Winter Safety Guide

Most people are aware of winter's hazards. But it's easy to forget how wind, cold, snow, or whiteout can turn an outing into a tragedy. Knowledge of the area, weather, route, and the limitations of your body and equipment - plus a little common sense - can help ensure safe and enjoyable outings.

Before You Leave

Notify a responsible person of your planned route of travel. Mark it on a map. Give your planned time of departure and return. Be sure to check with that person when you get back. Get back before dark.

Where to Go

Most of the National Forest is open for winter travel; however, some parts have restrictions. These restrictions include motorized vehicle closures, avalanche area closures, and hazardous roads. General recreation maps are available from the District Ranger, Forest Supervisor, or Regional Offices.


Check local weather forecasts. Avalanches may occur at any time during the winter so call or listen to local avalanche advisories where available. Advice on avalanche conditions is also available at local Forest Service Offices.

Clothing and Equipment to Take Along

Layers of clothing which can be adjusted to prevailing conditions are best. A good quality windbreaker jacket and wind pants are excellent. Avoid tight-fitting clothes and boots which may restrict circulation. Take extra socks and gloves or mittens, warm hat, matches in a waterproof container, candle, fire starter, nylon cord, general purpose knife, high-energy food, plastic tarp, space blanket, signal mirror, first aid kit, wide tape for repairs, metal container for melting snow, map, compass, and hatchet.

Snowmobilers should be certain to have tools for emergency repairs, extra spark plugs, extra gas, emergency flares, and drive belt. Experienced snowmobilers always carry snowshoes (in case of equipment failure) as well as the normal emergency and survival gear for winter.

Food and Water

A good rule is "lightweight but loaded," meaning loaded with calories. Plan your meals to ensure a diet of high-energy foods.

Water is often difficult to find in winter. All that is available may be what you carry in containers or melt from snow. The body loses as much as 2 to 4 quarts of fluid per day under exertion. Replacement of fluid los is very important for maintaining physical condition. Eating snow provides only limited water (10 to 20 percent), drains energy, and cools the body temperature. Avoid melting snow by body contact. Travel equipped to melt snow. Save your energy.

Litter and Sanitation

Litter and debris can mar the quality of a recreation experience - particularly when viewed against a mantle of white snow. Help others enjoy winter travel in National Forests by carrying out what you carry in. Take food in easily compressed packages that require little space in your pack.

Avoid leaving human waste near any water course. If you are in a group, avoid concentrating wastes. Nature can assimilate only small quantities at a time.

On and Off the Trail

All winter travelers should:

Match trail difficulty and length of trip to your physical condition and ability. Be physically fit - Top physical condition may be required to walk out if equipment fails.

Know storm warning signs - Mountain weather is unpredictable. Pay attention to changing conditions.

Stay on safe routes and avoid avalanche terrain.

A list of marked cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails is usually available Forest Service offices.

Cross Country Skiing

Cross-country ski trails are not regularly packed or groomed. Stumps, rocks, and other obstructions are sometimes present. Ski under control.

Dogs can ruin ski tracks, especially those that have been groomed. For the benefit and enjoyment of others leave your pet at home. Dogs are not allowed on the Deschutes National Forest during the winter in areas north of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway see Map.


Travel in a group using at least two machines. Avoid sudden dips (washouts) at stream crossings and (blowouts) around the base of trees.

Sharing Routes Safely

In some areas of the National Forests, those traveling by skis, snowshoes, and snowmobiles must share the same routes and areas. The following suggestions will help provide safe routes for everyone.

Operate snowmobiles at minimum speed near skiers or snowshoers. Travel slowly until well beyond those on foot. Snowmobilers should be able to stop within half of the visible distance ahead.

Skiers and snowshoers should realize that snowmobile operators generally can't hear other approaching trail users. On steep slopes snowmobilers are generally limited to the developed trail surface, so give them the right of way. Use common courtesy and respect so that all trail users can enjoy their winter travel.

Snowmobiles are not permitted on developed ski trails used for cross-country skiing. Restrictions are posted.


There are three basic types of maps useful for winter travel in National Forests. National Forest Recreation Maps are sold at the District Ranger, Forest Supervisor, or Regional Offices of the Forest Service.

Topographic maps are available at many outdoor stores or from:

U.S. Geologic Service

Western Distribution Branch

P.O. Box 25286

Denver, CO 80225


Maps may be purchased on-line as well. Two sites that offer on-line maps sales are:

National Forest Store - The National Forest Store now offers secure on-line sales. Use this web site to purchase maps of many national forests.

USGS MAPS - The USGS website has a number of Forest Service maps that can be purchased.

On the USGS website, click Enter USGS Store; then select U.S. Forest Service Maps in the left column and follow the instructions.

Outdoor recreation and conservation organizations also make useful maps such as winter trail maps. These maps can be obtained directly from the organizations and are often available at retail stores specializing in outdoor recreation. Many are free.

Snow Avalanches

Large and small avalanches can have tremendous force and are a serious threat to winter travelers. The more time you spend in skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and other winter activities, the greater your chances are of being caught by snow avalanches. Knowledge can help you avoid being caught by a snow avalanche; it will help you survive if you are buried.

Play safe. If in doubt, stay out of avalanche hazard areas. During periods of high or extreme avalanche hazard, back-country travel is not recommended and should be confined to avalanche-free areas.

There are two principle types of snow avalanches. These are loose snow and slab avalanches.

Loose snow avalanches start at a point or over a small area. They grow and the quantity of snow involved increases as they descend. Loose snow moves as a formless mass with little internal cohesion. Loose slides which trap victims are usually triggered by other members of the party or are triggered naturally.

Slab avalanches, on the other hand, start when a large area of snow begins to slide at once. There is a well-defined fracture where the moving snow breaks away from the stable snow. There may be angular blocks of chunks of snow in the slide. Slab avalanches are often triggered by victims themselves. Their weight on the stressed snow slab is enough to break the often-fragile bonds that hold it to the slope or other snow layers.

 For more technical information please go to the Forest Service’s National Avalanche Center .