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Discussion: Orienteering, weather and air quality

in: Orienteering; General

Aug 23, 2021 8:57 PM # 
Given the increase in the severity of summer heat waves and wildfire related poor air quality does anybody know if IOF or IOF member federations have rules or guidelines about hosting events and/or training during extreme weather events and/or poor air quality events?

Do other sports have guidelines? I know FIS has rules for low temps and races in Nordic skiing.
Aug 23, 2021 9:17 PM # 
California seems to have guidelines for school sports, but even they don't appear to have any hard and fast rules. Nationally it appears to be slightly more vague.
Aug 23, 2021 11:43 PM # 
I haven't heard any rules for sports, orienteering or skiing. Our ski team cancels outdoor training if the AQHI is 7 or higher ("High Health Risk"). We don't do intensity training if the AQHI is between 4 and 6 ("Moderate Health Risk").

Thankfully, air quality is quite good right now across the province.
Aug 24, 2021 12:03 AM # 
Pink Socks:
I was about to ask the same questions, Mike.

As someone who has organized national-reach, multi-day, orienteering events in September in wildfire country (Seattle), I'd be curious to hear some thoughts on this.

For the recent US Champs events, who was involved in the decision-making process? Just the organizing club? O-USA, since it was a championship? Both? And were there any AQI considerations for the go/no-go decision (eg: If the AQI is below X, then we'll have the event)?

And because of the smoke situation, that also got me thinking about heat (and also cold, lightning, etc). At what point is it irresponsible to continue holding an event? Who gets to make that decision? Does O-USA's liability insurance have any impact here?

I think it would be beneficial to have some guidelines if they don't exist already. Should clubs be doing this or the federation? I don't envy being in a situation where there's pressure on me to continue directing an event because of the club's financial stake, or because there's a very persuasive person yelling at me "I've flown across the country for this! I'll run in an N95!"

(Let me add here that I don't intend for this discussion to criticize the decisions at US Champs; I wasn't there. I also don't want this to get into a discussion of "Don't organize events in fire country during fire season, stoopid." I'd like for this to be productive discussion so that we can ensure safe and healthy events in the future.)
Aug 24, 2021 12:25 AM # 
For Tahoe21, there was a "smoke jury" (I think that was their official title?) that evaluated the conditions early each morning and made a decision on what to do. Canceling or postponing (by hours or days) were among their options. They ended up delaying both the middle and the long by a few hours each, in hopes that the air quality would improve, based on the forecast (I'm not sure if it actually helped or not, but it did unfortunately push the events into a hotter part of the day). (Air conditions had improved for the relay day, but it was also delayed for different reasons.)

I thought this was a reasonable approach, and I thought the jury did a good job with a very difficult assignment. I believe the jury was Clare Durand, Peter Goodwin, and Tapio Karras.
Aug 24, 2021 12:39 AM # 
I think in bad smoke conditions a viable option may be to downgrade the event from a "competition" to a "training". Let participants go out on the course and enjoy as much orienteering as they would like. Participants may choose to wear a mask, or shorten their run, or run at an easier pace, etc. Removing the "competition" aspect would probably encourage participants to prioritize their long-term health a bit more than if they are competing.

Outright cancellation always sucks for those who have travelled a long way, particularly if the maps are printed and controls out in the woods.
Aug 24, 2021 12:47 AM # 
In Australia, normal practice in most states is not to run forest events (which there aren't many of in the summer in any case) on days when our equivalent of a Red Flag warning is in effect.
Aug 24, 2021 1:45 AM # 
I don't recall there being much precedent for events in the US where air quality was a concern.
Aug 24, 2021 3:12 AM # 
Blair the same applies for summer series street events in WA even though there's typically no fire risk in venues where they're run so it's more for personal safety of competitors, even though most people know their own limits but the association doesn't want to be held liable in the event a competitor passes out or similar.

