A snowboarder in his 30s was seriously injured after triggering an avalanche in the backcountry of the San Juan Mountains, requiring more than three dozen emergency personnel to be pulled away from coronavirus response efforts.
“In light of COVID-19, when our local resources are stretched and incidents like this stretch them even more, people need to use their friggin’ heads,” San Miguel Sheriff Bill Masters said in a statement.
Susan Lilly, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, told The Durango Herald a Telluride man snowboarding in the East Waterfall Canyon area near Ophir on Tuesday set off the slide at an elevation of about 11,500 feet.
The avalanche reportedly traveled 1,500 feet down the mountain. An incident report from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said the slide was 150 feet wide.
The man was caught in the slide and struck a tree, Lilly said, and suffered serious injuries. More than 36 search and rescue personnel responded to the site and the man was evacuated and eventually airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction.
The man’s name was not released, and Lilly was unsure whether his injuries were life-threatening.
Lilly said the incident was a stark reminder for people who want to recreate in the backcountry amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“We do want people to enjoy themselves outdoors and in safe activities,” she said. “But the backcountry, we know, is not forgiving. If people are going to go back there, they need to understand, if they have an emergency, they are stressing resources that are already spread thin with our attention on the public health threat.”
San Miguel County has not closed access to the surrounding backcountry, like its neighbor San Juan County did earlier this week. Lilly said she was not aware of any plans for doing so, but she urged extreme caution to the public.
“Don’t make your day of fun come at the expense of the public health needs of others by taking away resources to rescue you during your emergency,” she said.