4-3-2020-Basch-Tuckerman Ravine

A busy spring day at Tuckerman Ravine from April 22, 2011. (MOUNT WASHINGTON AVALANCHE CENTER PHOTO)

The mountain will be there. So save it for later.

Kudos to the U.S. Forest Service for its bold move of shutting down the East’s iconic backcountry skiing mecca Tuckerman Ravine from those who can’t save themselves from themselves.

On Wednesday evening, Mount Washington Avalanche Center director and lead snow ranger Frank Carus wrote in a statement the season ends on the east side of the range with a closure order in effect for the east side of Mount Washington, including Gulf of Slides, Tuckerman Ravine and Huntington Ravine and all of the trails in between.

“In addition to the annual closure that occurs to the section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, a much larger closure is in effect. Pinkham Notch parking lot will be closed to the public, with both the closure orders enforced with fines and even possible jail time,” he wrote.

Fines are up to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for an organization.

Many may think the ravine was already closed. Not true.

On Monday, the MWAC stopped its essential avalanche bulletins two months ahead of schedule as a way to dissuade backcountry skiers and riders from playing there while also protecting the well-being of U.S. Forest Service employees and others.

As is routine during the spring skiing season, that day MWAC also issued a notice that a portion of Tuck’s was closed due to waterfall and crevasse hazards — from Lunch Rocks to the top of the Headwall, where it meets the Alpine Garden Trail.

Despite mandates to remain home in many states, last Saturday just hours after Gov. Chris Sununu’s stay at home order went into effect in response to the coronavirus pandemic some 400 skiers and riders flocked to Tuck’s with more than half of the vehicles coming from out of state. Skiers filled parking areas and spilled onto Route 16 in Pinkham Notch.

That’s the gateway to the North Country and Coos County, New Hampshire’s only county with no reported cases of COVID-19 (as of Thursday morning when this was filed).

Also Saturday, Carus was interviewed near Tuck’s by Ski the Whites owner Andrew Drummond during an illuminating MWAC outreach podcast and indicated Tuck’s and Huntington Ravine would be closed by this weekend.

In that Monday bulletin, the U.S. Forest Service and MWAC encouraged outdoor lovers to not undertake riskier activities as injuries could lead to rescues and opportunities to spread the virus.

Plus, all amenities like shelters, bathrooms, and camping that service the ravine, and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, are closed.

It’s just plain stupid to ski the ravine without essential information. But that won’t stop the selfish and irresponsible. Hopefully the closure will.

A backcountry skiing accident can overburden an already tense small-town health-care network, putting all who interact with the injured party at risk.

On March 24, a snowboarder out with a partner ventured into the Colorado backcountry near the small town of Ophir with its 8,000 residents outside Telluride and was seriously hurt during a human-triggered avalanche. The rider was described by Outside Online as a local man in his 30s.

“He and a friend were taking their second run of the day in perfect spring powder when a slab about 2 feet deep and 150 feet wide broke off at 11,500 feet, carrying him like a twig in whitewater. He struck multiple trees, suffering severe physical trauma. The force ripped his bindings out of his snowboard, leaving them strapped to his feet as pain coursed through him,” the article stated.

Rescuers came to his aid. “We had more than 30 people involved in that rescue, 30 people who would otherwise not be together at all,” Tor Anderson, one of the rescuers with San Miguel County Search and Rescue, told The New York Times. “When you think about everyone involved — the helicopter pilot, the local residents who showed up to help — this is totally unnecessary contact because someone made a bad decision.”

The boarder was airlifted to a hospital in Grand Junction, a city with more than 60,000 residents, and expected to be in the intensive care unit for some time.

“What happens in two weeks when people need all those beds for people dying from COVID-19?” Anderson asked.

“What happens when that person gets COVID from being in the hospital? This is an unbelievably unprecedented time. We have to think more responsibly.

Save Tuck’s for next season.

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