Sadly the last cancelled forest event I was involved in (disregarding numerous Covid cancellations) was in Vic where there were two consecutive days of MTBO and both ended up being classed as extreme fire risk and were subsequently cancelled by the organisers, even though people had travelled from all over Australia to compete. The fire danger days only happened to be the Saturday and Sunday and given on very short notice - there were none in the weeks prior or following - so it was just bad luck. Also it wasn't the heat that was the problem in this particular instance; it was the wind.
Aug 24, 2021 3:38 AM # 
The tale has been told many times, but the 1989 US WOC Team Trials were held in a forest that was on fire. The competition area was burning, and competitors had to cross the line of flames (which were not tall, but that were definitely fire) several times. The air quality was decidedly not good on some parts of the course.
Aug 24, 2021 5:24 AM # 
@bmay: Is the AQHI a straight conversion from ranges of AQI, or the Canadian equivalent?

@J-J: IIRC, there's a little more to that '89 Team Trials story... :-D
Aug 24, 2021 8:31 AM # 
US CDC has a policy.

The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has a smoke pollution and Exercise page, while state governments all have similar advice to this.
Aug 24, 2021 9:31 AM # 
Haha in searching for info on this thread I found this similar thread I started on AP a decade ago.

Some good links in that thread including a discussion of the -20C nordic skiing rule.
Aug 24, 2021 11:59 AM # 
Not sure what you're referring to, Guy. That some controls got melted?
Aug 24, 2021 4:03 PM # 
There’s always more to a story.
Aug 24, 2021 4:43 PM # 
re: ‘89 US TT race. yeah the organizers sent out the Canadians first. is that the story? ;-)

yeah at least one control was melted but i recall a volunteer being at it. the flame length was only maybe 30-40cm off the ground but once you ran into the fire the visibility was poor and breathing was difficult.
Aug 24, 2021 4:59 PM # 
Paul Bennett had a melted control in his living room for years, but it got tossed out when he moved.
Aug 24, 2021 5:53 PM # 
jj, I'd be interested in seeing that photo you took of the Caldor smoke and pyrocumulus cloud from Arnold if you get a chance to post it. Maybe in the Tahoe thread?
Aug 25, 2021 9:15 AM # 
Didn't know about melted controls -- but not surprised.

IIRC, at least one orienteer got drenched (or maybe just sprayed, given dispersion) by a water drop.
Aug 25, 2021 12:06 PM # 
Yes, a helicopter was filling a bucket in Lake Sebago and dropping water on the fire. I'm not sure how wet Linda got. I have a dim memory of feeling a couple of droplets of water myself, but it's so long ago that maybe that's just something I imagined.
Aug 25, 2021 1:01 PM # 
A few smoke pictures posted here and here.
Aug 25, 2021 7:10 PM # 
"Don't organize events in fire country during fire season, stoopid."

I had two reactions to this, one gut, one forcibly self-moderated, and started writing a long piece in line with the latter about how quantitative risk matters, how "don't do risky things" is a condescending trivialization unless there are numbers that can be discussed, but that's perhaps moot now that South Lake is about to be actually evacuated. Go with the gut.

What's the opposite of don't organize events in fire country during fire season? Do organize events in fire country during fire season?

"Fire country" and "fire season" must be correctly defined. Orders-of-magnitude range possible on what constitutes fire country. NAOC 2018 was in fire country during fire season, the fires were well away, no major fire in the area before or after. But, plenty of destruction on my drive to and from.

Here's another quite related data point. A death today at the TDS in a spot where they had hold-chains and rescue-people already stationed. So they knew about the elevated risk, they put resources there to mitigate risk, but they didn't quite have a numerical handle on the risk, experimentally it could have been assumed to be zero. Until today. As of today, a better estimate is 1 death out of about 20,000 passes. I will not do any activity with a risk of death that's known to be 0.005%, most people won't either. It's a safe bet the course will avoid this area, or they'll build a boardwalk with railings, or somesuch, before the next use. No more hoping people don't fall off the cliff.

