Avalanche Centers Shutting Down Due to COVID-19
This week, Avalanche Canada and the Northwest Avalanche Center issued statements regarding their operations and the COVID-19 virus.
Avalanche Canada will issue this season’s final forecast on March 28, a month earlier than normal. Their forecasts rely heavily on data from professional backcountry ski operations who’ve been forced to close early due to COVID-19. With this data stream no longer available, they’re unable to issue accurate forecasts. Additionally, they are concerned about the healthcare system during the epidemic. With the government urging people to stay at home, this isn’t the time to be taking additional risks and taxing a healthcare system that needs to focus on COVID-19 patients.
Oregon and Washington have issued stay-at-home orders, causing the Northwest Avalanche Center to pause all forecast operations. They will have more information available on their website in the next few days.
Colorado is also under a stay-at-home ordinance, but its Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) is still operating. We have not spoken to anyone at the CAIC, but they are in a unique situation compared to other avalanche centers. The CAIC works with the Colorado Department of Transportation to reduce the threat of avalanches to the state transportation system. Though they are currently operating and issuing forecasts, their operations will also likely be affected by the stay-at-home ordinance, so skiers in Colorado should monitor the CAIC’s website for any updates.
Here’s our current advice to backcountry skiers: If you are an experienced backcountry skier and have found a way to ski while social distancing, please understand this is a time to be extremely safe. Your mindset needs to be cautious and risk-averse. You don’t want to risk requiring medical attention that would tax a healthcare system that needs to focus on handling serious coronavirus cases. Search and rescue operations are also under stress and operating with fewer resources. Finally, you might only have access to limited avalanche information if your local forecast center has been suspended.
If you’re not experienced, we recommend finding another activity to keep you happy and healthy. Normally Powder Cloud is all about encouraging and enabling people to ski in the backcountry, but this is just not an ideal time.