The Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center has reported its final Avalanche Advisory of the 2019/2020 season. On March 31st, 2020, Mono County issued a formal request for residents to refrain from high-risk activities echoing a similar request from the Inyo County Sheriffs Department. In an effort to honor these requests and address worker safety concerns ESAC will cease all field activity at this time.
Sounds like an April Fool’s joke, but it’s not. Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center has announced today that it will no longer be issuing avalanche advisories. We depend on the work of the center to make informed backcountry decisions as we recreate, and we should all consider the work of the forecasters to be “essential services.” At this time, however, the safety of the forecasters has to be protected, and both Inyo and Mono Counties have asked that the public suspend high-risk activities from all of us at this critical time in the pandemic.
This action from an organization dedicated to increasing the safety of the backcountry community, takes extraordinary courage, leadership, and careful consideration. Please join us in acknowledging these workers and the ESAC managers for their efforts this season and for the difficult and laudable decision to suspend operations at this time, with unprecedented backcountry use, and an incoming spring storm. Only 3 other US centers have made a similar decision to suspend forecasting operations (NWAC, MWAC, and CNFAIC). Avalanche Canada is also shut down nationally. Meanwhile, people are getting heli-evac’ed from backcountry areas in CO and there were 11 avalanche involvements in 3 days in the Wasatch recently. Tahoe trailheads are at capacity every day as they are dealing with a rare Persistent Slab avalanche problem. We had some involvements here in the Eastern Sierra this week as well from Wind Slabs.
It is clearly a nuanced stance to shut an avalanche center down. What does it say to the recreating public about the risk when advisories are published daily as per usual during this pandemic? How can a center like ESAC, continue to forecast accurately with necessary limitations on data collection and fieldwork? Do you think the center should be suspending the advisory, or should it continue to support decision making and risk management for community members that may choose to keep going to avalanche terrain against recommendations by local authorities? If there is no advisory, what else could the forecasters be doing for our community with their time? Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center