Was this experimental assessment of the risk absolutely necessary? Was it worth the life lost?

I think we have enough data to assess the likelihood someone will get seriously hurt during a 10-day-long festival in fire-prone parts of California (or Oregon, WA, BC, ...) during fire season. Again, this is a different calculation, at least one order of magnitude, if it's a one-day event. Different for a one-day 15-minute Sprint vs. a one-day 50-mile run, etc. Investment/attachment is different if people drive from within a 3-hr radius vs. fly in from all over the world. Very different if a Regional or a World championship is at stake. But plenty of record to do by from the past decade.

Chances you'd put on a 10-day series of events anywhere in forested California after 01 June and at least one day is affected by smoke, fire, or evacuation seems to me to be well above 10%. Perhaps a datawiz can extract AQI vs. time from a database and arrive at a rigorous assessment for a set of AQI thresholds, 50, 100, 150, 200. But, it's in many percent. Perhaps tens of percent. (Certainly increases as the year progresses past June, then drops as... well... snow eventually falls. In many places.)

Then multiply by the chance of a serious outcome.

It seems to me we are, as of 2021, well past the "may happen but unlikely... don't get out of bed if you're afraid of being hit by lightning" territory and well into "is almost certain to happen" territory.

Rigorous data is of course king.
Aug 25, 2021 8:11 PM # 
Pink Socks:
Sigh. My point was, you know what? Never mind.
Aug 25, 2021 8:12 PM # 
Perhaps not a major fire, I'm not acquainted with how that designation is arrived at, but there was an active fire not terribly far south of Carcross (maybe 50 km at most?) where the 2018 NAOC sprint was held. You could smell it from Carcross and see the smoke on the horizon. We drove past it a few days earlier and stopped to gawk and take photos. And wonder whether we should be reporting it to someone somewhere.
Aug 25, 2021 8:31 PM # 
Patrick, I'm frankly uncertain how to interpret your reply. It seems dismissive. I'll abstain from further comment until there are some at least ballpark numbers to discuss, I tried to get somewhat into where we are in numerically driven decision-making.
Aug 25, 2021 9:12 PM # 
I'm just guessing, but I thought Patrick was looking for some kind of measurable guidance rather than just a knee-jerk blanket condemnation of summer events in the West, and I thought your post was in fact exploring constructively in that direction.

Unrelated, I also participate in an activity that a quick web search claims has a 1 in 2000 risk of death annually. If that's true, then my 138 days of doing that over the past decade would amount to a 0.0036% chance of dying every time, which is not much below your no-way number above. But I'm less risk-averse than most people, that's undeniable.
Aug 25, 2021 10:04 PM # 
There are two interrelated but distinct issues. One is the objective numerical criteria according to which, and not a smoke jury or heat jury or evacuation jury, our organization(s) should proceed with an event, or not. This is typically a short-notice decision, made day-of or a few days in advance, because the specific information needed to make the decision is not available sooner. I get it that this was the original poster's question. This specific question ties into risk management and it would greatly help if there were a set of objective guidelines because individual levels of risk tolerance, susceptibility to various risks, and informed-ness of potential consequences vary. So, having a uniform set of rules/guidelines would avoid counterproductive arguments.

The other issue is the relative wisdom of scheduling activities when it can be reasonably assessed well in advance that there is a high likelihood of an adverse decision of the first type. This likelihood depends on the accepted risk tolerance threshold for this first-type decision. The lower the risk tolerance, the higher the chance of cancellation or postponement. If the tolerance is too high then
catastophic consequences, such as death or worse, are possible, with subsequent denial of permits to hold events, lawsuits, etc. My comments addressed this second issue. It's not at all identical to the first one, but you can't argue it's not related. Clearly if one adopts a low risk tolerance, then there will be a lot of cancellations, inconveniences, and hurt feelings so the wise way around is to change the risk environment. If one adopts a too-high tolerance, one can ram through quite a lot of risky stuff but I see dead people.

