Coloradan’s responsibility in the outdoors during COVID-19

In Members, Public by Colorado Search and Rescue Association (CSAR)

Given the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Colorado Search and Rescue Association suggests these best practices, reminders and recommendations for enjoying the Colorado backcountry. 

Please continue to enjoy the open portions of Colorado’s backcountry areas, but do so safely and responsibly. 

We continue to encourage efforts at social distancing to limit the spread of Covid-19, and for many, this means getting out on trails and into remote areas. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association and its member teams are actively doing everything we can to support our communities and assist those in need of our services. De-stressing and self-care are vital.  Please be aware this is also the time to be extra cautious and follow responsible and safe practices. We saw an increase in backcountry search and rescue (BSAR) calls during the summer of 2020, and we anticipate seeing the same in the summer of 2021. When BSAR volunteers carry out a rescue subject they are often face-to-face with the patient and each other, within a foot or two, potentially for many hours. While everyone will likely be masked and outside, this is still a risky situation.

What happens if I’m out in the Colorado backcountry and I get injured and can’t get myself out?

All of Colorado’s all-volunteer backcountry search and rescue teams have continued to be available for rescue since the beginning of the pandemic. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association and its member teams have worked closely with emergency responders and medical professionals to ensure responders are following current best safety practices and are available to assist in any situation.  We encourage you to get out, enjoy yourselves, and de-stress, but we also request that the public consider their potential impact on all aspects of public services when planning outings and requesting help; read When should I call search and rescue for more information on how to evaluate the need for assistance. If you are injured or lost, or your loved one is overdue, call 911 or use our SAR County Map to reach the correct sheriff’s office.  Please recognize that SAR may treat you as a COVID-19 risk and take all necessary precautions to protect the health and availability of EMS responders.

What do I need to know before I get out to mountain bike, run, ski, hike, and all the other things I like to do outdoors?    

  1. Choose conservative objectives that are less likely to have an impact on SAR and emergency services. Colorado SAR teams are prepared and ready to respond but could become overloaded if the number of calls increases and the number of available responders decreases.
  2. Check to see if your intended trailhead and destination is open and/or unrestricted before you head out. There have been a number of closures during the past year, as well as new permit and reservation requirements in some areas.
  3. Advise someone where you are going, your intended route, when you’ll be back, the description of your vehicle, your cell phone number, the equipment you intend to carry, whether you have a known exposure to sick people, and how you’ve been feeling.  Update your contact if your plans change.
  4. Have a fallback, non-electronic means of navigating and know how to use it.
  5. Consider avoiding all avalanche terrain, especially as a solo traveler. This includes in-bounds areas as ski patrols may not be controlling for avalanches. 
  6. Avoid or be very cautious when attempting higher-risk activities or very remote activities.  Accidents stemming from these types of activities may require extensive resources. 
  7. CDC or CDPHE: many of the COVID-19 personal prevention and containment practices listed on these websites can be applied to the outdoors. 
  8. Spring in the Colorado Rockies = dramatically changing weather; prepare for it.  
  9. Expect ice, snow, and mud in the spring months.  Wear traction devices on ice, float on snow with snowshoes or skis, and wear waterproof shoes or plan to get muddy. Do not widen trails or make new ones.
  10. Monitor your condition.  Don’t forget that responsible outdoor adventurers constantly monitor their bodies for the effects of hydration and altitude. 
  11. Remember your 10 essentials. Be prepared for big drops in temperature, shifts in weather conditions, and prolonged response from rescue services.
  12. Please read and heed trailhead signs and the rules set forth by land managers. They are doing their best to provide for current use while preserving these special places for future generations.

Our amazing mountains are a source of rejuvenation and healing for so many; please visit them responsibly and cautiously during this time of COVID-19.

For a list of recommended outdoor education websites, please visit the CSAR Education Page

The information in this article was a collaboration of various Colorado Outdoor agencies including but not limited to: CSAR, USFS, DOR,