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Colorado’s Backcountry Sees a Rise in Users and Demand for Education

Since ski resorts across the country closed last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many enthusiasts took to the backcountry as a way to extend their season. Although resorts have begun to re-open for the season, the draw to the backcountry is still there for many—especially with new guidelines in place and limited capacity at resorts. As a result, many retailers are seeing a surge in sales of backcountry gear- items like touring bindings and beacons are selling out quickly. In addition to gear being in high demand, the call for education is equally high. The Colorado Mountain School, which provides AIARE 1 courses, saw their numbers triple for December enrollment. While in the last ten years the trend in the ski industry has already moved towards an increase in backcountry users, this year is seeing unprecedented numbers.

In order to accommodate the increase in demand, many avalanche education institutes are adding additional courses. The Colorado Mountain Club created an Introduction to Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding as a prep course for their AIARE 1. They’ve also added an online avalanche terrain avoidance class for those looking to get in the backcountry, but not travel in dangerous avalanche terrain. Several other institutes, such as Friends of Berthoud Pass, are offering similar online platforms for avalanche awareness education. These online courses both help to accommodate social distancing requirements as well as the high demand for this education. In normal years, these courses can be found at many local mountaineering shops, and are usually cheap to free in comparison to a full AIARE 1 course, but don’t offer the same scope of education.

At least sixty avalanches have already been reported in Colorado to CAIC, with twenty eight occurring just between November 23rd and 27th. More than ever, new backcountry users are strongly encouraged to educate themselves not only about the risks, but how to travel safely and respectfully in avalanche terrain. In addition to identifying terrain and conditions, users are strongly encouraged to get familiar with their gear before going out with it. Anyone can buy skins and a beacon, but being familiar with every part of your backcountry set up and how to use it is just as important.

If you’re getting in the backcountry this year, either as an experienced rider, or a new one, make sure to get educated, check the forecast, bring a buddy, and all the necessary gear to have a good time and be safe. Here are a few resources we recommend checking out.

AIARE Course Provider List

Colorado Mountain Club AIARE Level 1

Colorado Avalanche Information Center

RELATED: Here's a list of avalanche forecast centers to check and donate to

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