If one goes ahead and changes the risk environment, reducing the overall risks, then the precise level of tolerance becomes less important. Hold a 10-day orienteering festival in the winter, instead of summer, and nobody gets hurt (at least by smoke inhalation). The tradeoff is you don't get to use the nicer areas some may be attached to. Hold an event during Covid outdoors, instead of indoors, and... you don't have to mandate an artificial attendance cap that will inconvenience some. You get the picture.

Our problem is that we as a community are too insular and depend on us boiling within our own juice to come up with this risk-tolerance threshold (for decisions in the first paragraph). We aren't unique, many/most other communities are like that, the smaller the comminuty the worse the issue. Others outside this community, wielding representative data, may objectively show this community-accepted risk threshold to be too low (IMO less likely) or too high (IMO much more likely). Remember the Boggs DSF ranger? "you orienteers drive way too damn fast on my forest roads". Really? none of us thought so. But, compared with other forest visitors, we do. Usually the ones who show a community their errant ways are nature and/or a government, and usually it is too late. No more trail runs in China, and 20+ dead people.

So, absent a desire to listen to others outside our bubble, the prudent path is to change the risk environment and not to try to nail down the exact threshold that will keep us (tactically) happy (for a while, until we find out the hard way what can actually happen).

I've expressed myself as best as I could. Please argue with the logic and not with my personality, offended feelings, etc.
Aug 26, 2021 2:39 AM # 
Statistics are based on averages though. Perhaps in the aforementioned scenario the 1 in 2000 (or 0.05%) death was from someone who ran into the fire to see how hot it was (or some other reason based on whatever your activity was). It may be that a sensible person has a zero chance of death occurring because he or she wouldn't do something totally stupid.

Sadly for some activities (e.g. driving), death or serious injury can occur regardless of your level of caution because some other inconsiderate person could wipe you out but your personal chance of survival could be higher, though not necessarily 100%, than the party who shows less consideration for others.
Aug 26, 2021 4:04 AM # 
Well, the 1 in 2000 per annum death rate activity is hang gliding. A significant fraction of fatalities occur when people neglect to connect their harnesses* to the gliders before launching. I've seen it happen (though he survived -- to die a couple of years later from lung cancer). In hang gliding, when something goes wrong, it's always pilot error (unless somebody with a gun decides to use you for target practice, but I've never heard of that happening). But the error could consist of deciding to fly on a day when the weather is not right.

(*Interestingly, I think this failure-to-hook-in phenomenon is all but nonexistent in Australia, because of a procedure that pilots there use that greatly reduces the likelihood. I'm one of the few Americans who use the "Aussie Method".)
Aug 26, 2021 5:37 AM # 
Well my wife suffered from a similar accident but from paragliding and it wasn't from failing to clip in but still resulted in her falling out of the sky. She didn't die fortunately but yeah it's one of those accidents that could happen to anyone so yeah, a sport in which you have a 1 in X factor of dying rather than a sport in which you might die if you do something stupid.
Aug 26, 2021 9:29 AM # 
I already died once. No, wait, I had a reserve parachute, I didn't die after all. Phew. (That was from doing something stupid.)
Aug 26, 2021 10:32 AM # 
Any discussion that restricts itself to just considering risk of deaths of orienteers is a bit narrow. There are a lot more aspects to consider

For example: is it ethical to be organising events in areas of high fire risk given that, should a fire break out close to an event in progress, just the very fact of there being several hundred orienteers in a remote location might present serious logistical challenges if they need evacuation. This could result in firefighters being subject to even greater dangers than they otherwise would or it could endanger locals who find their escape routes blocked by traffic jams they would not have anticipated.

Then again I am sure an area like Tahoe that relies so much on tourism would not want to see events cancelled just because there might be a fire. No easy answers.

