It seems like the rest of the world realizes the beauty and fun of Colorado, U.S., as the past decade has seen the state evolve into the hot destination for all sorts of outdoor activities – hiking, skiing, and rafting just to name a few. But rarely do we bring attention to the many potential dangers that go along with these activities. Now, Colorado is experiencing an all-time record of outdoor casualties; most of which could have been prevented with the right knowledge and preparation.
The Colorado backcountry has already claimed 46 lives this year, an astoundingly high number. Seven deaths can be attributed to mountaineering accidents, and ten occurred on the ski slopes. Fifteen boating fatalities this year marks a record-high since 2009, and Colorado once again leads the U.S. in avalanche casualties – eight have already been recorded in 2014.
Many of these deaths can be related to a lack of knowledge. Looking at the graph below, it is quickly apparent how many mountaineering accidents could have easily been prevented. The prevailing two factors are climbing solo and inexperience, which go hand in hand.
Interestingly enough, the only factor that is completely out of the climber’s control – a rock fall – accounts for the least amount of casualties. If hikers were more prepared and aware before they set out, 90 percent of these accidents would never happen. Colorado Mountaineering Deaths
There is no doubt that Colorado locals know to have fun. Unknown to most of us, Colorado’s unique culture actually promotes various risky activities. For example, spring skiing is extremely popular because of the unbeatable mix of warm weather and good snow. In Colorado, the cool thing to do is ski with as little clothing as possible, and if you have ever hit the slopes on a bluebird day you will see many examples of this (check out this video of five friends doing their thing). Snow may be soft, but one fall without any clothing could easily cause serious cuts and burns. At the same time, resorts hold events where riders gain speed down a hill and attempt to hydroplane across a large gap of water – exhilarating, but also the cause of a number of injuries in the past. Furthermore, going on a hike is one of the most casual things to do in Colorado, and and many set out without looking at a long-term weather forecasts or without a proper first-aid kit. We shouldn’t abandon our beloved spring skiing or casual hikes by any means – we have just been enjoying these activities for so long that we almost take them for granted. We need to remind ourselves that these activities can still be dangerous, and always be prepared for the worst. One spontaneous afternoon storm could be the difference between getting home safely and being stranded on a mountain overnight.
Some people argue that the rise in the number of accidents is a natural reflection of a rise in the number of climbers (article) which is a perfectly plausible theory. Even so, an increase in hikers is no excuse for an increase in ignorance. As Colorado becomes a more popular tourist attraction with every passing season, common sense and a basic survival knowledge are more vital than ever.