We're always trying to live and breathe the Thumb's Up mentality. Current events make it hard to keep an optimistic mindset, but in true TREW fashion we're keeping the bright side alive and doing our best to be positive. The majority of resorts may be closed, but to many of us that doesn't mean that our shredding is necessarily over for the season.
And in an effort to keep our sanity while maintaining the safety of both ourselves and others, we thought it was time to lay out some good ground rules for those looking to escape into the backcountry during this crazy, confusing time we are living in.
Before I jump in to our suggested best practices for backcountry adventures below, I want to make it very clear that now is almost definitely not the time for you to venture out to the mountains. We are not pushing you to get out. If anything, we highly suggest that you act as if you are infected and stay home. But I know full well that many will continue to get out into the mountains despite the many warnings out there saying to stay put.
We can't make you stay home, but at least we can try and urge you to be responsible with how you get out.
Sticking close to your backyard, if possible, is ideal; sure, you may not have snow near you, but local trails and urban parks can be a great option to get outside and enjoy that fresh air with low risk. Trail running isn't my first choice, but it sure beats sitting on my couch for the next week only to be interrupted by an occasional virtual workout on the 5-foot open section of my bedroom floor.
Reading this article should help guide you to make the right decision. If you do end up getting to the end of this page and are still gung-ho to get out for a tour and confident in your capability to do it safely, please take the necessary precautions and be smart.
1. If you are sick or have been exposed, stay home.
This is the most simple bullet on this list, and should not require much explanation. If you are not feeling well, are exhibiting symptoms, or have been knowingly exposed to someone infected with COVID-19, stay home. Get better, give yourself the proper time to recover, and then we can talk....but for now, JUST STAY HOME!
Also, if you are at a greater risk of infection, we highly recommend taking even more precaution and staying home. Better to be safe than sorry!
2. Be smart about carpooling
Per suggested best practices during this pandemic, do not carpool - to the trailhead or to anywhere else - with anyone outside of your housing situation. Pack up the kids, your spouse, that roommate who moved in a few months back and just won't seem to find their own place...just stay away from picking up friends on the way, as being in a closed, confined space with new germs is not recommended at this time.
Update: This bullet still applies, as carpooling right now in any form is not a good idea. But if you need to drive to the mountains or a trailhead to begin a tour, then you likely shouldn't be getting out anyways. Keep your adventures close to or within your neighborhood; and no, driving from Portland to Mt Hood does not count as a backyard tour!
3. Consider both your route and your destination
Stay close to home. If the mountain or trailhead is not within a few minutes drive or walkable/bike-able, figure out something else to do that is. And for those who actually call the mountains their backyard, sticking to tours and routes that you are familiar with is highly recommended. We know you've been scouting out dream lines for years, but hold on to those and keep them in your dreams - now is not the time.
With the healthcare system already in over its head and many communities and towns facing potential shortages of resources, please please PLEASE take a long moment before loading up your skis and venturing out to consider not only where you are going, but where you will be passing through on your way to your destination.
Things go wrong, shit happens, and while our risk of injury or accident may not be any higher than normal in today's time, the ability to react and respond to something going wrong is now greatly impeded. Hospitals and healthcare services are at or past capacity, and a car accident or broken bone is the last thing they need to see from you while this pandemic continues to spread. And your potential impact on a town or city goes past just an emergency, so keep reading...
4. Be prepared for emergencies
Think about how you would handle any sort of situation that could arise during your adventure, and be prepared. If you don't already have your own first aid kit, it is likely time to make or buy one - both for your car and for when you set off on your ski. Be ready to solve problems yourself without assistance, and do your best to avoid situations you are not comfortable with or equipped for.
This isn't meant to scare you, but rather instill a sense of responsibility in you and ensure that you are ready for whatever may come your way. Because when something goes wrong, you're not just putting yourself in harm's way - you're also running the chance that you will pull valuable care and resources from someone else who needs them more than you.
If you are reading this and getting nervous about your ability to handle emergency situations on your own, then consider this a not-so-gentle nudge to stay closer to home and enjoy your local natural spaces instead.
5. Pack smart
When packing for the day, do your best to source everything you need from your own home or from your local shops. This bullet could have been consolidated with 4. Be prepared, but in hopes of really getting both points across I felt that separating them - even though redundant - would be most effective.
Calculate your fuel intake, bring all of the food and drink that you might need - and then pack extra just in case. You won't be able to borrow your touring partners water or share snacks if you run out, so pack accordingly. Like I mentioned before, stock up on first aid items. Bring your water filtration kit. Pack emergency items. Have a camping setup in case you need to spend the night somewhere. Just be ready for anything before you pull out of your driveway.
Every time you have to stop and stock up on anything, not only are you pulling from a communities resources, but you run the chance of spreading/catching the virus. Do your best to avoid situations like this to make the least amount of impact on those areas you are traveling in or through. And if you do have to stop, take every precaution to minimize your contact with others and, of course, practice good hygiene in every step. Wash those hands, folks!