In some ways Australia has it easy as the main O season is over winter (almost nowhere in Australia that is likely to be used for a major event has any chance of snow in the winter) But as things heat up and bush fire seasons grow longer that is changing. The two major events (Aust Champs in Sept/Oct and Easter) are more and more prone to heat and fire danger. Depends a lot on location of course.
Aug 26, 2021 10:47 AM # 
And in fact last year's Australian Long Championships would have fallen victim to a fire had it not already fallen victim to a pandemic (and in the you-wouldn't-have-thought-this-likely location of Tasmania, although climatically the northeast coast of Tasmania is in some ways a southern extension of NSW, and has had significant October fires before). We've also dodged a couple of bullets in recent years with high fire-risk days during major carnivals which have fallen on sprint event days rather than forest event ones.

For fires and orienteering, the equation is fourfold.

Firstly, fires pose a direct and imminent safety threat in an orienteering context if (and largely only if) they are moving at or above walking pace, including producing spot fires. This will normally happen only in severe fire weather conditions (in the US, a Red Flag Warning), which normally requires a reasonable amount of wind. Secondly, large fires, even if not particularly close, can produce large quantities of smoke (as at Tahoe). Thirdly, a fire may go through a planned competition area prior to the event and make it unusable. Fourthly, the potential risk of fire may make it difficult or impossible to get access to land (in some states of Australia, there are a lot of areas which can't be used between December and March for this reason).

The mix of those will vary from place to place - somewhere like Tahoe or the forests of southeast Australia are obviously high-risk. There are plenty of other places where fires can occur, sometimes very large ones, but the risk they pose is lower - in places like the Yukon a fire can burn all summer (if it doesn't rain) but warm dry weather conditions there, and in northern Europe, almost always mean light winds so fires spread slowly. (It's striking that by far the most destructive wildfire in the modern history of Norway - which burnt out ~150 houses in a town north of Trondheim in 2014 - happened in January).
Aug 26, 2021 12:04 PM # 
Maybe time to start considering rescheduling the Aus Champs to the July school holidays.

At least then orienteers would be able to go the grand final.
Aug 26, 2021 12:46 PM # 
Jeez it was cold, standing around watching JWOC in Dubbo in July 2007.
Aug 26, 2021 2:34 PM # 
Poor Australians who just can't handle cold weather. Like Scandinavians who think 28 deg is really hot.
Aug 26, 2021 3:11 PM # 
Most organizations I've been associated with (military, scouts) approach risk from a combination of probability vs. severity. In the Army version, the level of residual risk (once mitigation was taken into account) was a tool for indicating whether a higher commander's approval was required for the activity.

I think this is a useful model for 2 reasons. First, it leads planners to look at how to lower either likelihood or severity of risk. Second, it makes decision-makers think about how much risk they are willing to underwrite.

If I understand what T/D is thinking about, it's a combination of how to associate objective measurements with severity of impact, and probabilities with likelihood of a hazard occurring?
Aug 26, 2021 6:44 PM # 
@cmpbllv yes. Your arguments are ahead of mine, I was implicitly dealing with some multiplied likelihood-times-severity metric. It may be illuminating to decouple the two in this context.

Immediately coming to mind: Say all we do is impose a max 200 AQI. Take the value of 200 because we can't with clear conscience get away with anything greater; the EPA says at 200 there is a 50% chance of "moderate or greater" lung function impairment to healthy people during "moderate exertion". What this standard of 200 does is it limits the severity while not doing much about the likelihood, there would still be plenty of events in the 100 to 200 range which is still unhealthy, more so for longer duration and higher susceptibility of the individual. (At least "not doing much" until organizers start considering the wisdom of hitting 200 on a regular basis.)

The last event I personally organized for BAOC was right at 150 on its original date, and was postponed because the club's influence-makers decided to use 150 as the cutoff. This was mid-November. High AQI is no longer a rare occurence in California.
Aug 26, 2021 9:42 PM # 
Pink Socks:
I apologize, Vlad. My eyes just glaze over at all of these risk assessment numbers. I'm too uneducated in this sort of thing to have any meaningful dialogue here.

