Splitboarding in the time of COVID-19

Last weekend I was on a ski retreat deep in Washington’s Central Cascades. I found myself talking with another group of skiers who happened to be nurses from my small town of Leavenworth, Washington. I joked with them about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), asking what all the hype was about. On the way back to the trailhead, a friend passed around a bottle of Vermont maple syrup to celebrate the amazing shared experience we’d just had. The conditions had been excellent, and we’d scored two glorious lines off 9,000-foot peaks with long approaches and phenomenal scenery.

As the bottle made its rounds, someone joked about how this was how the coronavirus spreads. We laughed and kept the rotation going. A few opted out, but most of the 20 people in our group took a ceremonial swig.

I felt the sickness hit me four days later. I was the first confirmed case of coronavirus in my county.

Social distancing on a cornice in Washington’s Cascades. [Photo] Ryan Irvin

My name is Ryan Irvin, and I’m likely a lot like you. I’m 29 years old and am extremely active. I work a 10-week season hanging Christmas lights in Salt Lake City, Utah , then I use the funds to milk as long of a ski season as possible. I like to shoot photos and have been a contributor to Backcountry in the past, and I’ve joined in on the magazine’s splitboard test for five years. I log 95 percent of my time in the backcountry, and my splitboard doesn’t see its storage wax until July. Most seasons, I ski 70 to 100 days, and in the off-season I climb, run and bike. I eat healthfully and have no pre-existing conditions.

I’m writing this on day six of experiencing my symptoms.

I am still having a hard time breathing. My chest is extremely tight and feels as though someone is pressing down on my sternum. I get coughing fits that are so bad they lead to vomiting. My body is weak; my temperature has been as high as 101.8 degrees but stays pretty constant at 100; and the teeth-chattering chills creep in and out without warning. I’ve had moments where I notice some progress, but they are usually short lived before the symptoms surge back. My girlfriend is sick, too, but shows an entire different symptom set than me. She lost her voice for three days, and her temp has been in the 95-97 degree range. It’s clear COVID-19 has a different plan for each of its victims.

I feel optimistic and am doing all that I can to help my body ward off this terrible illness. Others don’t have my level of health, and this thing is no joke.

Those of us who thrive on open spaces must do better. Regardless of how you feel, you should limit your reach by altering your behavior and activities. And doing so shouldn’t just be an attempt to avoid contracting coronavirus; act as though you have it and behave in a way that would limit the spread of the virus. It’s possible to show no symptoms for 14 days and still spread the virus. And even if you never show symptoms, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a carrier. It’s time to cancel trips and plans, especially if they involve going across county lines or going to small rural communities that won’t have the resources to give the residents the help they need.

Please: I urge you to take this seriously.

In the 14 days before my symptoms appeared, I was on a trip through British Columbia and stopped in Nelson, Revelstoke, Golden and Kimberley. I also went on an isolated retreat in the Cascades, which included visiting a town of 150 residents who have limited access to medical resources. If I knew what I was subjecting all these small communities to, I never would have left my home.

Editors’ Note, Wednesday, March 25:

In response to the volume of comments and questions surrounding this story, the timeline and testing, we’ve gathered the following information from the author.

Irvin’s trip to Canada took place from February 23 to March 5. His girlfriend joined him for a portion of that trip (from February 23 to 29) before she left to participate in a ski patrol exchange at Vail, Colo. On March 5, he departed for the Cascades, where he joined a group of 20 individuals but traveled within smaller groups. The nurses mentioned in the story were from a different party but were also from Leavenworth, Wash.

Irvin exited the backcountry on Monday, March 9, which was the date of the “ceremonial swig” of maple syrup. Based on the similar timeframe that the author and his girlfriend (who was not in the Cascades or present for that swig) began experiencing symptoms, he does not believe that this shared libation was how he contracted the virus. He saw his girlfriend again on March 9 and began developing symptoms on Friday, March 13.

On the night of March 13, Irvin asked about testing for COVID-19 through a community Facebook page and learned that Confluence Health of Wenatchee was offering drive-through testing beginning the following day, Saturday, March 14. He contacted the phone triage service, and they requested he visit the hospital because of his symptoms. His girlfriend also qualified for testing but was unable to complete a sample “due to reconstruction of her nasal passageway.”

“I’ve reached out to all of those who were in close contact with me in the 14 days before showing symptoms,” Irvin writes. “I don’t want to instill fear or paranoia, just caution and urgency.”

