Curb your turns: Skiers advised to stay out of the backcountry |

Curb your turns: Skiers advised to stay out of the backcountry

Bob Gibson takes in some Yampa Valley powder during a backcountry trip last winter with Steamboat Powdercats.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Right now, skinning and skiing in the backcountry might seem like the perfect way to recreate while meeting, nay, exceeding the 6-foot social distancing requirement.

It’s not. 

Skiing in the backcountry may be a remote activity, but the second something goes wrong, more people are put at risk of contracting COVID-19. An accident on a snowmobile or skis brings in search and rescue, perhaps a helicopter crew, an ambulance crew and quickly affects hospital employees. When each of those people return home, that one rescue then puts their families at risk as well. 

In order to decrease that risk, Snowsports Industries America, or SIA, created a Curb Your Turns campaign, challenging people to stay home and stay safe. 

“We’re skiers and we’re riders. It’s in our nature to want to go outside to experience winter,” said Eric Henderson, public relations manager for SIA. “So, it’s really hard for us to take this position, but we feel like … as an organization, as a governing body of snowsports, we recommend just staying home and curbing your turns for the winter.”

More than 100 people have posted with the hashtag #curbyourturns since the campaign was launched Friday, March 27. Posts include indoor training that resembles being on a board or a pair of skis, and inspiring words from people who would rather be on the slopes. A few posts are even by Steamboat Springs residents. 

With resorts closed around the country and many, including Steamboat Resort, prohibiting uphill access, the next place people will look to go is the backcountry. Routt National Forest is practically Steamboat’s backyard, with easy access to Rabbit Ears, Buffalo Pass and other popular recreational areas. 

Some frequented areas, such as Fish Creek Falls trailhead, have actually been shut down by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce congestion. They are technically still accessible, but there are no bathrooms, no trashcans and no maintenance.

Closed recreation sites
  • Brush Creek/Hayden Ranger District (Medicine Bow NF):  Bottle Creek, Brush CreekRyan Park
  • Hahns Peak/Bears Ears Ranger District (Routt NF):  Dry Lake,Dumont/Muddy PassFish Creek Falls, Quarry, Seedhouse
  • Parks Ranger District (Routt NF): Gould, Grizzly Creek, Routt Access
  • Laramie Ranger District (Medicine Bow NF):  AlbanyChimney ParkCorner MountainGreen RockHappy Jack, Tic’s toiletTie City
  • Douglas Ranger District (Thunder Basin NG):  Turner Reservoir toilet, Weston Hills

Trailhead congestion is just one of the many reasons that Routt County Search and Rescue President Jay Bowman is asking locals to avoid the backcountry. On March 26, the Steamboat Pilot & Today published a letter to the editor from Routt County Search and Rescue that broke down the various reasons people should find another way to be outside. 

“We want people to realize, if they venture far into the backcountry and something does happen, that they’re putting themselves at risk as well as our team, and then hospital resources, families of team members,” said Bowman. “It’s not just if a patient happens to be positive (for COVID-19), but it could very well be some of our team members are, and they’re not showing symptoms.”

Search and Rescue has a limited number of masks and other supplies. Any time the team is called out, it cuts into the nonprofit’s supply reserve.

Hospitals, especially small ones, aren’t in the best shape supply-wise either. For every ski-related injury or victim of a snowmobile accident, hospitals are using a bed, masks and resources for that person.

“We’re encouraging all to hang up their boards for the season in order to minimize any risk or stress that we put on to the hospital system,” Henderson said. “As most of us know, the best skiing is always in the smallest towns. The small towns always have the best skiing, and they always have the smallest hospitals and minimal hospital beds.”

Search and Rescue hasn’t had a call in over a week, and Bowman hopes people continue to exercise self-restraint and stay home, no matter how bad the cabin fever gets.

While waiting for the stay-at-home order to be lifted, SIA has offered snowsport lovers suggestions of ways to stay busy. 

Instead of strapping on a board or skis, people can learn to tune their skis and boards before putting them in a closet for the summer. They can take a refresher course online at the American Avalanche Institute website or tune in to a Town Hall discussion SIA hosts every week.

The Town Hall links, as well as other resources and even slope-related entertainment, are all located on SIA’s COVID-19 hub

“Never in our 66 years has SIA been faced with something as challenging, devastating and emotionally taxing as the coronavirus,” SIA President Nick Sargent said in an email. “The mountains will always be there, and snow will continue to fall. Together as a winter community, we can lead a global movement to be responsible and beat this pandemic. Please join us and #curbyourturns.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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