Coloradans Responsibility in the Outdoors during COVID-19

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

There are many questions circulating about how to exercise and if and how backcountry and outdoor recreation are still a possibility during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Colorado Search and Rescue (CSAR) is working to evolve with the changing Coronavirus situation to maintain our free services. With Colorado’s “Stay at Home Orders,” which include the option of outdoor recreation so long as social distancing is maintained, Colorado Search and Rescue suggests these best practices, reminders and recommendations for enjoying the Colorado backcountry. 

Please continue to enjoy the open portions of Colorado’s backcountry areas during the COVID-19 “Stay At Home” Directive, but do so safely and responsibly. 

We encourage efforts to “flatten the curve” through social isolation and for many this will mean getting out on trails and into remote areas. The Colorado Search and Rescue Association and its member teams will be actively doing everything we can to support our communities and assist those in need of our services. This de-stressing and self-care are vital.  Please be aware that this is also the time to be extra cautious and follow responsible and safe practices. We are anticipating an increase in Search and Rescue (SAR) calls and while we will be taking all appropriate precautions to protect responders from becoming ill, our numbers, and therefore our responsiveness, might be reduced or delayed.

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 are still available for rescue. In this time of COVID-19, the Colorado Search and Rescue Association and its member teams are working closely with all emergency responders and medical professionals to ensure responders are following current best safety practices and are available to assist in any situation.  We request that the public consider their potential impact on all aspects of public services when planning outings and requesting help. To that end, please get out, please enjoy yourselves, please de-stress. If you are injured or lost, or your loved one is overdue, please call 911.  Please recognize that SAR may treat you as a COVID-19 risk and take all necessary precautions to protect the health and availability of all 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. Please choose conservative objectives that are less likely to result in having 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 before you head out.  Recently the USFS closed a number of trailheads and facilities.
  3. Advise someone where you are going, your intended route, when you will be back, the description of your vehicle, your cellphone 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.  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.

The frontcountry has become the backcountry:

Now that ski areas are closed, ski patrols cannot be relied upon to assist. Some ski areas are allowing human-powered access, some are not. Snowsports are part of the fabric of Colorado.  With the coronavirus testing that fabric, we ask that snowsports enthusiasts carefully consider their decisions and proceed with extra caution. Teams will be conducting inbounds avalanche mitigation to protect structures, but avalanche mitigation likely won’t occur on many inbounds runs.  The US Forest Service has advised that private snowmobiles and snow-bikes are not allowed at any ski area regardless of whether they are open or closed. Sheriffs and search and rescue teams, working with ski area managers, are now the primary responders to all snowsport areas. Please consider how your decisions may affect the emergency response capabilities within the outdoor community.  Our amazing mountains are a source of rejuvenation and healing for so many, please visit them responsibly and cautiously in 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,