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Winter Backcountry Safety


Winter Backcountry SafetyTravelling during the winter in the backcountry can often be more dangerous hiking in the summertime. Avalanches are often caused by heavy snowfall followed by slow warming and rain, progressively loading and stressing many buried weaker layers.  Avalanches can be dangerous to even the most experienced backcountry skier, hiker, or snowmobiler.

Planning ahead is quite important for hikers and snowshoers they should take every precaution before heading out on the trails in winter months. Here are some tips for safer backcountry exploration in winter:

Always check avalanche conditions

Choose your destinations wisely

If there is a guidebook available, consult it to find a low risk trail.  Remember that there are other snow risks beside avalanches - getting stuck in a tree well (the hollow in snow at the base of a tree) is a surprisingly common cause of injuries and fatalities in winter recreation.

Let someone know where you are going

Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return (and call them when you do return!).


What To Watch For: Frostbite


People playing or working outdoors during the winter can develop frostbite and not even be aware that they have.  There is often no pain associated with the early stages of frostbite, so look for these warning signals:

First, the skin may feel numb and become flushed. Then it turns white or grayish-yellow. Frostbitten skin feels cold to the touch.

If frostbite is suspected, move the victim to a warm area. Cover the affected area with something warm and dry. Never rub it!

Then get to a doctor or hospital as quickly as possible.


What To Watch For: Hypothermia


Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause hypothermia, especially in children and the elderly.

Watch for these symptoms:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Exhaustion
  • Uncontrollable shivering, followed by a sudden lack of shivering

If the persons body temperature drops below 95 degrees F, get emergency medical assistance immediately!  Remove wet clothing, wrap the victim in warm blankets and give warm, non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated liquids until help arrives.


Winter Sports Safety

Winter Sport SafetyNorth America offers an abundance of sports activities during the winter season. From skiing and snowboarding to ice climbing, hiking and other outdoor adventures, people of all ages should follow the safety rules of the specific sport.

1. Before you head out, make sure that all of your equipment is in proper working order.  A well-fitting certified helmet will help provide a safer wintertime experience whether you are skiing, sledding, snowboarding or skating.

2. Dress in multiple, lightweight layers to stay warm and dry while enjoying the outdoors.

3. Be prepared for any type of weather condition you might end up in. Check the weather forecast!

4. If you are heading into the backcountry, never travel alone. You should always let someone know your route and estimated time of return.

5. Skiers and snowboarders should go on runs that are appropriate for their ability. Stay in control at all times and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects. Obey all posted signs and warnings, those "out of bounds" signs are there for a reason!

6. No matter what sport you participate in, always stay focused on the activity and the terrain you are on.  Remember to rest when you are tired.

7.  Carry a backpack with essential items: an extra jacket, extra fleece type layer, knife, headlamp, water, water proof matches, fire starter (such as cotton), extra gloves etc.