Many of us here in the valley do not need to be told about the mental health benefits of time spent in the wilderness. We live here because we experience it on a daily basis. However, since it is always nice to be proven right—scientific researchers have found correlation between aerobic exercise—cycling, hiking, running (a study even lists gardening)—and decreases in anxiety and depression.
While we all do our part to help slow the spread of this pandemic through social distancing—these activities that brought us to the valley can be even more important than ever. Local ski touring shops have seen online sales spike, and posts on online gear swap pages inquiring about borrowing or buying snowshoes seem a daily occurrence.
However getting outside and reaping the benefits of our wilderness access doesn’t mean that we need to travel far, ski the biggest lines of the year, or suddenly run every inch of trail in Eagle County. In fact, it is more important that ever to respect seasonal tail closures—many of which impact some of the trails that begin to dry out the soonest, including the min-mile in Minturn and the Avon preserve trails. Additionally, the Vail Mountain Rescue Group has asked our community to refrain from backcountry adventures that have the risk of straining our medical resources. They remind us that now is not the time to pick up a new sport, or ski that line you’ve been eyeing for the past decade.
Luckily, no research study I’ve read has stated that the mental health benefits of getting outside and moving are any more pronounced for a 15-hour dawn-patrol summit mission than they are for a 5 minute walk. Even if we are not getting deep into the wilderness, almost of all of us have the ability to walk down the street, or 5 minutes up the trail behind our house.
When I was a freshman biology student in college, we had a weekly assignment to pick ‘solo spot’ in a wild place which we would spend 45 minutes at every week. As a biology student, the goal was to observe, and learn about our new ‘solo spot’ environment, not by travelling through it but by simply being in it. Here in the valley, our wilderness is full of wonder right here in our backyard—not only miles up in the mountains. Perhaps, this is a time to take a different approach to the mountains, and embrace the opportunity to walk 5 minutes up the trail and slow down, rather than 5 miles down the trail and speed up.
Vail Mountain Rescue Group Facebook Page