Avalanche Forecasting and Covid-19

Discussion in 'General' started by Mtnbikemelissa, Mar 16, 2020.

  1. Hello Folks,
    I wanted to give everyone an update from the Avalanche Center. As of right now, the Forest Service forecasters are still being allowed in the field to gather information. We will continue to post forecasts to the best of our ability, but expect this to be evolving. I fully expect backcountry use to increase as the local resorts close. At this time, Silver is the only one that has announced a closure for the next three days. If I had a crystal ball, I would expect the others to have closures as well, as everywhere else in the country the ski resorts are closing either voluntarily or by state decree.

    This means two things to me. The ski patrollers at Silver that help provide me with snow condition information for the Silver Valley report aren't working midweek right now. I ask those of you who head out this week to help fill in that gap. Post an observation here, on our website, or send it to me through social media. These observations are crucial for me to write a well rounded forecast. This goes with any time of the year, but now more than ever.

    Secondly, as I mentioned, I expect backcountry use to increase. While I don't have to worry too much about people skinning all the way up to Silver, keep it in mind if you go to other resorts that are closed down. Ski patrol services such as rescue, avalanche mitigation, or avalanche closures aren't happening. It is all BACKCOUNTRY. When out in the backcountry, practice social distancing, but engage with other users to help out those that might be new to touring/an area. Be good stewards of our sport and help keep everyone safe!

    We are approaching the time where our forecasting winds down. I usually phase out to just the Friday morning forecast at this point, but I'll keep posting for Tuesday this week and next. A glimpse at the weather this week looks like we are trending towards spring conditions, but we haven't made the end of March yet!

    Happy touring, and as always, feel free to send me any questions/observations/complaints/praises. :)

    Melissa
    Silver Valley Region Forecaster, Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center
    Bill A. and idsnowghost like this.
  2. UPDATE 3/26/2020

    Yesterday, Idaho went under a stay-at-home order. What this unfortunately means is an end of the season for the Avalanche Center. There will be no Silver Valley advisory tomorrow and it will be the last one for the Kootenai's. We will be following the guidance of the State as well as other avalanche centers where stay-at-home orders are in effect. The orders are clear for both Washington and Idaho: to the maximum extent possible, individuals should stay at home. Outdoor activity NEAR YOUR HOME is allowed, but residents are encouraged to keep distance of 6-feet from others not in their household. Near your home is stressed in the order. Loading up our vehicles and driving across town, across County lines, or across one or even two State lines is not considered near your home. Even though as an Avalanche Center we firmly believe in the value of backcountry travel, it is not an essential activity that outweighs the importance of slowing the spread of the virus. So at this time we are asking people not to go to the backcountry. Please follow our states orders, and stay at home.

    I know many of you might not agree with this and don’t like it. I’m feeling a little like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet as well. Skiing, splitboarding, and snowmobiling are activities that keep us healthy and sane. I know many of you think that you are able to mitigate your own risk in the backcountry so that you won’t be putting undo stress on the healthcare system. But things happen that are beyond our control and this is no longer about mitigating our own personal backcountry safety, this is mitigating a risk that is much bigger. We need to do our part by staying at home.

    Say for example, I decide to go out snowmobiling to go skiing. I have a great day, I distance myself from others, I dial it back and stay out of avalanche terrain. I feel that I am doing a good job, I’m not a stress on the system. On the way back to my vehicle I come across another person who has blown a track. Because I don’t want to put pressure on search and rescue, I give them a ride to their truck because they are too far to walk and would have to spend the night in the woods, which wouldn’t have left me with a very clear conscience if I’d left them there. We are a backcountry community; we help each other out. This person doesn’t know it, but they have coronavirus, and riding double definitely puts us closer than 6ft apart. Since symptoms don’t onset right away, when I get home I unknowingly give it to my husband and all of a sudden we have one less person working in our emergency department when he starts showing symptoms. This is just one example of something that could happen that we weren’t planning on. If you’ve been into backcountry sports for as many years as I have, you know that these occurrences will happen and they won’t be predictable for all the planning in the world. There are many factors out of our control right now and it might seem overwhelming, but one we do have control over is staying out of the backcountry and staying home. As an Avalanche Center, we are asking you to not go in the backcountry and respect the stay at home orders. This will pass and we will get back in the mountains again.

    So signing off from forecasting for the year. Thanks for a great season and I’ll see you all back in the mountains for forecasting next winter. Personally, maybe I'll even get another trip report in for some late spring/summer skiing, but who knows. Until then, I will be tucking the snowmobiles into the garage and putting summer wax on my skis. Running sneakers, you and I are about to become best frienemies.

    Thanks. -Melissa
    Bill A., idsnowghost and teledance like this.

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