By Dane Andersen
“Stay the f… home,” someone called out righteously from a passing F-150 to the few backcountry skiers who were in earshot, giddily packing their backpacks as fast as possible so that they might earn first tracks in the fresh powder deposited the night before. I thought to myself, “they shouted because they are scared.” But over the past couple of weeks, during which the crisis has been climbing to a fever pitch across the world, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling of guilt that has been eating away at my consciousness with each day that I go to backcountry ski in a place 10 minutes from where I live.
Maybe what gnaws at me is the privilege of it all. While some in the U.S. are literally being forced to stay inside with shelter-in-place orders or have limited themselves to a self-quarantined space due to the high per-capita rates of coronavirus in their communities and/or have limited access to both food, due to panic buying, and medical resources, I am living in the bubble that is Jackson Hole, Wyo.
It was, of course, not my plan to remain in this bubble any longer than a few days over spring break; but, as we all well know, these are spontaneous times. Instead of a grand tour of the mountains and the deserts of the wild west, roaming free and wild, living from our cars and with whomever might take us along the way, I found myself sleeping in an extremely comfortable bed in a house far too large for three people. Along with the friends who so generously invited me to stay at their house and another friend who also happened to land in this mysterious bubble, I skied in the backcountry almost every day. While the rest of the world became further engrossed in panic, I skied mountains of delicious, powdery snow.
As the phrases “social distancing” and #stayhome sprung into existence, gaining traction and medical merit by the moment, the climate of Jackson Hole finally began to change. The children that still roamed the streets on bikes a few days prior with lacrosse sticks, the Dairy Queen that found a special place in my heart over the past weeks of hungry adventure, and the mountaineering stores tempting the affluent dirt-baggers of Jackson with last minute sales, all packed up and went home. Even the moose seem to be keeping their distance.
But one thing hasn’t changed. Dedicated backcountry skiers like myself are getting out into the backcountry every day without fail in order to continue doing what we are passionate about. I no longer feel guilty — only extremely fortunate.
In my 10-minute drive to the outdoor haven that I love, there is far less risk of transmission than, say, going to the grocery store or a crowded community center. I am skiing with the three friends who I have previously mentioned and we make sure to maintain a strict physical distance between ourselves. Therefore, the only true concern is sustaining an injury which could put further strain on taxed medical resources. What’s the best way to avoid getting hurt, you ask? KEEP IT MELLOW!
While I am not encouraging people to leap from their houses and run to pursue their gnarliest outdoor activity, one can continue some of their normal outdoor habits while taking extra precautions so that you don’t hurt yourself and consequently the rest of the people who are diligently staying home.