It has already been a brutal winter for avalanches, skiing mishaps and other outdoor accidents in the Northern Rockies.
From campers trapped under Marias River ice to avalanche incidents near Cooke City, Big Sky, the Swan Range, Grand Teton National Park, and the Cabinet Mountains, among others, it's been an incredibly accident-filled season.
At least 25 people have been killed in avalanches in the United States so far this year — more than the 23 who died last winter.
Why? Certainly, weather conditions play a part. The avalanche conditions in the Rockies are the worst in at least a decade.
The dangerous season comes mid-pandemic, when more and more people are seeking enjoyment and escape — backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, snow campers and more.
Every backcountry snow incident has one thing in common: Search and rescue efforts.
Backcountry rescues, whether by professionals or volunteers, are all themselves incredibly hazardous. Would-be rescuers all are dealing with the same difficult and dangerous conditions that the objects of their searches suffered. They know they are fighting time, temperature and deep, often unstable snow. Most of the time you can add altitude, wind and fresh snowfall to the list of challenges.
As a society, there is absolutely no substitute for this — for the courage, kindness and determination of people determined to save the lives of others, usually strangers.
Search & Rescue organizations, the volunteers who man — and woman — them, along with pilots, paramedics and everyone else involved in winter search and rescue efforts in Montana deserve our heartfelt thanks. They are discomfort-ignoring, danger-defying people who spend their time and energy helping others at the risk of their own lives.
Winter recreationists, please take note of this year's extreme dangers, prepare sensibly and make good choices in the backcountry.
Don't depend on the heroes to save you from yourself.
The Billings Gazette Editorial Board consists of President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.