I commented following Mike's original post because he seemed to share a desire for event guidelines from the perspective of event directors making day-of and week-of decisions regarding various environmental factors (eg: heat, cold, smoke, plague of locusts, noodle-eating poodles, etc.).

I was hoping that there may already be existing guidelines from other sports or from O-USA's insurer. Or some sort of decision tree of who needs to make the decisions.

Basically, I was asking "What sausages are available to eat?" and the replies are all about how sausage is made. I mean, yeah, it's not irrelevant. What I'm learning is that there aren't any sausages adequate to eat, that we have to make them ourselves, and that everyone has a different idea of what makes a good sausage.
Aug 26, 2021 9:55 PM # 
And if you're going to use AQI (or equivalent) as a criterion, you need to have the data to make that decision. Not sure how dense the American observing network is, but in Australia there are few air quality observations outside the major cities (although this is supposedly changing, at least in Victoria - the experience of the 2019-20 summer was a bit of a wake-up call).
Aug 26, 2021 10:36 PM # 
Rob, not having Aus Champs in school holidays at all would be beneficial to all those non-school aged competitors (i.e. 80% of the field) that have to purchase higher priced airfares since airlines don't offer discounts during the holidays.
Aug 26, 2021 10:58 PM # 
Well, what I have been trying to say that those shopping for sausages should reconsider their eating habits because sausages will eventually kill them. Try, say, plant-based burger. Quite yummy. Yes, it is insensitive and patronizing from me. Maybe this particular battle is lost and sausage addiction is incurable other than by hospitalization or a forced government reeducation program.

Or maybe I'm simply wrong and healthy sausage ought to be part of every balanced diet. Hope for everyone's digestive health!
Aug 26, 2021 11:20 PM # 
Tricky - clearly you don't have kids. It is even worse for parents who have to pay the cynically inflated airfares not just for themselves but for the whole family.

A lot of the 80% of the field that are " non-school aged competitors" have children (or even grand children) participating - so misleading use of statistics.

As George Benson and Whitney Houston sang - "I believe that children are our future". Orienteering already has a huge aging population problem. It is important for the future of the sport to do as much as we can to facilitate junior participation. I can't think of anything worse than a sport that is just old people - which probably explains why I have never been to a WMOC.
Aug 27, 2021 12:13 AM # 
Pink Socks:
I should have gone with the apples and oranges metaphor. At least I'd be eating healthier.
Aug 27, 2021 12:31 AM # 
The kids & school issue is also a reason our NAm o' festivals are usually in the summer. We couldn't swing a school-time week off; even weekends are tricky when you lose a day or two on each end. If the NAOC event moves to Dec or Jan, as T/D seems to recommend (and his reasoning is totally valid), we couldn't do anything but that weekend, none of the other fun events that presumably would be included in a new schedule.
As bummed as I'd be by that, I would understand.
Aug 27, 2021 12:34 AM # 
. . .even weekends are tricky when . . .

Surely you meant to spell that " tRicky"