By Tuesday, March 17, Confluence Health determined they did not have enough test kits to meet demand, shut down drive-through testing and limited testing to high-risk groups, Wenatchee World confirms.

“I’m 11 days in now, and the fever has mostly subsided,” Irvin writes. “The respiratory issues are still at play and may be around for my foreseeable future—there is a lot we don’t know about the virus, particularly regarding recovery. I don’t know why it affected me so hard, but I’m hoping that through my efforts of transparency, I can get folks to think more about their decision-making right now and do my part in slowing down the effects of this pandemic.”

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  1. Matt Lepp says:

    Could I get clarification on the time lines. Initially you said symptoms hit you 4 days later. Further in the article you said in the 14 days before you showed symptoms.

    • Tyler Cohen says:

      The writer notes that the symptoms appeared four days after the “ceremonial swig” of maple syrup, which occurred along his 14-day timeline of travels across British Columbia and the Cascades.

      • KRISTEN EVERSON says:

        That “ceremonial swig” occurred 4 days before his symptoms. It is likely not that the “swig” gave him the virus, but rather that he was already a carrier. His swig was directly shared with others. The timeline of 14 days prior are all the places he went and either before or in one of those places did he contract the virus.

        This is a perfect example of the reasons for staying in your own home and social distancing. You may never know if you have the virus easily spreading it to others, and you may not know who already has it. Stay home people!

        Ryan I wish you well and a full recovery soon!

        • Symptoms can appear 2-14 days after exposure

        • Can the writer please list EXACT TIMES OF HIS TRAVELS —- before and after his ceremonial swig. That might actually be the most useful info here rather than the ooops I’m soo sorry venue he’s choosing.

        • It is known now the incubation period is 4 days, so it is likely from that swig

    • Their exact wording was “it’s possible to show no symptoms for 14 days and still spread the virus”, not that they showed symptoms after 14 days. Then the writer went on to talk about where they went in those 14 days before they had symptoms of the virus.

      I’m curious as to how the writer and their girlfriend managed to get tested? My 20 year old daughter lives in Olympia, and she has come down with a chest cold, sore throat, cough, and her voice is almost gone. They wouldn’t test her for the virus. Her temperature was 99 degrees when she went to the doctor. I know the writer says they showed pretty obvious symptoms, but the girlfriend did not, and she still got tested. My daughter is on state medical, maybe that is the difference?

      • It’s not easy to get tested-I was wondering the same thing!

      • “it’s possible to show no symptoms for 14 days and still spread the virus” is unrelated to the writers symptoms and infection. People can be infected and never get sick (or just have mild symptoms) but they can still spread the virus. That’s why this one is so difficult to contain.

      • they will test those that have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, is my understanding…

        • It depends in where you live if you are allowed to be tested. Here in Seattle, Washington I presented symptoms with no fever. I had a dry cough with little pain. I heard that someone I was around tested positive and the health officials just toll me to self isolate and keep in touch. There answer suggested that I could have CIVID-19 or many other the other viruses going around. Because of the shortage of medical tools like respirators, they are NOT testing everyone until your symptoms are severe….or unless you are rich and famous.

      • George Haselton says:

        Great points & really thankful for sharing all this. Curious as well on different access to testing. Thought you’d have to play in the NBA to get fast tracked!
        I’d like to ask if anyone else who shared the ceremonious syrup became I’ll?

      • The girlfriend was tested due to her boyfriend testing positive for the virus and her being symptomatic

      • Peter Hirst says:

        I’m sorry Eva. That is total b.s. Everyone should be tested. Especially those with symptoms. It’s the only way we will stop this thing.

      • Keri Harrison says:

        Hi Ryan. I cant applaud you enough for writing this and sharing it. Im incredibly sorry that you have gotten ill and i wish you the speediest recovery possible.
        From what I read, I gather you came through Revy between March 1-14. Can you provide any further detail? More precise date perhaps, and where you went in town?
        Wishing you and your girlfriend well. Take care.

      • sarah newton says:

        He was the first one, they have used up their tests. There are fewer and fewer and the government is getting more and more particular with them.

      • Maybe they tested her because he already had a positive test result, so now she qualified for testing?

      • “The median incubation period was estimated to be 5.1 days, and 97.5% of those who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of infection. These estimates imply that, under conservative assumptions, 101 out of every 10000 cases will develop symptoms after 14 days of active monitoring or quarantine.”


