With COVID-19 posing a potential threat of overloading healthcare systems, Avalanche Canada and Kimberley Search and Rescue are urging backcountry users to be extra cautious to avoid any incident that could lead to injury and a trip to the hospital.
“Our concern is that the East Kootenay health care system, though it’s not overloaded yet, could become stressed, so we want backcountry users to be careful out there,” said Peter Reid with Kimberley Search and Rescue.
During times of social distancing and closures of many businesses, including the Kimberley Alpine Resort, it is important to still find time for recreation, provided it’s done in a careful way and in accordance with guidelines regarding preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“We all love the mountains and the backcountry and encourage people to enjoy everything our mountains have to offer. Now is a good time to make conservative decisions with regards to terrain, activity and risk-taking.”
That said, Reid wanted to let people know that Search and Rescue is completely operational. They’ve mitigated their protocols with respect for providing safety for their workers and those who they help, but “we don’t charge for rescue,” Reid said. “If you’re in trouble, call for help.” They can be reached by dialling 911.
Reid recommended filing a trip plan with BC AdventureSmart and to always pack the essentials. Information on that may be found at www.facebook.com/kimberleysearchandrescue.
He said that he saw people at the Kimberley ski hill skinning up to ski down, and he said that he’d like to remind people that the hill is closed, so any rescue services needed in the event of an accident would need to come from Search and Rescue.
These precautions are echoed by Avalanche Canada. In a Wednesday, March 18 press release, they said, “all avalanche forecasting agencies are urging backcountry users to be extra vigilant to the possibility of any type of incident that could add more load to a system already under huge pressure. Please consider this fact while planning your recreation.”
They added that this could in fact be a time to avoid the backcountry altogether, but if people choose to head out, they should make every effort to avoid injuries.
“We encourage you to take all precautions necessary to safeguard the health and safety of your group and others,” the release said.
In an update issued on Monday, Avalanche Canada said that accurately forecasting avalanches remains their priority amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.
“However, the early closure of many backcountry operations, in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, will soon affect our data stream,” Avalanche Canada explained. “We are assessing this situation on a daily basis but are expecting an increase in our forecast uncertainty as these closures progress.”
They added that their Mountain Information Network (MIN) is going to become even more important than usual. They encourage all backcountry users to submit their observations, as even the most basic data will be helpful so users should consider posting to the MIN with any information they may have.
Any questions about the MIN, or any information people would like to deliver directly to avalanche forecasters, can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-837-2141 ext. 104.
Additionally, in response to the pandemic, Avalanche Canada has cancelled all of their outreach events and reduced operations and have given their employees the option to work from home.
“The health and safety of our staff is greatly important to us. We will continue to take guidance from the appropriate health advisory organizations as this situation evolves.”