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Coronavirus outbreak, rising temperatures increase avalanche risk in Idaho backcountry

"The medical system cannot spare the resources required to care for injured backcountry skiers and snowmobilers," the Sawtooth Avalanche Center warns.

KETCHUM, Idaho — Editor's note: The video posted above is from a story KTVB did on avalanche safety in January 2020, following several deadly avalanches in the West. 

Needs related to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak and warming temperatures add up to a "double whammy" when it comes to risks associated with venturing into the backcountry right now.

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center, based in Ketchum, rates the avalanche danger as "Considerable" for all mountains in the region at moderate and high elevations, and for all elevations on Galena Summit and the Eastern Mountains, as well as the Sawtooth and Western Smoky Mountains, and Banner Summit.

"Considerable" is the third-highest level on the five-level avalanche danger scale.

At that level, the Sawtooth Avalanche Center advises travelers of "dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential."

The center reported five to 12 inches of fresh snow in the Sawtooths on Tuesday, and observed "several large slab releases and countless smaller wet loose slides."

"Traveling safely in avalanche terrain is difficult," the center advised Wednesday morning.

With the community spread of COVID-19 in Blaine County and other parts of Idaho, there's another warning for those considering recreation in the backcountry:

"The medical system cannot spare the resources required to care for injured backcountry skiers and snowmobilers. Search and Rescue will be delayed or unavailable. Please recreate responsibly close to home, and follow social distance requirements to protect yourself and others."

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center posts forecast information and COVID-19-related updates regularly on its website.

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