Backcountry in the Time of Covid19- pt1.
“In the early days, when they thought this epidemic was much like other epidemics, religion held its ground. But once these people realized their instant peril, they gave their thoughts to pleasure.”
Albert Camus, The Plague
The season ended today.
Or was it yesterday? I can't be sure.
I got a telegram from12th street: “Season over. Done tomorrow. Faithfully yours.”
That doesn’t mean anything.
Maybe it was yesterday.
What strange times we live in, strangers.
In the blink of an eye, the 2019-2020 ski season is now over and like many, I now sit in quarantine wondering what the fuck just happened?
I had just finished a tour when I found the notice from the San Juan County Sherriff's Office tucked into my driver's side window.
"LOCALS ONLY" the leaflet stated in all caps!
In a move to slow C19's charge into our little mountain hamlet, Sherriff Bruce Conrad decided to close parking areas and trailheads along 550, CR110 and CR2 in San Juan county. The move was aggressive. The sheriff’s wording controversial. But the underlying message was clear.
Silverton was now shut to outsiders, no more visiting and parking along roadways in San Juan County. This effectively cut off access to the backcountry to all but local residents.
In the hours immediately following the first notices on Sat afternoon, there was a swell of confusion and anger. The Sheriff's Office released a more robust explaination of the order and the closure was echoed in a SJ County Dept of Emergency Management Release:
Our group had an exchange with a well-coiffed and colorfully kitted out group of logo’ed fellows from away. After spraying us with their stoke, milking us for beta, they enthusiastically shared, “we’re from the front range and we get after it!”
The first weekend following the governor’s closure of CO ski areas, recreationalists swarmed public lands and the recently shuttered resorts. Many folks also made a break for the San Juans. There were more users out and there definitly was more pressure on 550. Things hadn’t become Loveland/ Berthoud bad, but it definitely was bumping up on Red since Polis shut resorts down a week prior. His closure had also impacted the scheduled opening of unguided skiing at Silverton Ski Area- so all those pass holders, with no where to go, were pouring into town too.
With limited options available, RMP became a beacon of hope for skiing refuges. I mean it always turns into a mini-Tucks this time of year. It’s always kinda nuts up there in spring, but it definitly became a super circus really quick with many, in-bounds Jerrys snowshoeing up avy paths and blissfully ignorant families sledding in terrain of consequence.
So it came as no surprise when roadside recreationalists’ cars were hit with yellow notices again on Sunday. Unquestionably, the Sherriff was intent on shutting it all down. Friends and acquaintances I encountered that day were confused by how the LOCALS ONLY policy would play out on the ground. After all, here we were recreating and there was no sign of enforcement in the field. Just these stupid yellow flyers. And what about folks that live real close by but in an adjacent county? What about people that own cabins and businesses up on the pass? And what about.....? The confusion continued.
At day’s end, a couple of Durangotangs pounded beers by the trailhead and questioned how serious the sheriff really was. “Can’t keep me off of my public lands” was uttered and angrily repeated between schwills of Ska. Other skiers congregated by their vehicles, flagrantly dismissing social distancing guidelines and expressed fear and frustration while debriefing their days.
It was a strange mix of emotions.
The riding was super good, but our collective stoke had been muted. By Sunday afternoon, the pass had cleared out and there was a distinct Debby Downer feel to it all. As somber as the mood was up high, nothing could compare to the rising cacophony of anger and ignorance online.
Conrad takes to FB to try and clear things up:
Two articles I found to be the most informative & balanced reports from local sources:
From the Colorado Sun
From the Durango Herald
FEAR, ANGER, CONFUSION & SHAME
In the days following the 550 closure, an avalanche of media and internet posts, fueled by panic, confusion, anger and fear lit up the interwebs. Panic about public lands being restricted. Fear of an unknown virus that has us all confused and anxious. A collective anger over an abrupt end to the 19/20 ski season with limited or no opportunities for continued backcountry recreation.
In short order, people have been triggered, caught up and shit is now sliding downhill.
The good vibes of winter fractured.
Negativity propagated out into the ski tribe
This all stepped down into dysfunctional dialogue and a deep persistent shame layer.
And because nothing online ever disappears, we've now left evidence of our vitriol, moralizing and judgement in an eternally preserved digital debris pile.
Good job everyone. We really get after it.
Take some time to probe these resources and strike on what we've now become.
I'm struggling to pinpoint exactly how I feel but I will try to dig that all up in a future post.
And the Internet...
Here's a sample of the dumpster fire that is online discourse thesedays.... Examples come from reddit but most comment boards and online forums are awash in nasty lately:
Backcountry Skiing is Now Banned on RMP
CO Snow- Ophir Rescue Comments