If you want to stick with summer dates you could just hold all future NAOC's in Alaska, Yukon etc. Plenty of nice terrain.
Aug 27, 2021 12:49 AM # 
Yeah ... we skipped that one because it costs $$$ to get there for a family. :-(
Aug 27, 2021 12:56 AM # 
There are many many places in North America with great terrain, minimal fire risk, and no local base of people to organize an event. We need to have things grow enough to support a small team of professionals to swing through and do the work. That would be great.
Aug 27, 2021 3:22 AM # 
So essentially it's more expensive to get to the Aus Champs for 100% of competitors who have to fly there. Thanks for correcting my stats!
Aug 27, 2021 9:08 PM # 
@jjcote. Maybe a task for all the retired old people in our sport in N.A. They might not even demand a lot of money. Count me in.
Aug 27, 2021 9:41 PM # 
Maybe it would work. It needs to generate enough money to cover their expenses, maybe, but retirees might not need it to be overly profitable. How would you feel about spending some time in western Nebraska? If there's lidar...
Aug 27, 2021 9:52 PM # 
If you're talking about the area I've been looking at in Nebraska, then that would be a very exciting championship.
Aug 27, 2021 10:40 PM # 
Near Maxwell, but there's lots of good terrain out there.
Aug 27, 2021 10:55 PM # 
Yes, lots of neat stuff in the Sandhills. Randy and I saw the 2017 eclipse from Arnold, just north of Maxwell.
Aug 27, 2021 11:39 PM # 
I'm not making light of this. The property loss and the loss of life are horrendous but is there not a silver lining in all these fires, a very small silver lining and it might be a benefit for orienteering?
Fires need fuel to burn. The major fuel part of these fires seem to be old grass and brush accumulated over years of growth and seasonal die off.
Now that the ground cover has been burned off it seems that until the next generation of ground cover has a chance to grow and die off for several years those recently affected areas are going to be not likely to burn again .... for a while.
At least that is the principle they follow in Florida and other parts of the southeast with their regular cycle of what they call prescribed burns. As an orienteering event organizer I find myself looking forward to scheduling events in parts of parks that have recently had their prescribed burn. The burns produce the best terrain for running.
Now if in the west like in Bastrop State Park, Texas, the fire gets into the tree canopy that is a whole different story. But I see a lot of film where the fires is burning through so quickly that while homes and other building are burned to the foundation the trees around survive the blaze.
Aug 28, 2021 4:14 AM # 
If someone on this thread who is retired and experienced wants to come out here to Montana and map, we will welcome them with open arms.
Aug 28, 2021 4:42 AM # 
Uh, yeah, same for Tucson! In fact, such a person should spend the summer in Montana and the winter in Tucson.
Aug 28, 2021 5:16 AM # 
Montana is way too close to Yellowstone caldera.
Aug 28, 2021 11:46 AM # 
I'd love to come and map in Tuscon,
Montana, Nebraska and any other flyover state. But I would need to be paid - and a green card - which seems to rule me out.
Aug 28, 2021 2:37 PM # 
Does anybody know if other backcountry race series (eg trail races) that take place in fire-prone landscapes during fire season (eg interior BC, California, Australia, etc) have a refund and/or cancellation policy that links to the risk of wildfire? also for extreme weather?
Aug 28, 2021 2:39 PM # 
It might be hard to convince and old geek to spend countless hours mapping. That part might have to be done by a paid pro.
Aug 28, 2021 3:00 PM # 
The Tahoe 200 just got cancelled, due to the smoke and the National Forest closure. They are switching to a June or July date for the future. The announcement doesn't say anything about refunds.
Aug 28, 2021 3:58 PM # 
Switching the geezer-run events to a different thread.
Aug 28, 2021 4:10 PM # 
Most trail races have a “too bad” clause, something like Bigfoot 200’s:

Run cancellation: The Bigfoot 200 reserves the right to cancel the run based on unforeseen circumstances and “Acts of God”: (1) Extreme snow pack. (2) Extreme weather during the event. (3) Extreme fire danger or active fires on or near the race course. (4) Other extreme conditions. (5) Unforeseen circumstances that make directing the race impossible. In the case of cancellation, race entries will not be refunded. If the race is cancelled due to fires or fire danger there will be no refunds. Transfers in the case of a race cancellation will be at the discretion of the race and depend on timing. If cancellation due to one of these “acts of god” occurs after all the refund and transfer deadlines are past, no refund or transfer will be applied.

