Virus Concerns Could Complicate Things For Backcountry Skiers

Jan 5, 2021

You might think that backcountry skiers wouldn’t have to worry about the pandemic. But a group that helps rescue wayward skiers says the coronavirus will affect its ability to provide aid on the trails.

  

 

Joseph Calbreath is the training director for the Willamette Backcountry Ski Patrol, which monitors about 20 miles of trails near the Willamette Pass. In his 30 years with the organization, this will potentially be the most challenging winter yet, he said.

The U.S. Forest Service said warming huts and shelters, such as this one in the Gold Lake Sno-Park, will be closed during the 2020-2021 winter recreation season.
Credit U.S. Forest Service

  

 

"This winter is totally different for all ski-patrolers all around the country," he said.

 

That’s because the Forest Service has closed many of the cabins and shelters used by skiers and patrol members alike, as a way to slow the spread of the virus. Calbreath said it means people heading out on the trails should be prepared to spend the night in frigid conditions.

“Without the shelters being available to camp in, we’re a little concerned," he said. "Because people may try to snow-camp outside the shelters, and not be prepared.” 

Calbreath says he’s especially concerned that skiers won’t have a place to dry out and could be more vulnerable to hypothermia. That's a particular worry for novice skiiers, who may have little experience, tire more easily, and be less prepared.

"Our parking lot is over-flowing with people, dying to get out of their houses," he said. "We have a lot more people out in the snow because it's a place where they can go" with many other options closed due to COVID-19.