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2020 Is Record-Setting Year For Rescues In Summit County

FRISCO, Colo. (CBS4) -- The Summit County Rescue Group hasn't had a quiet day since the pandemic began and they fear the record year for missions will continue into the winter.

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(credit: CBS)

"The closer we get to snow season and the winter… I do think about it a lot. Especially when I'm on call," said Charles Pitman, a mission coordinator and public information officer for the Summit County Rescue Group.

With 65 volunteer members, it can be a challenge answering all of the calls. Pitman says this year, they're getting as many as four calls a day and in some cases, missions overlap.

"I think last year we had somewhere around 150 calls for the entire year," Pitman continued. "This year we have 160 to 170 and we still have three months to go! So yeah, this is one for the record books and I don't think that's gonna diminish anytime soon depending on how the snow conditions set up."

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The uptick started with an increase in backcountry use when the ski resorts shut down and an increase into hiking areas when the snow melted.

"The trailheads have been just packed with people. Trailheads that we saw in previous years, you'd see 15 or 20 cars, now we're seeing 60, 80, 100 vehicles parked there and so that's rippled down to search and rescue… a lot of those people are getting into trouble."

Pitman says many of the calls his team responds to are people who come to the mountains unprepared.

"Not the proper equipment. They get a late start, without taking into account the weather that might be rolling in, and people that misjudge the time that it's going to take. They don't have the proper hydration... the proper food and they don't have simple things, like a flashlight. So, when the hike takes longer and all of a sudden the sun goes down…"

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(credit: CBS)

Pitman is worried the upcoming ski season, with many ski areas limiting capacity, will push even more unexperienced people into the backcountry.

"A lot of these stores and a lot of the manufacturers are selling out very rapidly; their backcountry gear for this winter, and I think they're doing that because people are concerned that they're not able or will not be able to access their ski areas the way they want. That's very concerning for us because unless you have the understanding and the knowledge to go in backcountry, it can get very dangerous back there," said Pitman.

He encourages anyone interested in exploring the backcountry, take advantage of the many educational opportunities available.

A great place to start is the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, where you can find out more about courses, the backcountry forecast and accident reports.

The Summit County Rescue Group also has plans to announce its latest avalanche beacon park, where you can practice basic skills for free.

For more information on the Summit County Rescue Group, and ways you can help, click here.


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