Navigating a pandemic is hard, but can it be made easier by using principles we know from the backcountry? Both this pandemic and backcountry terrain have inherent risk, and both can be made safer (and a little less scary) with a few rules of thumb:
Check The Forecast
You don’t go and summit high peaks without checking the weather, and you shouldn't make decisions about your exposure to COVID-19 without looking at the numbers either. A quick check of the current case count in your state or county is a lot like checking the current avalanche forecast-it’s not the whole picture but it can give you a general idea of which areas to avoid.
Learn To Recognize Dangerous Terrain
We know better than to stop in an obvious slide path or hang out in terrain traps because IF there was an avalanche, being in those locations sure wont increase our chances of getting out unscathed. What if we looked at highly transmissible situations the same way? Sure, maybe no one in this small enclosed space has COVID, but if they did, I'm sure going to wish I waited for the next gondola or outside this coffee shop to order instead.
The Human Factor
Be aware of the human factor- the phenomenon defined by making bad decisions influenced by our emotions and desires (consciously or subconsciously). Accepting extra risk, ignoring red flags, or skipping certain precautions because we are “really stoked” to ski an objective is often where we get in trouble. The same goes for the excitement of hanging out with friends and “feeling normal” again in the pandemic. Even the best navigation and mask-wearing throughout your day won’t protect you if you turn your covid safe tailgate into a superspreader because you got caught up in après.
Be Open With Your Partners
In the backcountry, all of your ski partners should feel they can speak up if they are EVER uncomfortable or “don't feel right” about a situation. This should also apply to your friends, family, and those in or outside your COVID bubble. If someone is uncomfortable with a gathering or decides their risk tolerance is different than your own, that is ALWAYS their choice and is to be respected. When it comes to risk and questions about safety, no one should ever be convinced outside their comfort zone- in a pandemic, or the mountains.
Be Weary Of The Way Out
How many times have you heard stories about parties successfully summiting great peaks, only to make a decision on their descent that leads to misfortune? We do not make good decisions when we are cold, tired, and just want to be back in our warm beds. The same goes for how we navigate out of this pandemic. We may have some peaks behind us, but we aren’t off the mountain yet.
The rewards of successfully navigating the backcountry may be more enticing, with mountain tops and ski lines, but navigating through COVID-19 is equally important to the safety of ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones. So be smart, be safe, and wear a helmet (and a mask)