It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… seems appropriately applied to our current situation. We’ve had two good snow seasons in a row, and now we have closed ski hills statewide. We’ve had a prolonged Bull market, and now, there is uncertainty plaguing the hall of Wall Street.

With the speed at which rules, regulations and decrees are changing it is difficult to know the right path to choose, when deliberating between complete social isolation and modified recreation. For many of us that have been drawn to live in these valleys, the woods and mountains around us are as much our homes as the four walls that make a house. The prospect of being denied access is a looming threat to our well-being and spirit. So far, and thankfully, this potential threat has not been enacted in our locale. We are being urged to get outside, but to do so in a way that does not risk contaminating our fellow community dwellers. 

We might have guessed that after closing lifts across the state and interrupting work schedules for thousands,  that snow-sport enthusiasts would flock to their second homes, literal or proverbial, and choke the mountain passes with hundreds of Backcountry skiers and riders. This led to the closing of the San Juan and San Miguel Backcountry to anyone from outside of the local region. 

The entirety of Pitkin County, in addition to Denver and Boulder,  has been placed under a “shelter in place” order to try to contain the spread of the insidious virus that has altered our societal trajectory. We in grand County have not had to take measures this extreme, and it only remains to be seen whether we will have to or not. 

State Trails Program Manager Fletcher Jacobs has stated “Our goal at Colorado Parks and Wildlife is to minimize the effects of COVID-19 on people’s recreation experiences in Colorado, especially now when they need them the most.” Colorado Parks and Wildlife has posted some simple guidelines on their website reflecting outdoor recommendations from groups and agencies around the West.

In short:

If you are sick, stay home.

Keep a social distance from others.

Avoid high-risk or remote activities.

Announce your presence to others.

Stay regional.

Avoid times and places of high use.

Practice good hand hygiene.

Be kind. Say hi.

As we begin to practice trailhead distancing, it is good to remember that the act of keeping our distance from others can be alienating, and that a simple wave, smile, tip of the hat or nod of the head can be a gesture that signals well-meaning, and not ill-wishes or abject fear.

We are well into the first week of spring and conditions reflect the season very well. The snow is highly variable, ranging from hard crust to breakable crust to regions that don’t see the sun that remain powdery in small pockets. Intense sun warms and softens the snowpack in the middle of the day, while the cool overnight air hardens and sets the snow into an impenetrable surface, assuming the overnight lows are low enough. Conditions are generally better, meaning more supportive before 11:00 am to noon, as the earth has tilted back towards the sun enough for the planet’s warmth to soften the snowpack at those times even on cloudy days. Once the mid-day warmth has affected the snowpack, travelers on not-previously-packed surfaces should not be surprised to find themselves post-holing up to as high as the hip. South facing sage hillsides are melting out rapidly and tree wells are, in some places around the valley floors, down to bare ground. The crust season may not last much longer, if the current rate of snow-melt continues.

We can only hope that the US Forest Service follows the state’s lead and deems outdoor recreation safe enough and important enough to keep the trailheads open, as long as no undue risk to the population is added by doing so. We need to do our part, and avoid crowded trailheads.

Happy Trails!