As storm rolls in, Forest Service closes Vail Pass trailhead and backcountry community reminds people to stay at home
DILLON — With a winter storm set to drop 4-10 inches of snow on Summit County through Saturday, local officials and the backcountry community are reminding Colorado residents not to travel to the mountains.
After mobs of skiers and snowboarders swarmed popular backcountry locations like Loveland and Vail passes last weekend, the U.S. Forest Service announced in a statement Friday afternoon that access to the Vail Pass Winter Recreation Area from Interstate 70 is closed.
The announcement of the Vail Pass trailhead closure was part of a larger statement from White River National Forest mountain sports program manager Roger Poirier that detailed changes and closures to comply with social distancing measures that aim to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus. Poirier said most backcountry access points and trails in the White River National Forest will remain open, including access to the Vail Pass Recreation Area from other locations, such as Camp Hale. That said, Poirier added that typical patrol, grooming and parking lot plowing services conducted by the Forest Service have been discontinued throughout the White River National Forest.
“The Forest Service will be monitoring access points and adjusting management of these areas as appropriate to best meet social distancing direction and keep group sizes small,” Poirier said.
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Poirier added that throughout the forest, developed recreation facilities — including rental cabins, toilets and group sites — are closed. All of the closures Poirier detailed are in effect through at least April 30.
The White River National Forest is the most visited national forest in the nation, encompassing 2.3 million acres and 11 ski resorts — including Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Summit County — as well as 2,500 miles of trails. Earlier this month, the White River National Forest approved a first-of-its-kind amendment to Summit County ski area operating plans to prohibit uphill access on ski area terrain leased by the Forest Service.
Poirier said individuals with reservations on White River National Forest land will be notified via email or text message of any changes affecting their reservations. Poirier added the White River National Forest is conducting business and providing services virtually as well as continuing its field patrols. Those with questions can call the Dillon Ranger District in Silverthorne at 970-468-5400.
Also Friday, Dillon District ranger Bill Jackson joined forces with the heads of all four Summit County ski areas and Loveland Ski Area Chief Operating Officer Rob Goodell for a social-media video imploring the community to respect uphill access closures on national forest land.
Jackson was joined by Copper President and General Manager Dustin Lyman, Breckenridge Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Buhler, Keystone Vice President and General Manager Jody Churich, A-Basin Chief Operating Officer Al Henceroth and Loveland’s Goodell in a video message explaining why they are asking people to “stay home and stay healthy.”
Ahead of the storm, the “stay home” message was one championed on social media and practiced in real life by Summit County locals such as “The Mayor of Pow Town” Gary Fondl of Frisco, among others. Fondl, who skied more than 200 days last season, echoed the “stay home” message by sharing photos from home rather than out in the forest. Led by influencers like longtime Summit local and esteemed backcountry guidebook author Fritz Sperry and Backcountry United founder Jon Miller, the conversation in online communities, such as the popular Colorado Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Facebook group, has gravitated around the stay-at-home message.
It’s a request also shared by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. On Friday, Friends of CAIC Executive Director Aaron Carlson asked people to “stay close to home.” The request came two days after a splitboard snowboarder triggered an avalanche above the western Summit County side of the Eisenhower Tunnel that buried the loop road above the tunnel portal, which was open at the time. No one was buried.
“Now is not the time to travel to Colorado’s mountain communities,” Carlson wrote in an email.
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