Picturesque view of Matterhorn peak and Stellisee lake in Swiss Alps Photo Credit: Smitt (iStock).

Photo Credit: Smitt (iStock).

Government management of citizen risk has long been a topic of debate. One infamous outdoor recreation-related example dates back to 1865, following the death of four on one of the world's most iconic mountains. Lessons learned from this moment in history still apply to Colorado's outdoor recreation landscape today.

During the first successful ascent of Switzerland's 14,692-foot Matterhorn, an English leader and his team of six ran into big trouble as they made their descent. Ultimately, a rope would snap and four people would fall 4,000 feet to their death, one of whom was an English lord.

Though followed by a tragic downturn of luck, the summiting of the Matterhorn was a major accomplishment in mountaineering. With the disaster that accompanied the climb and a subsequent investigation into whether or not the survivors were to blame (they were exonerated), the event attracted plenty of media coverage in Britain and worldwide. As a result, the dangers of mountaineering were put on public display.

Given the lack of communication technology in the 19th century, it's unlikely that many people would have had a thorough understanding of what the sport of mountaineering entailed, including how grave the risks can be. It was said that no other mountaineering accident "created such a sensation," with the coverage of this event putting the dangers associated with mountaineering in the public eye.

According to an article from The New Yorker, the accident prompted Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom to consider banning her citizens from participating in the sport entirely. Huffington Post paraphrases the queen as saying 'she would never again permit English royal blood to be wasted on the Matterhorn.' Similarly, a New York Times article published at the time of the event is reportedly asked "why ... the best blood of England [was to] waste itself scaling hitherto inaccessible peaks."

Ultimately, a ban on mountaineering or on climbing the Matterhorn would never be enacted and the publicity that came with Queen Victoria's suggestion would increase interest in the peak among brave souls around the world. This boom of interest would help the nearby town of Zermatt develop into the renowned travel destination that it is considered to be today.

While a ban of mountaineering might seem like an outlandish proposal, there are several recent examples of when dangerous happenings on the slopes have resulted in restrictions related to the sport.

For example, a number of accidents eventually resulted in Nepal banning foreign climbers from attempting a solo climb on many popular routes. While not quite the same as a ban on mountaineering, several routes around the United States have been closed in recent years due to liability concerns associated with allowing people to access hazardous terrain, including Mount Lindsey's summit in Colorado.

A common factor in these rules, restrictions, and regulations being put in place tends to be the prevalence of accidents on a certain trail or in a particular area. This highlights how important it can be for the local outdoor recreation community to manage risks while recreating, planning ahead and working to build experience over time opposed to taking on too much risk too quickly.

Those entering Colorado's natural space should make sure they've got the right gear, that they've done adequate research on the adventure, and that someone knows where they're headed and when they'll be back. Not only could following these safety basics help prevent another accident-related trail closure – it could also save a life.

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