Extending a Backcountry Lifeline
Special to the Times
How someone responds in the event they’re the first on the scene of an accident can make all the difference — especially in backcountry scenarios. The hour following an injury is known as the “golden hour,” for the very reason that those initial life-saving decisions are critical.
But how often are outdoor enthusiasts truly prepared for the unthinkable when they’re miles from the trailhead? One hopes that the first people on scene are as prepared as possible. But, unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Backcountry Lifeline (BCLL) — a company with local beginnings devoted to providing medical training geared specifically for mountain bikers — is working to change that.
BCLL was founded in 2015, after the death of Will Olson near Crested Butte. Olson crashed during stage three of the Big Mountain Enduro, a mountain bike series with stops around the nation.
Following the accident, three other Enduro riders and Olson’s fiancee, Bonnie McDonald — who was not present at the race — began the company to ensure that mountain bikers can go for a ride knowing they’re adequately prepared for emergency situations. McDonald, of Crested Butte, is also business director for Alpine Orthopaedics.
Olson was an expert rider who had only recently begun competing in the series, yet news of the tragedy resounded with bikers everywhere.
“To this day I am hugely surprised at how impactful it was to the entire biking community,” McDonald said. “I just got outreaches from people literally around the globe.”
McDonald thinks a lot of people identified with what happened to Olson because it could have been any one of them.
“Will was a pretty quiet guy, pretty humble. You know, I think people knew of him because he was doing so well racing,” she remembered, saying other riders took note of the new guy on the scene.
A need for education
In Olson’s case, there wasn’t anything else that first responders could have done to prevent his death. However, it became the catalyst to provide future first responders with the tools they need in the face of accidents.
Shortly after her fiance’s death, McDonald took a Wilderness First Responder course, then became a CPR and first-aid instructor, and later an EMT.
McDonald along with co-founder Flynn George and another instructor, Courtney Lewallen, now handle most of the education. While the need for emergency response education is not that different from other backcountry sports, McDonald feels the biking industry has some catching up to do.
“If you’re a mountain biker, it’s your responsibility, just like if you’re going out in the backcountry (to ski), it’s your responsibility,” she said. “Have some basic knowledge, and have some basic supplies with you.”
According to McDonald, a level of self-regulation among backcountry skiers often means that partners keep each other accountable for emergency preparedness. Among bikers, she would love to see first-aid training become as important as wearing a helmet. She’d also like basic first aid and CPR to be required for racers.
BCLL has now held courses in states as far away as Washington, Arkansas and North Carolina. They offer one-day “First Aid for Mountain Bikers” courses for people riding mostly in the front country, as well as more in-depth three- to four-day camps in “Wilderness First Aid (WFA) for Mountain Bikers,” for those venturing further into the backcountry.
They also provide incident management training, aimed at race organizers and event staff, which can involve assistance with emergency response plans.
Impacting community, youth
Jordyn Drayton was among the first people to take a multi-day course through BCLL in May 2016.
He said BCLL’s practical approach to mountain biking emergencies made the course especially useful — from pertinent training in common injuries like lacerations and broken collarbones, to how to use items commonly carried by bikers.
“When (mountain bikers) think about backcountry preparation, it’s very gear focused,” he said. “That’s the tradition — that you carry a pack full of stuff to repair your bicycle, yet you carry virtually nothing to repair yourself and your friends.”
Drayton said knowledge of appropriate first aid and supplies is important for riders to learn, especially at a young age.
Through a partnership with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, or NICA, McDonald’s organization is helping youth to do just that.
NICA’s mission is devoted to developing “interscholastic mountain biking programs for student-athletes across the United States.” Coaches for NICA’s middle- and high-school athletes have historically been required to complete a WFA course, president Austin McInerny explained via e-mail.
During NICA’s 2016 national conference, BCLL provided a one-day training course for many of NICA’s leaders and coaches in Eagle, Colo., which McInerny said was more applicable to their needs.
“We were very impressed with both the content and the delivery of the training and have been in partnership with them since,” he said of BCLL. NICA has nearly 13,000 riders and more than 4,500 coaches.
“Since the first training we did with them, we have established a strong partnership in which we actively promote their classes to our membership across 18 states and are working to ensure that more and more teenage student-athletes undergo training in addition to their coaches,” he said.
Sponsorship, support keep costs down
In order to make the educational component accessible to a wider audience, McDonald said BCLL tries hard to keep course costs down. Sponsorship and support from several big-name companies in the bike industry help, through both financial contributions and product donations. Many of BCLL’s initial sponsors were involved with the race in which Olson lost his life, and were immediately supportive of the cause.
A separate nonprofit, The 139 Fund — named after Olson’s racing number — was created in his memory and works closely with BCLL. Although she and Olson had plans to move to Vermont together, McDonald said the events that unfolded after his crash brought her to Crested Butte, where they first met.
And now, those same events find her and BCLL giving back to the mountain biking community that showed so much solidarity and support after his passing.
“You know, it’s the worst possible situation — I mean, it is. It’s still a struggle, for sure,” McDonald offered. “But to also be able to make something good come of it, that really impacts so many people — that makes it a silver lining around it all.”
For more info, visit www.backcountrylifeline.com.