Our view: Think hard before heading for backcountry | SteamboatToday.com

Back to: News

Our view: Think hard before heading for backcountry

At issue

“Avalanche activity continues to be reported from Buffalo Pass and the Fish Creek area near Steamboat Springs.”

Our view

Know before you go — read the avalanche danger forecasts, and understand them, before recreating in the backcountry







The Jan. 12 avalanche that injured Steamboat Springs Search and Rescue member Jay Bowman in Fish Creek Canyon reminds us that everyone who sets out for the backcountry in search of powder has an obligation to check avalanche conditions and understand the implications before they go. And once you go, use sound judgment, and be as self-reliant as possible.

At issue

"Avalanche activity continues to be reported from Buffalo Pass and the Fish Creek area near Steamboat Springs."

Our view

Know before you go — read the avalanche danger forecasts, and understand them, before recreating in the backcountry

It shook us to the core when we thought how close we came earlier this month to losing one of the everyday heroes at Search and Rescue. Members train relentlessly and are willing to walk out the door of their businesses and places of employment to come to the rescue of both neighbors and strangers. Without hesitation, they always come to our rescue, and we cannot thank them enough.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center posts daily updates about avalanche danger across the state and is a must read for anyone heading into the backcountry. And on Jan. 27, the danger on Buffalo Pass, just north of Fish Creek Canyon was plain enough for anyone to understand.

"Avalanche activity continues to be reported from Buffalo Pass and the Fish Creek area near Steamboat Springs," avalanche forecaster Jason Koenigsberg wrote Jan. 27. "Northerly-facing slopes are mostly responsible for avalanches that are breaking very wide (200 to 300 feet), on low-angle slopes, and up to 2 feet deep … It is difficult to say that any steep slope is safe right now, and all slopes over 30 degrees should be approached with caution."

Could it be more plain than that? The reality is, truly understanding the reports regarding avalanche danger requires training.

The Avalanche Information Center offers awareness programs for snowmobile and outing clubs, as well as programs tailored to middle- and high-school students. Contact the Boulder office at 303-499-9650 to schedule a class.

It's important that members of the public call for the volunteers at Routt County Search and Rescue when someone's safety is in jeopardy. But it would be ideal if they were able to avoid that necessity in the first place. Search and Rescue members have jobs and families to come home to, and putting them unnecessarily in harm's way cannot be justified.

We were encouraged to learn from a member of Search and Rescue who went on the Jan. 12 mission that members of the lost party made generous donations, in spite of the fact that search and rescue organizations around the state are devoted to their creed of not charging for their services.

But, as Steamboat Today reported in the wake of the incident, there are inexpensive ways to indirectly support Colorado's volunteer search and rescue organizations.

In the case of rescued adventurers who possess a hunting, fishing or hiking license, snowmobile/ATV/boat registrations or the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue card, a portion of the associated fees help defer the cost of searches and rescues. The rescue card is ideal for hikers.

Carrying one of those cards, licenses or registration papers into the backcountry with us is the least we can do.