      • Typically, in an effort to preserve supplies, recent international travel is a criteria for testing even if just between Canada and the US.

      • Colleen Sexton says:

        Unless there is shortness of breath or other life-threatening symptoms, there isn’t much that a doctor can do for someone that they can’t do at home, which is rest, hydration, and monitoring of symptoms. There is a shortage of tests, so not everyne needs to be tested.
        Everyone should act as if they are carrying the virus. In health care, it’s called Universal Precautions.

      • One of the determining factors for being tested is being directly in contact with someone that has tested positive. That could be a reason she has been tested.

      • InternetGuy says:

        Direct exposure to an infected individual is a criteria for testing in most states.

      • Eva – a total guess, but in our region (Ontario, Canada) they were testing people with symptoms AND travel history. This is believed to be because early spread was caused by travel, and secondly there were not enough testing kits to test everyone (which would be the ideal — and what they are trying to move to now by pushing for more testing kits).

        Perhaps the health authorities in the author’s region was only testing for similar parameters to us. A fever was also one of the criteria for testing. In our area, your daughter would not have qualified for testing either.

      • Karen Shaffer says:

        What town did you stop in while in the Cascade’s. My family and friends live in the Methow Valley, Manama, Winthrop, Twisp and Carlton.

      • I suspect the girlfriend got tested only after he tested positive. Known exposure is part of the protocol for testing.

      • He has stated that his girlfriend didn’t actually get tested, but they are operating under the assumption that she has it due to their proximity to one another. Here is his quote from a Facebook page on that topic:

        ”yes she never qualified for the test but we assume she has it based on my diagnosis and our proximity. Her symptoms have been way different though.”

      • Eva – there’s a lengthy article in the local paper, The Wenatchee World, that describes how he got a test – indicates there was a small window when testing was available at our hospital system (Confluence), and it was just good timing.

      • Hope you’re daughter gets well soon.

      • Tianyu Qiao says:
      • The writer did an interview with the Wenatchee World and he got tested in the small time period when they loosened the requirements for testing, before the state(?) realized there weren’t enough tests or time to process them. The girlfriend didn’t get tested but they are assuming she does have it because of symptoms and of course, exposure to him. Check it out if you get the chance-it’s a good article.

      • We’re you exposed in on the Canada trip?

      • Kristin Cottle says:

        I noticed he said his girlfriend is sick too, not necessarily that she has been confirmed. They are probably assuming she has COVID-19 because she’s in such close proximity to him. She may not have been tested. I hope your daughter can get the care she needs.

      • Very curious on the ability to test themselves also???
        No one I know of with all the symptoms are being tested, unless they are a health care worker doing multi facility care until they are hospitalized.

      • He was the first case in the states, not sure about how he ended up being the first tested but I am sure it wasn’t easy. His girlfriend got tested because they probably tracked down all his contacts for the past 14 days and tested them, standard pandemic routine for case zero (by that I mean case zero for the U.S.).

        • Ronnie -!! – he said first case in his COUNTY, not the state. By the time he tested positive there were hundreds of confirmed cases of COVID-19 already in Washington.

      • It’s mentioned in this other article that a friend told him a local hospital was lowering their testing criteria that day https://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/coronavirus/leavenworth-man-with-covid–describes-the-virus-it-packs/article_cabab24e-6bd1-11ea-91bc-c3214b0e981c.html

        It has since changed again

      • I’m from Leavenworth and our local paper The Wenatchee World” ran a short interview with Ryan a few days ago. He heard from a friend that a hospital in Wenatchee (22 miles from Leavenworth) was opening up testing to anyone,: “ From the article:
        “The national shortage of testing supplies and long turnaround times have greatly limited the number of people in North Central Washington who can be tested.

        Irwin was tested March 14, the first day that Confluence Health, which operates Central Washington Hospital, lowered its symptom threshold to allow people under the age of 65 and who didn’t have severe underlying health issues to be tested. Its drive-thru testing site was also opened that day.
        The organization reversed that decision, and closed the drive-thru, on Wednesday after finding out its testing lab wouldn’t be able to supply enough testing materials to keep up with demand, Chief Medical Officer-elect Jason Lake said Wednesday.”

