Take extreme caution in backcountry; there is no such thing as ‘side country’ (letter)
February 27, 2018
It seems the 2017-18 winter season has finally arrived here in Eagle County. We have certainly anticipated this would happen, but with the new snow comes new worries coupled with a need to educate.
Let's just start by saying that there is no "side country," only backcountry. Once you leave the ski area boundary, you are in the backcountry and responsible for your own safety. We can also all appreciate that the backcountry can provide skiers and riders the feeling of pushing their limits, but we must do it with a focus on safety at all times.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is the primary resource for backcountry awareness and education. Its team of forecasters provides education for the newest of users through its "Know Before You Go" campaign up to a professional educational series. "Know Before You Go" is a key learning tool that our Vail Ski Patrol utilizes to inform departments and employee groups and is only the first step in backcountry education. Beyond this introductory session, we encourage people to enhance their knowledge and training before accessing the backcountry through classes such as Avalanche 1 and 2. Both certifications are available through local entities such as Apex Mountain School and Colorado Mountain College.
This season especially, please be mindful of the snowpack. Because of inconsistent snowfall and the periods of unseasonably warm temperatures, there is a lot of instability in the snowpack. When there is new snowfall, it is easy to get into a "powder hound" mindset and focus solely on the powder. Please remember what is under that powder and that the risk for avalanches, even in uncommon areas, is significant.
If and when you find yourself in a situation where you need to call for a rescue in the backcountry, which is provided by Vail Mountain Rescue in conjunction with the Eagle County Sheriff's Office, remember that the safety of the rescuers is paramount and will be taken into consideration, which may delay the rescue. There may be a time that rescue will be delayed or not available due to a multitude of reasons. Please be prepared to self-rescue.
In the event you decide to exit the ski resort boundary, please do so out of one of our designated backcountry access points. This is important because if a rescue is requested due to an emergency, we will have a better chance to gather accurate information regarding your location. This key tactic may speed up the rescue.
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Remember: Get educated, be prepared, go with a partner and, most of all, have a plan.
Available backcountry resources:
• Colorado Avalanche Information Center, http://www.avalanche.state.co.us
• Vail Mountain Rescue, http://www.vailmountainrescue.org
• Colorado Mountain College, coloradomtn.edu/programs/avalanche-science
• Apex Mountain School, http://www.apexmountainschool.com
Director, Vail Ski Patrol
President, Vail Mountain Rescue
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