It’s officially winter and many of our favorite summer trails are now covered in snow. The mountains being turned into a winter wonderland opens up a whole new world of possibilities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and backcountry skiing or boarding. Winter brings new opportunities for fun outside, but it also brings new challenges. It’s vital to know how to stay safe in winter conditions before heading out to the backcountry to ensure you have the best possible experience!
1. Sun is Your Friend and Your Enemy
We all love bluebird days, but during the winter, they come with their own challenges. Sunscreen is arguably more important when you’re playing in the snow because that beautiful white stuff is super reflective. Make sure you’re wearing sunscreen, especially on the underside of your nose, (we love Bare Republic) and sunglasses to protect your eyes. The reflective conditions will make you go snow blind pretty quickly and sun burning your eyes is a real thing!
2. Layer for Any Condition
Weather can change in a heartbeat in the winter. You might start in beautiful sunny conditions and hit a blizzard above tree line. It’s important to dress in layers and prepare for the worst possible weather conditions. Always carry gloves, a hat and waterproof layers. You may never need that down jacket you stuffed in your pack, but being safe is always better than sorry. Exposure is a very real danger in winter conditions.
Stay away from cotton! You’ll exert lots of energy as you make your way through the snow and will likely sweat. If you’re wearing cotton, you’ll quickly soak your base layer and then get dangerously cold when you stop moving. Wicking, breathable fabrics are always a better bet for winter activities.
3. Know the Conditions
Never start out a winter excursion without first checking the weather, trail conditions (if possible) and the avalanche conditions. All of this information is available online and will help you make smart choices about your recreation. Always keep an eye on the sky and the slopes to assess for possible weather moving in, or possible avalanche conditions.
4. Be Avalanche Aware
Avalanches are a real threat in many backcountry areas. If you’re venturing into the mountains in the winter, taking an avalanche safety class is an excellent idea. AIARE offers courses across the US. Checking avalanche conditions for the area you’re heading to before you start the day is important. If you’re heading above tree line, or to an area with steep slopes, you’re in avalanche country. Wind sweeping off faces, new snowfall and rapid warming are all factors that make avalanche conditions higher. Carrying a beacon and a shovel if you’re in avalanche country and never travel alone. Being prepared and being able to assess your situation are your best weapons against avalanches. Take a course if you’re going to be out in the backcountry this winter!
5. Know the Trail and Your Abilities
Trail finding in the winter is often difficult. If you’re on a less popular trail, or there’s been a recent snowfall, it’s easy to veer off your path and get lost, or into terrain you’re not prepared for. If you’re unfamiliar with the route you’ll be taking, study it on maps and online first. Familiarize yourself with the terrain and major features. Carry a compass or GPS device and know how to use it. The last thing you want is to get lost in winter conditions!
Knowing your ability and the ability of everyone in your group is extremely important. Constantly assess and beware of getting in over your head. Snow sports take much more energy than hiking. You might be able to hike ten miles in the summer, but you may be exhausted after three or four on snowshoes or skis.
6. Survival Skills
Survival skills are something you should know, but hope never to use in any season. Knowing how to build a fire in wet and cold conditions, being able to make a shelter, and being prepared to spend the night in the snow are all important skills to possess when setting off for a backcountry adventure. REI offers wilderness survival classes.
7. Hydrate and Fuel
Always, always, always carry enough water. Whether you’re adventuring in the summer or winter, having more water than you need is always crucial. You never know what conditions you may face or how long an outing might take. Hydrate or die! Just like water, having snacks with you are essential. Tuck a few protein bars in your bag (we love ProBar!) and refuel along the way.
The wilderness is always a dangerous place to be, but with the proper preparation, awareness and respect for your environment, playing outside can be safe and fun whether there’s snow on the ground or not. Remember, it’s a privilege to play in the mountains!
Be safe and have fun out there this winter!
This blog was written by Colorado Ambassador Mikaela. You can see more of her blogs by visiting her site.
New to winter sports? Check out some of our awesome upcoming activities!