No methodology or metrics mentioned, though. And while most have these tough policies, they also mostly have been rolling folks forward … I was registered (my first lottery win!) for the 2020 Angeles Crest 100. We were all rolled over to this year because Covid, then rolled over to next year because of the Bobcat Fire and Covid. Some day, I will race in the San Gabriel Mountains.
Aug 28, 2021 9:30 PM # 
Somewhat related but a four day stage race MTB event I was scheduled to compete in last weekend that got cancelled due to Covid with less than two weeks' notice offered competitors either a rollover of entry fees to next year's event (hopefully, it's been cancelled two years in a row now) or a full refund. I opted for the latter because I don't know my potential schedule that far in advance.

I don't think they have a bushfire policy for that particular event because the chances of a fire in that part of the world are somewhat remote due to lack of ground coverage.

Their standard refund policy (for either a cancellation/postponement by the organisers or a voluntary withdrawal) is to offer a transfer to another event or a refund, in each case less an admin fee, the amount of which depends on the reason for the cancellation, whether the event was rescheduled and the length of time to the rescheduled event and whether you've opted for transfer or refund. It's all very complicated (not sure why it costs 25% to process a refund; it'd take the same manpower regardless of whether the race cost $50 or $500). Also if they move the event to within the next 23 days but you can't make it, you get neither a credit nor a refund.

I'd be pretty reluctant to enter a future race by an event organiser where they cancelled the event but gave no refund.
Aug 29, 2021 12:19 PM # 
Does anybody know if other backcountry race series (eg trail races)

Yes, it is "too bad". The series I volunteer for whose terrain is being devoured by Caldor had all of its events canceled except this past June and July, these happened. Likely nothing next year. By 2023 they should clear the burned trees across the trails, and rickety trees that are about to fall onto the trails. Maybe in late summer 2023 these runs will resume, in dead landscape. Of course most participants won't be happy waiting so long, having paid. The screamier ones will get refunded. The less screamy ones will get rollovers.

Note that these are events of at most two days' duration. If you spread them across the snow-free calendar, you'll pull some off, like this year's June and July. If these were 10-day events, a 10-day event in July would not have happened as the entirety of the 10 days, at least some of the 10 days would have been affected. June would have happened but only because this year is a low-snow year. In say 2019 there would have been too much snow for anything in the first half of June for 2000 m and greater. This is Cody Lake (el. 2190 m/7185 ft.) on the current edge of the fire and from which they are now taking water to fight the fire, on 08 June 2019. The snowy hill in the background is part of Desolation Wilderness. Depth of the snow just below the lake.

The least risky window to schedule these Tahoe events is the second half of June, from the point of view of avoiding both hazards to health and safety and obstacles to competitor enjoyment. However there's a chance some of the areas may have burned the summer prior.
Aug 29, 2021 6:59 PM # 
Somewhat related to Hammer's question, responses of trailrunning organizers to a situation like the one faced by the organizers of Tahoe 2021 (orienteering) have been varied but average in line with what orienteers did this summer. On average neither more nor less aggressive. The series I volunteer for and which is having its venue wiped by Caldor was perhaps one of the most cautious, canceling due to smoke or active fire with several days' notice. No smoke jury but a single contractor's opinion, and no forced action from the National Forest. The contractor was roughly guided by AQI 100 on event day(s).

Some, however, are notably more aggressive about proceeding than others. I've been to an event that was all set to start at 8 am until State Park rangers showed up at 7:20 and shut it down. No refunds, no rollovers, nothing. These series are very much in operation still despite having generated quite a bit of ill will at that event and with a two-day-notice shutdown at the onset of Covid when there were also no-nothing given. That Covid shutdown event was approx. 500 entrants at $150 a pop, many from out of the area but still a lower percentage than typical attendees of a national orienteering event.

I personally was involuntarily taken out of an entrants list during Covid when the county reduced its permit quantity from 500 to 250, explicitly told not to come (but offered a rollover), and when I expressed my displeasure I was banned for life from these series (and no refund). I have not pursued the situation further with the payment processor of these particular organizers, waiting for the Covid situation to play out. I still may.

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