    • I also want a clarification of timeline. He states, “last weekend”, but if I do the math… If he is 6 days into symptoms on March 20, that puts his ‘shared ceremonial swig’ at March 11, a Wednesday. Was there a lag between writing the article and publishing it? When does his pre-symptom 14-day timeline start? What dates was he in BC?

    • Joey Kern-Osborn says:

      This is your aunt and Jennifer Ayre sent this to me. I just want to tell you my family is praying for a full recovery for both of you and we send our love. Our Facebook account is Waltjoeyosborn and pray to stay updated and please share with the family.
      Hope to hear from you!
      God Bless,
      The Osborn Family

  2. Arthur Terry Turner says:

    Does the writer know if any of the other “ceremonial swig” participants have the virus? I assume some of them were the Leavenworth nurses.

  3. Kyle Calhoun says:

    News reports claim that the first case in Washington was from a man who had traveled from Wuhan, China.
    “On January 19, 2020, a 35-year-old man presented to an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County, Washington, with a 4-day history of cough and subjective fever. He disclosed that he had returned to Washington State on January 15 after traveling to visit family in Wuhan, China.”

  4. I don’t understand the timeline either… article has today’s date (I realize publication doesn’t have to equal written date) he says he’s writing it on his 6 day of symptoms. He says he was the first to test positive in his country…. wasn’t the first positive test in the US before March 14??

  5. Would love to know where abouts in Kimberley you visited! Our small community would benefit from that knowledge!

  6. How did you get tested? Is this a confirmed case? No one I know has been able to get tested unless they had a temperature of above 104.

  7. First if all I’m sorry to hear you are a victim of Covid 19. I hope you recover soon. I have heard from a reliable source that there are cases in Revelstoke & Golden. I live in Nelson and it would be helpful to our community to know when you came through & what business you visited. Please disclose!

  8. Coreshot says:

    this is frightening! I have been touring with a few buddies in LCC the past few days and we passed around a ceremonious bottle of Jameson today after touring Alta and now thats all I can think about. I hope you recover quickly my friend! storms are on the way next week.

  9. Where did you go in Kimberley and other communities?? Gas station? Restaurants? …. And dates please!
    Can you be specific.


  10. Thanks for sharing your story. Hopefully you can recover and enjoy life once again in the great outdoors. Hopefully this story will show we are not invincible and everyone needs to take this seriously

  11. Jeanette Resende says:

    So my question is have you, or health authorities spoken with the people you may have had contact with during that trip>? I live in Golden BC.. where I work, I see many people whom had been on the Kicking Horse Mountain. Our little town has the covid now. Did you happen to frequent a little gas station when you were in Golden? Or perhaps the bar during the BC/DC concert, or at any other time? I think people are really scared and need the information to be more revealing. Thanks for sharing though. Hope you and your girlfriend get well soon.

  12. Read this the other day and there was a lot of other information regarding the progression of the sickness. It included temperature readings, treatment and recovery. What happened to that part of the article?

    • Tyler Cohen says:

      Hi Jason, This story has not been edited or altered since it was originally published. We are planning to include an update from the author, however, on his itinerary prior to showing symptoms.

  13. Todd Swanson says:

    Testing is very important. It is useful to know if you had it; you are likely not susceptible again. Also can self quarantine, and decrease the spread. Also useful for health care planning. Testing lets us know where we are as a community.
    Covid 19 is bad. It is no joke. Shutting schools makes sense because although kids are thankfully not at much risk, they take it home to their parents and grandparents. People over 80 are at very high risk.
    On the other hand, people under 70 ultimately, almost uniformly do well. Like a bad cold. Be wise. Wash your hands. Avoid gatherings. Get a flu shot every year. This is 5-10 times worse than a bad flu year.
    On the other hand, the treatment in medicine is sometimes as bad as the disease – broad shut downs, no school, the social distance, people losing jobs and income, have consequences too.
    Covid 19 is bad, will go on for months. Yet this too will pass. Young people, thankfully, knock on wood, ultimately do well.
    Todd, MD, MPH

  14. Shellie Swann/Morrison says:

    my husband and i have self isolated ourselves..we do not want to take any chances infecting others or getting infected..we are blessed living on acreage overlooking the kootenay river..lucky i did a NOT normal grocery a few days before and we are SO stocked up..and have gardens to get tilled and mounded, a greenhouse to organize and plants to start not to mention some major inside house cleaning/painting to do..should keep us busy and lots of sun to get some healing rays..just hard not being able to see kids and grands and good friends…there is a phone though !! be safe and well and keep your cha cha cha

  15. The writer really doesn’t know at what point he contracted it. Symptoms can show anywhere from 2 days to 14 days.

  16. Kind of wondering if his girlfriend had a confirmed case of COVID 19 as two of the key symptoms are dry cough and fever, 95-97F is not a fever. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but those two are consistent.

