Colorado search and rescue crews see more action during pandemic

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LAKE COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Depending on the county, 2020 has been one of the busiest years for search and rescue crews across Colorado, and it spells out a troubling trend heading into the winter months.

“This will be the second time we’re over 200,” said Andrew Hildner with Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue out of Boulder. 

Over the weekend, there was a series of rescue missions executed across the state, from whiteout conditions at Mount Elbert to the Boulder Flatirons.  

“Our call volume this year was 300% increased, we attribute that to COVID I think,” said Josh Adamson with Lake County Search and Rescue. “People couldn’t travel, they were just ready to get out of the house so they were like I’m gonna discover Colorado’s back country.”

Lake County isn’t the only area seeing an increase. The Chaffee County North operation has seen double the calls this year compared to last, and Summit County Search and Rescue has seen 170 missions, compared to 144 all last year.

And the big concern for these organizations: winter.

“The stakes are much higher,” Adamson said. “The learning curve is almost a cliff and the lethality increases drastically in the winter.”

The fear is with regulations and reservations at most Colorado ski resorts, it could drive more people to the back country to recreate and get their slop fix. 

“Outdoor gear stores are seeing record numbers of sales for back country gear for skiing snowboarding, those kind of things,” Hildner said. “So we’re anticipating we’re gonna be more busy dealing with those kind of injuries.”

The logistics of training during the pandemic haven’t been easy to make sure these crews are sharp for any operation, and Hinder says they will at times limit crews out on certain calls, just in case the person they are rescuing is COVID positive. 

That way they don’t infect half their team, as they’re dealing with more calls than normal.

“It’s the camaraderie of working with the other teammates to kind of really help someone out who is possibly having one of the worst days of their lives,” Hinder said.

The rescues this year are also getting neighboring agencies involved. According to the Colorado Search and Rescue Association, they’ve coordinated 133 missions between agencies, compared to only 89 all of last year.

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