6. Take it easy and mitigate risk
Being skiers and snowboarders, we inherently approach risk differently than many; risk is something that we often play with, and in many cases the risk behind something only adds greater satisfaction and fulfillment. But in a time like this, we need to be more cautious about what we do and how we do it.
Now is not the time to check off those bucket-list lines, attempt that gnarly couloir, or prove to your friends that you're the best skier on the mountain. Keep those goals in your pocket for another day, and get out on your boards for the sake of spending time outside. If anything, this is a great exercise in revisiting just what skiing and snowboarding does for our souls and truly appreciating the great outdoors.
We as backcountry skiers and splitboarders are all familiar with the idea of mitigating risk, especially when it comes to avalanche terrain. But in today's world, we need to apply this same mindset to everything - from the drive to and from the trailhead and the way we approach our ascents and descents, to how we interact with our friends and peers while in the mountains. The global terrain stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic is full of convexities, concavities, terrain traps, wind slabs; apply your education and training to your daily lives, even when your skis are hung up and you're 'safe' at home.
Take advantage of your AIARE training and take additional steps to ensure both yourself and those with/around you are recreating in a safe manner. Communicate openly and clearly with your group, make sure they are aware of the additional risks at hand, and come to an understanding that your day will be on the mellow side. This is not the time to skimp on your normal safety routine in the mountains, but rather enhance it for even greater conservative thinking.
An even better idea: Now's a great chance for you and your companions to take it easy on the shredding and instead work on skills. Stick to low-angle terrain and dig a pit, analyze the snowpack, mess around with your equipment, play beacon search games, or practice that anchor technique that you've been reading about. There's plenty of ways to get out for a fun day in the mountains while keeping your risk - both for yourself and anyone else out there - to a minimum.
And even without the mountains, you can run rescue scenarios with your gear in your backyard or basement. Practice your probe assembly, hide beacons in your backyard, have a transition race to go from ski mode to walk mode fastest with your roomies - now's the time to get a little creative!
7. Keep your distance
This is where things begin to get slightly iffy. There's information and numbers being thrown around all over today's media landscape, and it's hard to know what is what. How do we know who we can go near, and how close can we get? 3 ft. in grocery stores, but 6 ft. anywhere else? We're enjoying Colorado's take on the situation and will be practicing "ski feet away" - an easy and fun way to keep at least 6 feet, or approximately a ski's length, between you and anyone you encounter on the hill.
Update: More and more people are getting out into the mountains to enjoy some fresh air and social 'distance', which has led to crowding at some of the more popular and easily-accessible locations. If you pull up to a trailhead and find it packed, don't park, don't get out, and don't start a tour. If you have another place in mind that you think will be less crowded, give it a go -- but don't add to the chaos and join the crowds. It is only socially distancing when you are not surrounded by people.
8. Keep it to yourself
If you have the means, time, and ability to make it outside for a tour these days, please keep it to yourself. Posting to social media about your 'social distancing' tactics with a selfie of you in the mountains will only do two things: 1) people will hate on you HARD and 2) you will influence others to get out when they should really stay home. Especially with so many people living in the virtual world right now, any post about that fresh pow, bluebird sky, or whatever it is you share online will just F*&$ it all up and add to the pandemonium. So please please PLEASE don't brag about it, and just keep it to yourself.
9. Practice kindness
Okay, so this one may not have a huge impact in your ability for effective social distancing, but I think it needs to be included. We're all in this together, no one has dealt with this before, and we're all at least a little bit on edge (whether we want to admit it or not).
It is easy to let yourself unravel when something doesn't go your way, but it is important for you to keep a level head throughout everything. It doesn't matter if you are walking your dog around the neighborhood or somewhere far away in the mountains, you need to treat everyone you meet with respect and compassion. Keep your temper in check, and don't take your fear or anxiety out on others. Be kind, smile, and laugh. Make the best of your situation, whatever it may be, and do your best to keep morale up. This is a great chance to practice kindness and spread the love (from at least 6 feet away)!
For more on COVID-19 and social distancing, here are a few articles that we have found informative and helpful:
- What You Need to Know about Coronavirus from The Washington Post
- Self-Quarantine? Isolation? Social Distancing? What They Mean And When To Do Them from NPR
- Wondering About Social Distancing? from New York Times
Please note: As more news and information continues to come to light as this pandemic unfolds, we will continue to update this article to stay current with national and global mandates.
We welcome everyone to share their thoughts in the comment section below, including tips and tricks of their own for getting out amid the pandemic.
If you have any questions, concerns, or disagree with me on anything included in this article, let's talk! Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and please keep an open mind, as I will do the same. We're all just trying our best to get through these trying times, and I am 100% open to discussing with you how we can best guide our community in this while practicing what we preach.