  17. Man best wishes and speedy recovery! Where did you stop in Revelstoke? We are trying to assess risk and be careful! Currently under quarantine with very limited contact to staff. We know all other cases or potential folks exposed on a first name basis…this got real! To all those front line workers, thank you!

  18. this terrifies me…I was in Nelson up until this past Tuesday. We are home now in self Quar. We are worried about bringing this to our town. I’m sorry (and frightened) to hear how you feel now. Hopefully you make a full recovery. These are very strange times

  19. Besides you and your girlfriend did anyone else show symptoms from your group?
    do you remember meeting any person that coughed, sneezed seemed off?
    I asked because you said 4 days later, so you started symptoms on the 18th day?
    I am in my 60s so just curious how far a person can go before showing signs.
    The both of you get better, give samples of your blood so the doctors and specialist can find a cure for us all.

  20. Irene DelBono says:

    The difference is probably because his girlfriend was exposed and in close proximity for a long period of time to his confirmed case.

  21. Wow, Ryan. That is a rough go. Thank you for candidly sharing your experience. I think joking is often our response to uncertainty – no shame in that. I appreciate your call to precaution and hope you feel much better soon. Please keep us updated!

  22. Sandra Russell says:

    It would be helpful if the writer gave dates and places he was in for each of the communities he was in both prior to and after his/their symptoms started.

  23. Carol K Johnson says:

    I would like to know which town he visited that had a population of 150 people.

  24. Eipe Kuruvila says:

    Thank you Ryan for sharing your story and being specific about your timeline.
    We want to wish you and your GF a quick and full recovery.
    The data from China shows that 4 out of 5 (80%) contracted this virus from someone that did not know that
    they were carrying it. Can take up to 14 days to start having symptoms. In New York, 54% of hospital admissions for
    Corona virus are in the 18 to 54 age group.
    Each one of us must take the responsibility for minimizing the spread by following all the recommended guidelines and recommendations. Social distancing or isolation is the most important way. Each one must act as if we already had the virus in our system and pay attention to who we may pass it on to.
    Keep you immunity robust with good nutrition, exercise and nutritional supplements.
    E. Kuruvila, MD, FRCA, Denver, Colorado

  25. The first recorded confirmed case of Covid-19 was Jan 20th in the US.

  26. Thank you for sharing. I hope you will be able to kick this virus.

  27. Can you advise where about in Kimberley that you had visited? It’s very important to know more detail about your itinerary.

  28. Thanks for sharing your experience and heal quickly. You point out that you are fit and eat healthfully, but your story leaves me questioning the healthy part vs being fit. May I ask how you define eating healthy. The excercise induced oxidative stress of most athletes and the fact that most dont consume absurd amounts of nutrient dense plants daily (20 fist size servings to be safe) has most athletes immunity teetering at the tipping point of breakdown. Might I suggest that your rigorous outdoor activity was not offset by a phytonutrient dense diet and therefore immune failure. It’s just a thought for when you are well and back on your feet.

  29. Could the author indicate if he has been tested please? Thanks

  30. Comments are focused on the specifics of symptoms and timing. I read this as “how does his behavior affect me and those I know?”

    But I see the authors point differently. “Please take this seriously so we can work together to solve this global problem.”


  31. Lucy Higgins says:

    A quick update from the editors: We’d like to thank you for your questions, comments and reflections on this piece. Given some of those questions, we’ve reached back out to the author, Ryan Irvin, for clarifications that are now included in the editors’ note at the end of this story. As such, we’ve turned off commenting. Thank you!


  1. […] and loved ones and acknowledged their vulnerabilities.  The previous day Facebook had me reading a post from Backcountry Magazine (thanks Roger Yim) by a split boarder who contracted the first case of COVID-19 in Leavenworth, WA […]

  2. […] On Friday, he published an account of his sickness on the skiing and snowboarding website Backgrounder. […]

  3. […] sobering account of a splitboarder in Washington should serve as a warning to backcountry skiers and riders who don’t take social distancing […]