Winter Safety & Ethics

Essentials for Winter Travel

  • Map and compass
  • Flashlight
  • Matches, fire starter and knife
  • Extra food and water
  • Ski repair kit, “ski tip, wire, screwdriver”
  • Wool clothing, at least on and preferably two layers from head to toe
  • Raingear, waterproof parka and rain pants
  • Extra clothing, i.e…wool sweaters, socks, gloves
  • Ground insulation, i.e…a small square of insolate pad big enough to sit on
  • First-aid kit
  • Sunglasses and sun lotion

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Know the area and what to expect; ALWAYS check avalanche and weather reports prior to departure.Consult maps and local authorities about high danger areas, safety information, and regulations for the area you plan to visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies.
  • Monitor snow conditions frequently. Carry and use an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel. Educate yourself by taking a winter backcountry travel course.
  • Visit the backcountry in small groups, but never alone. Leave your itinerary with family or friends.
  • Repackage food into reusable containers
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the need for tree markings, rock cairns or flagging.

Leave Word

  • Check the weather forecast and plan your trip accordingly.
  • Show a friend a map of your planned route and let him/her know when you expect to return, and Remember to notify that person upon your return.
  • Make certain each member of the group is adequately prepared for harsh winter conditions.

Lost or Injured

  • Keep calm ~ decide on a plan. Trust your compass. Backtrack if possible. If impractical, remain in pace. Stay together, if possible. If not, send at least two people for help.

  • Don’t abandon your skis. Build a fire and shelter. Stay warm by getting out of the wind; insulate yourself with a parka and other clothing (use insolite pad, branches or skis between you and the snow).

  • Mark your base camp so it is visible from the air.

  • Distress Signals - three puffs of smoke, three blasts of a whistle, three shouts, three flashes of light, three of anything that will attract attention.


Hypothermia is the result of subnormal body temperatures caused by exposure to cold. Symptoms include uncontrolled shivering, memory lapses, fumbling hands, unsteady walk, drowsiness, exhaustion and lack of concern about physical comfort. The keys to prevention of hypothermia are to stay dry, beware of the wind and don’t overexert yourself. To treat hypothermia:

Building a Fire For Winter Survival

Natural fire starters can be found in the forest including: pitch found on damaged trees and dead fuzzy moss taken from the dry side of trees. Candles make a good fire starter and commercial fire starters can be purchased from outdoor stores. Always keep your matches in a dry place (plastic zip lock bag).

  • Prevent further heat loss, actively warm and shelter the victim
  • Replace wet clothing with dry and apply heat to the victims head, neck, chest and groin. Actively warm a person using a warming fire, chemical heat pack or body heat from another person.
  • Remember HELP—Heat Escape Lessening Posture, a huddle position with knees drawn up to the body, which reduces heat.
  • Get victim out of wind and rain
  • Move victim to a campfire or inside a dry sleeping bag and skin to skin with a healthy person.
  • Give victim warm drinks. Never give them caffeine, alcohol or tobacco. These can further impair judgment, dilate blood vessels and reduce shivering, which is the body’s way of producing heat.
  • As victim recovers, give them food with high sugar content.
  • Storms

    A pleasant outing can turn into a miserable ordeal in a matter of minutes. Be prepared. Make sure you’re self-contained and able to meet all conditions that may arise. Take time to understand hypothermia or subnormal temperature of the body. Hypothermia is caused by exposure to cold and is aggravated by wet, wind and exhaustion. It is the number one killer of outdoor recreationists.