The reservation system has been set in stone at many major resorts across the United States. Both on the popular Epic Pass as well as the Ikon Pass, this is the reality. The latter pass only requires reservations at a handful of mountains such as Aspen Highlands, Crystal Mountain, and Big Sky. Due to the limited capacity, backcountry skiers and riders will inevitably be recreating all over the United States. This means SAR (Search and Rescue) teams have been preparing for the worst.
Despite SAR teams training harder than ever, the pandemic doesn’t make their job any easier. With virus concerns, SAR teams are preparing to have fewer responders than normal—which can mean slower response times. Thus, depending on the nature of your injury, you cannot solely rely on them to get you out of trouble—not that this should ever be the case.
As a backcountry user, you should always be aware that your safety and survival should be left in your and your partner’s hands. Never should you be taking uncalculated risks with the idea that SAR will bail you out. Ski stores across the nation have been selling out of skins, split boards, AT bindings, and all other backcountry essentials, so this obvious trend is pointing to more users and accidents, which in turn will spread SAR pretty thin.
Response times can sometimes take up to or longer than 30-minutes for SAR teams. According to the Utah Avalanche Center, you may only have about a 30-40% chance of survival after a 30-minute burial in the scenario of an avalanche burial.
So, how do we recreate in the backcountry and be prepared in case of an emergency?
Having your musts of a beacon, shovel and probe aren’t just enough! Getting educated with an AIARE Level 1 class is imperative. Even if your partners have tons of experience, it’s better to be an asset than a liability. Here, you will learn how to manage risk in the backcountry, read avalanche reports, and more that will help save you and keep SAR’s workload down. If you want to take it a step further, think about taking a wilderness medicine course. You’ll learn the basics of how to keep your partners and yourself alive in the backcountry after an accident until you can get them to definitive care.
Knowing before you go can help save your life and possibly others. Doing your part by studying up will give you more peace of mind skiing or riding in the backcountry. So know before you go!