OHS Canada Magazine

Rescue teams warn backcountry users to limit risk in Alberta, B.C. mountains

Resources are stretched due to COVID-19


A group of skiers make their way through the mountains near Terrace, B.C., in this undated photo. (Colin/Adobe Stock)

Rescue groups are asking backcountry users to choose low-risk activities at a time when resources are stretched due to COVID-19.

The Alberta government has asked ski hills in the province to close to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

It’s feared the closure could lure more outdoor enthusiasts into the backcountry to ski or snowshoe, given one of the best snowpacks in recent years.

Parks Mountain Safety, which responds to rescues in the mountain national parks, has asked people to keep their personal risk to an absolute minimum.

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The organization says it’s not the time for a backcountry accident, which could stress the capacity of its rescue teams and further burden the health-care system during the COVID pandemic.

Similar warnings have come from Kananaskis Public Safety in Alberta and Fernie Search and Rescue in B.C.

“With the unprecedented challenges regarding COVID-19, we wanted to reassure people that (we) remain fully operational and able to respond,” said a statement by Fernie Search and Rescue on its Facebook page.

“We also recognize that with many of our obvious outlets for enjoying the great outdoors being closed or limited, we are likely to see more people heading into the backcountry.”

Rescuers note that they are responsible for taking injured backcountry users to hospitals.

“This is a health-care system that is already under huge pressure, and a health-care system where most of us would prefer to avoid spending time as a patient at the moment,” said the statement. “Furthermore, every rescue we undertake increases the risk of our SAR technicians being infected and diminishing our response capability.”

The statement repeated a message from both Alberta Parks and Parks Canada.

“We would like to suggest that now is a good time to take conservative decisions with regards to terrain, activity and risk-taking,” said Fernie Search and Rescue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2020.