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Adrian Ballinger: Now Is Not the Time to Backcountry Ski

adrian ballinger mountaineerMountaineer Adrian Ballinger
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The Mount Everest-summiting legend and CEO of Alpenglow Expeditions explains why now is not the time to risk backcountry skiing.

Those of us who live for adventure are having a tough go of it right now. We don’t adapt well to sitting at home, stuck on our couches, living vicariously through YouTube video exploits while the great outdoors beckons from the windowpane.

Here in the Lake Tahoe area, the challenge to stay isolated at home is even tougher. Our guide company’s Mount Everest expeditions, as well as countless other expeditions, have all been scrapped for the season. So the team has a lot of time on its hands.

We’re all itching to get out there and stay active, even if it’s to go snowshoeing, boarding, or skiing. But this is not the time to do it — least of all in the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada.

Stay Home, Stay Safe

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve watched a lot of skiers come through town, many from neighboring states where their go-to ski resorts have all been shut down.

In search of new adventures, these skiers head to the backcountry with little or no experience with backcountry safety. They’re often sporting inappropriate gear and are totally uneducated as to how to manage the very real threat of avalanches.

While I admire their passion, I also realize they present a danger to not only themselves but also others here in our mountain community.

Why? Because our emergency first responder teams are standing by to address issues related to COVID-19. That needs to be their focus now, not rescuing skiers who get in over their heads out on a remote, uncharted trail.

Support infrastructure is also lacking. There are no nearby resorts or pro shops open for advice or help. There are no experienced expedition teams active in the area. Even basic services like restrooms and restaurants are limited.

At Alpenglow Expeditions, the guide company I head up, we’ve had to put our avalanche training program on hold. We’re working on getting an online version up, but this is just another important safety resource that’s not currently available. This is why we’re not encouraging anyone to go exploring the backcountry right now, especially those who have had no or little experience at it.

For those who really want to support the outdoor community, the best thing to do is help the small businesses within the field that are struggling to stay open.

At Alpenglow, we’re taking a long-term perspective on this crisis. Our primary goals right now are to keep as much infrastructure as possible in place and operating so that when the crisis abates, we’re in a position to get the expeditions rolling again.

We’re also trying to keep important initiatives going, like our avalanche safety program. This is a comprehensive, entry-level avalanche course designed for those with basic ski/snowboard touring experience. We think it should be a prerequisite for anyone considering backcountry adventures, and we’re looking to produce an online version so we can keep the resource alive.

All this takes time, work, and money. It’s why Alpenglow Expeditions is encouraging all fans of outdoor adventures to support these efforts and why we’re offering, for a limited time, a 5% discount on the gift cards we sell on our site. This is the way you can step up and keep adventure businesses like ours afloat as we all ride out the crisis together.

But should you head to the backcountry right now? No. Let’s weather this storm first. With a little patience, we can all soon enjoy the outdoors, even the backcountry, safely and securely.

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