Stowe Mountain Resort

Cars jam the main parking lot at Stowe Mountain Resort on Friday, as skiers skinned up the hill and skied back down — violating the rules on social distancing.

Stuck in the house curing the coronavirus crisis? Need some fresh air, a heart-pumping workout?

What could be better than a run down Mansfield? Just park at Stowe Mountain Resort, skin up the Mountain and ski back down.

Well, it might have been a good idea if a couple of hundred other people hadn’t had it at the same time.

On Friday, the main parking lot at the Mountain was full of cars, with skiers gearing up to go up or finishing up after coming down. The scene shocked one skier, who reported the Upper Gondolier parking lot was full and lines of people were headed uphill, some in large groups, with one gang of 20 or so building a jump at the base of North Slope.

He skedaddled. “My skis, skins included, are waiting for next year,” he said, when social distancing caused by the coronavirus may not be so important.”

Stowe Mountain Resort, which had been monitoring uphill ski traffic since the resort officially closed March 16, acted Monday afternoon:

“Uphill access is currently CLOSED on all portions of Stowe Mountain Resort until further notice,” said an email from Jeff Wise, senior communications manager. “Without ski patrol and terrain maintenance, it is unsafe for skiers, riders, those sledding and first responders.

“We thank everyone for respecting all posted closures. These closures mitigate the risk to our first responders and protect our local resources. Each person’s safety and the safety of our community is our top priority.”

Happening all over

Stowe wasn’t going it alone.

On Sunday, 400 people showed up to ski Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. According to the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, well over half of the crowd came from out of state. Cars filled the parking lot at Pinkham Notch and lined the highway for several hundred yards, with people congregating in the lot, on the deck and arriving together in groups.

“Please respect the stay-at-home order,” the avalanche center said. “Skiing is not an essential activity by any measure and while we support exercising and being outdoors now more than ever, those activities should occur in your neighborhood or within a short drive of your house.” Tuckerman Ravine is now officially closed.

Nick Sargent is head of Ski Industries of America; his job is to promote backcountry skiing and other outdoor sports — a sector of the economy that now has $887 billion in annual sales.

On Friday, his nonprofit organization started #Curbyourturns, a social media campaign to keep people from skiing during the coronavirus crisis.

When the virus forced ski areas to close, one result was a sales bonanza of backcountry gear — and a big influx of new backcountry skiers.

“Backcountry access has never been greater, which raises issues for communities to address,” Sargent said. “Ski resort communities — Eagle County, Aspen, Sun Valley, Park City, Vail — are some of the highest density of coronavirus cases in the country.”

People who should be sheltering in place are treating it like a vacation, getting outside, skinning, “creating what like you saw in Stowe over the weekend. A lot of people in one space and on the same trails.” And they’re posting photos and videos online, saying they’re having a great time, and enticing other people to do the same.

“They’re really putting a lot of people in jeopardy,” Sargent said.

Veteran backcountry skiers know how to limit their risk, Sargent said. “Less experienced people are the ones getting lost and injured, and who require help from our first responders, and a lot of times are taking beds in hospitals from people who have the virus.”

In Colorado last weekend, an avalanche involving inexperienced skiers needed 50 first responders, a helicopter and EMTs, and those first responders still hadn’t received coronavirus protocols, Sargent said.

“It exposed a lot of weaknesses in the system,” he said.

“Put your skis away,” Sargent said. “Stay home. Practice social distancing. We know what’s right and we know what’s wrong, and when it’s time to hang the skis up. Save the resources for people in dire condition. Don’t waste them on stupid mistakes.

“We want to get to the next season and enjoy sports later.”

There’s no protection

Neil Van Dyke of Stowe is the search and rescue coordinator for the Vermont Department of Public Safety, and he worries that people heading into the backcountry will put rescuers at risk of coronavirus exposure during a rescue.

“There is risk of exposure not only with the patient, but with other rescuers who may be asymptomatic,” Van Dyke said. “Wearing recommended PPE (personal protective equipment) and keeping recommended distances from others is simply impractical during a backcountry rescue. Now is not the time that we want to be putting emergency responders at undue risk.”

He also said that most search-and-rescue organizations “understand the desire and need to get out and get daily exercise, and for those who typically do this by skiing at this time of the year, it’s only natural that they want to continue this routine.”

Van Dyke said the guidelines for groups and distancing still apply.

“Unfortunately this message seems to be lost on many, and as a result access to private and public lands is being shut down around the country,” he said. “I expect to see more of this, and it’s typically a direct result of people not following CDC and other guidelines for preventing spread of COVID-19.

“People should be staying well within their experience level and avoiding undue risk,” he said. “Again, unfortunately, there seem to be many instances where people are not ‘dialing it back’ and taking it easy. With increased numbers of outdoor users, some of whom are likely at higher risk of injury due to inexperience and marginal conditions in the backcountry, comes the likelihood of an increased burden and risk to search and rescue responders.”

He wrote the book

Thirty years ago, David Goodman of Waterbury Center wrote “Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast: Fifty Classic Ski Tours in New England and New York.” He’s working on a 30th anniversary edition of the guidebook.

His advice for these times:

“Backcountry skiers should just stay home. That’s the best way for backcountry skiers to help stop transmission of COVID-19 and not overwhelm the medical system.”

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