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How To Get Back On The Mountain
TOPLINE As mountain resorts and recreation areas reopen, getting some fresh air and exercise in the outdoors can do wonders for your mental health. But you should look for activities that allow for social distancing and always check whether the local or national park you’re targeting is open before you go.
- “Activities done outdoors in general are low-risk. Outdoor activities that are solitary are even lower-risk,” says Dr. Howard P. Forman, a practicing physician and a professor of management and public health at Yale.
- Avoid making stops in small towns along the way to your destination. If you must stop, make sure that area isn’t experiencing a recent spike in Covid-19 cases, and wear a mask if you interact with anyone to prevent potential asymptomatic spreading.
- Bring your own water, and plenty of it, as public drinking fountains may be unavailable. Aim to adhere to the 8×8 rule: consume eight 8-oz glasses of water per day.
- Bring a buddy. Exploring alone can be dangerous, so aim to go with at least one other person. Your buddy should preferably be from your household; if they’re not, wear a mask and maintain six feet of distance.
- Bathroom facilities or places to wash your hands may be closed; plan accordingly. Bring hand sanitizer and use it often.
- Local jurisdictions and National Park Services properties are handling governance of outdoor spaces differently. “We really encourage people, whether it’s Aspen or Jackson Hole, to look at the local government’s website and the guidance there for what activities they’re encouraging more than others,” says Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). On a river, for example, fishing is safer than whitewater rafting.
- Only ride a gondola or chairlift with members of your family unit. Wear a mask while in line and once you have boarded. The mountain should have visitors line up six feet apart to board lifts or gondolas.
- Make sure any rental gear, such as bikes and helmets, is sanitized before checking it out and after returning it.
- Look for two-way bike trails that have been specifically routed as uphill and downhill trails to minimize passing. “We’ve been taking caution to give each other plenty of space around parking areas, trail intersections and when passing on the trails,” says Hannah Bergemann, a pro freeride mountain biker based in the Pacific Northwest.
- A coalition of outdoor groups, including the OIA, launched an initiative called Recreate Responsibly, outlining six principles to help Americans remain healthy while enjoying the outdoors.
Taking a guided tour with a small group of immediate contacts is an easy way to explore the outdoors while following all local or federal regulations and using the proper safety equipment. One of the world’s leading mountain guide companies, Alpenglow Expeditions, just reopened its Lake Tahoe tour with new Covid-19 protocols in place. “The very nature of this activity gives us a huge benefit in today’s world by enabling our guides and climbers to stay physically distant during the entire experience,” says professional climber and Alpenglow CEO Adrian Ballinger. Guide companies should consider only accepting private reservations, touchless check-ins, daily gear cleaning, health screening for guides and clients, and mandating gloves and masks.
If the parking lot at the trailhead is full, turn around. If you are running, hiking or biking on a trail that has become crowded, seek an alternate route back to the trailhead. However, do not take trails that have clearly been marked closed, as they may be unsafe and could heighten the possibility that you will sustain an injury or require search-and-rescue assistance. Be more careful than you would normally and keep your activities within your skill level, lest you injure yourself and strain the local healthcare system or put yourself at risk of exposure. “Any encounter with the healthcare system still elevates your risk right now,” says Dr. Forman. Remember that social distancing still applies when you travel to your location, whether it’s by car or public transportation.
The 2019-20 ski season was cut short due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, and this upcoming season will look much different as resorts continue to prevent it. Nevertheless, these same mountains can put best practices into place this summer and have several months to prepare to welcome skiers and snowboarders for the winter recreation season. “We look forward to getting back to the resorts in a safe and responsible manner, while also encouraging people to explore all of the opportunities to get outside this winter—nordic, snowshoe, alpine touring, sledding—no matter where you are,” says Nick Sargent, president of Snowsports Industries America.
Expect spaced lines at chair lifts, limitations on how many people can ride a lift or the gondola, lower capacity, a longer wait for equipment rental and for some trails to be closed off. Indoor lodges may be closed or limit seating to tables by windows, but patios will likely be open for a warm beverage after a day on the slopes.