Our view: Playing safe in the backcountry | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Playing safe in the backcountry

Living in Routt County, we’re blessed to have great access to the backcountry. It’s as easy as going out a gate at Steamboat Resort, but with that freedom, comes responsibility.

In the past few weeks, a person was rescued from an avalanche at Steamboat Resort, and Routt County Search and Rescue made its first rescue of the season in the Fish Creek drainage area. Both incidents should serve as reminders that, sometimes, enjoying the beautiful outdoors that surround us can be dangerous, so it’s vitally important to play it smart, especially when venturing into the backcountry.

Whether you’re a local or a visitor, preparedness is key. Make sure you have the equipment you need, wear proper clothing, make sure your cellphone is fully charged, have done your homework concerning avalanche danger and impending weather and know the area you’re about to explore. It’s also critically important to have a good partner to guide you, especially early on in your backcountry experience.

Colorado remains the most dangerous state in the country when it comes to avalanches, according to data from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. During the 2018-19 season, there were at least 4,273 slides across the state, which is more than were recorded in any season over the past decade, and 2019-20 is predicted to be another active avalanche year due to early snowfall in October that created an unstable layer. So far this season, there have been six avalanches recorded in Routt County.

The number of avalanche fatalities has also increased over the past several decades from about 14.3 people dying in avalanches per season in the 1980s to 25.6 during the last decade. This is due, in part, to the increased popularity of backcountry skiing and the development of new equipment that allows people to access more remote terrain.

At a glance

At issue: The pristine wilderness surrounding Steamboat Springs is a fertile playground for people searching out adventure and fresh powder.

Our View: Before going out in the backcountry, be sure you are prepared for anything, especially avalanches.

Editorial Board

  • Logan Molen, publisher
  • Lisa Schlichtman, editor
  • Jason Gilligan, community representative
  • Don Moss, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.

Knowing that avalanche risk exists, anyone who plans to spend time in the backcountry should have some avalanche training and pack avalanche gear, including a beacon, shovel and probe.

There are resources available locally to help backcountry enthusiasts become more avalanche aware, including an upcoming clinic, sponsored by Ski Haus, Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs and Steamboat Ski Patrol, on Jan. 10 and 11. The Friday night portion of the two-day event is a slideshow presentation and discussion presented by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which is free and open to the public.

The all-day field session Saturday will be held on Rabbit Ears Pass and costs $45 per person. The session will cover snow pits, transceiver and rescue practices, and practical backcountry knowledge. In addition, CMC routinely offers backcountry safety and avalanche courses during the winter semester.

People are also advised to utilize all the information available through the CAIC’s website at avalanche.state.co.us. We suggested checking the site before any backcountry trip to determine the current avalanche conditions in the area you’ll be exploring.

The CAIC posts daily updates about avalanche danger across the state, and it also offers a Know Before You Go course that covers the basics that everyone should follow when venturing into the backcountry. These include:

  1. Get the gear
  2. Get the training
  3. Get the forecast
  4. Get the picture
  5. Get out of harm’s way

And while we are writing about backcountry safety, we’d like to thank all the volunteers with Routt County Search and Rescue who put their own safety at risk to help people who find themselves lost, trapped or in trouble while adventuring outdoors as well as members of the Steamboat Ski Patrol who keep us safe on the slopes.

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