Meet Your Forest column: Safety tips for heading into the backcountry |

Meet Your Forest column: Safety tips for heading into the backcountry

Keep safety in mind when heading into the backcountry.
Courtesy Getty Images | Fuse

FDRD fundraiser

Friends of the Dillon Ranger District will be hosting its annual Elks breakfast fundraiser this Sunday, Feb. 21, from 9 a.m. to noon. Come enjoy a fantastic breakfast buffet complete with the famous all-you-can-eat bacon. In addition to the breakfast, a silent auction will be held to support FDRD’s efforts to help maintain local forest health. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door for adults and $5 for kid (12 and under). Visit or email

Winter is the season for fun and adventure in Summit County and the surrounding Colorado mountains — skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing. While planning your outings, keep safety in mind for maximum enjoyment, and remember, you control your own risk by choosing where, when and how you travel.


Tips to stay safe this winter in the backcountry:

• Location, location, location: Know where you are — it is each person’s responsibility to know his or her location. Let someone know before you go. Tell a friend or family member where you are going and when you expect to return. Carry a topographical map, GPS and winter motor vehicle use maps, which are available at White River National Forest ranger offices. Keep track of landmarks such as mountain peaks, valleys, rivers and numbered non-motorized or multiple-use routes. Safe backcountry travel requires training and experience.

• Look for the signs — Please observe and obey signs! These restrictions are in place to protect wildlife, wilderness huts, ski-area boundaries and historic ski routes. Routes may be marked with orange or blue snow-poles or diamonds or no-snowmobile signs. Pay attention to any additional informational signs posted by the Forest Service rangers.

• Backcountry ethics: Stay on the trail — Respect one another’s right to enjoy the backcountry. Be respectful to wildlife. Pass quietly or detour if you encounter animals. Stack your tracks; allow everyone to enjoy a trackless powder experience. Pack out your trash.

• Be ready in case of an emergency — Designate a leader, and make a plan. Use your cellphone to call 911. If phone service is unavailable, designate one person to travel to an area where cell service is available. Service is typically available at higher elevations. Provide the 911 dispatcher with a description of the location of the accident and the injuries to those involved. Other members of the group should remain at the scene and perform first aid for those involved in the accident. Exercise caution with victims of high-speed accidents; improperly moving a person with neck or spinal cord trauma can lead to further injury.


Here are some tips that could help prevent an accident or increase the survival chances of a buried partner, should an avalanche occur.

• Check the local avalanche and weather forecasts before entering the backcountry, and bring equipment for changing conditions (e.g., waterproof gear, extra layers).

• For current conditions, visit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website, A Friends of the CAIC phone app is now available on the Apple app store and iTunes. You can get the Android version at the Google Play store.

• Carry avalanche protection (e.g., emergency beacon, shovel).

• Do a system and battery check every time before you go into the backcountry.

•Prepare for the worst. Always carry more food and water than needed for the day, a packable warm layer, headlamp, space-blanket and waterproof matches or a lighter to start a warming fire.

• Look for signs of cracking or collapsing snow, which signals unstable snowpack.

• Plan an escape route.

• Expose only one person at a time to potential avalanche danger.

• Never cut above anyone below you when crossing steep terrain.

• Be aware that slides can be triggered from the bottom of the slope.

• Be safe. Don’t go alone; travel with an experienced partner.

• Take an avalanche and/or first aid class from qualified instructors. Search and rescue groups can provide information and classes.

Search and rescue in our area is a collaborative effort of Summit County Rescue Group, Vail Mountain Rescue Group and the White River National Forest Ranger districts. This summer the Know Before You Go was developed and the Ranger District encourages you to check it out.

Jasmine Hupcey is the office and volunteer manager for Friends of the Dillon Ranger District. She can be reached at For more information on the organization and volunteer opportunities, visit

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