into the side of a mountain with 2000’ drop off at one end and a wall 2500’ high at the other, and pieces of wrecked aircraft scattered alongside the runway, and twin otter aircraft pilots had to be able to actually see in betwe en clouds to weave between the foothills to have visual contact with now, that was terrifying! 𝐖𝐰𝐰.Pays99.𝐜𝐨𝐦


Spencer, thank you. When an accident happens, I want to know what hazards were overlooked. What did they do wrong, or did the do nothing wrong and it was just a random event. That is how we become better at being in the back country. Identify the hazards and risks and prepare for them. Primarily: Hypothermia, falls, dehydration.


I agree 100%. As someone who lives in a tourist town with a lot of outdoor opportunities, we often see visitors who get in trouble, especially with innertubing on our local river. Most of them have no idea that, while parts of the river are tranquil, other parts are quite dangerous, especially Spring and early Summer. Locals know that is a bad time to inntertube, visitors don't. Education can only help. And as a visitor to Colorado, I appreciate knowing about the dangers.

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