Safely Social Distancing in Colorado’s Backcountry

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    Ice climbers explore Colorado’s outdoors while staying socially distant. Photos by Jordan Sherman

    Have you been out skiing lately, noticed fewer people on the mountains, or had a lift all to yourself? Well, you’re not the only one. Ski resorts have taken precautions to limit the number of people on the mountains and slopes. These precautions have caused more and more people to turn toward other options, like venturing into the backcountry. 

    As we get farther into the ski and boarding season, more people are going out into the backcountry due to COVID-19 restrictions, bringing numerous concerns from ski patrol and search and rescue professionals.

    “Making sure you have the ten essentials and making sure you can take care of yourself is a top priority. In the wintertime, a big concern is hypothermia, so making sure you dress in multiple layers. Because you can always take them off, but you can’t always put more on,” said Bill Clendenning. Clendenning is a member of Douglas County Search and Rescue.

    Most people who venture into the backcountry are unequipped to deal with obstacles or hazards they might face. Not knowing the terrain and wandering off can cause them to get lost or trigger avalanches, resulting in injury or death. 

    “People need to be aware of changing conditions in the mountains and the backcountry. It could be a gorgeous sunny day, and then in two hours, it might change into a snowstorm. So people need to check the weather forecast before going in and be prepared if the weather starts to change and they need to turn around and go back,” Clendenning said.  

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    By not preparing properly for conditions that someone could face in the backcountry could result in a devastating outcome. In hopes of avoiding this, here are some tips if you find yourself interested in going to the backcountry or planning an upcoming trip.

    Have the ten essentials at all times

    1. A headlamp
    2. GPS locator 
    3. Extra clothing  
    4. First-Aid Kit
    5. Lighter or fire starter 
    6. Extra water
    7. Extra food
    8. Shelter
    9. Sun protection
    10. A knife

    Also helpful are

    • An avalanche transceiver
    • Snow shovels
    • A map or compass 
    • Radios 

    These are just a few of the essentials. Many people venturing out into the backcountry have more than this on them for their safety.    

    “Make sure you have plenty of water to prevent dehydration, extra clothing for hypothermia, know where you are going. Don’t venture off into other areas that you are unfamiliar with. A big concern in the wintertime is moving into the high country is avalanches,” Clendenning said. 

    He recommends staying out of avalanche areas if no avalanche training has been done prior to going out. If no prior knowledge is known about avalanches, people can check with the avalanche forecast center. 

    The Backcountry Information Center is a reliable resource to get more information. Their phone number is 928-638-7875. The staff is available from 8 am-5 pm Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.    

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