Winter Safety

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 insulated 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.

Pretouring Calisthenics (tips from the Professional Ski Instructors of America)

A few minutes spent limbering up before cross-country skiing will mean miles of easy skiing with minimal strain.

  • To stretch your lower torso, grasp your poles firmly and dip down into a deep telemark position. Hold the position for a minute, and then reverse legs. This exercise will stretch your groin, calves, thighs and lower back.
  • Stand back up, rest, then bend down and touch your toes. Don’t bounce up and down, just bend over and hold the position for up to a minute. This exercise will limber up the legs.
  • Returning to a standing position, grasp your poles and hold them in front of your body with your arms outstretched and stiff. Slowly, take your poles back over your head and bring them down as far as you can and hold that position for 3.5 seconds. This exercise loosens arm, shoulder and upper back muscles.
  • To prepare for the diagonal stride, take your skis off, grasp your poles, and plant them firmly in front of your body, then alternate kicking each leg to the front and rear. Exaggerate the kick as you warm up your legs.

Lost or Injured

Keep calm ~ decide on a plan. Trust your compass. Backtrack if possible. If impractical, remain in place. 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 insulated 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:

  • Prevent further heat loss, actively warm and shelter the victim
  • Replace wet clothing with dry and apply heat to the victim's 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  food with high sugar content.

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).

Know Your Symbols

The trail and parking facilities are marked with standard international activity symbols and winter activity colors. Different symbols denote the various winter activities including Nordic skiing, snowmobiling, Alpine skiing, snowplay, all-terrain vehicle use (ATV’s) and parking areas. When using the trail and parking facilities, it is important to read the posted symbols. Be aware of the colors denoting the appropriate use for the snow trails.

  • ORANGE: motorized trail (Snowmobile, ATV, etc…)
  • BLUE: Non-motorized trail (Ski, snowshoe, etc…)

Trail markers are posted so that they are visible along the entire route. However, in those locations where winter trails follow obvious road corridors, markers are less frequent. Changing weather and other conditions can reduce visibility to a few feet making markers hard to see. Be prepared to backtrack if you can no longer see the trail. Remember trails within designated wilderness are not marked with trail markers and therefore require both good route finding skills and extensive experience in winter travel.

Remember trails within designated wilderness are not marked with trail markers and therefore require both good route finding skills and extensive experience in winter travel.

Lake Ice

There are trails that lead to Marilyn Lakes, Gold Lake and other lakes. Don't go over the ice. The Cascades’ thick snow often blankets lakes, insulating them and keeping them from developing thick crusts. As a rule, don't try to determine if the ice is safe; just assume it is not.


Take time to understand how avalanches happen and what to do to avoid them. It is important to know that a slope does not have to be steep for an avalanche to occur. Many avalanches occur on slopes of less than 30 degrees. Relatively small avalanches kill 42% of their victims.

Avalanches are not caused by one particular factor, but a combination of many factors. Probably the best protection against avalanches is to avoid possible avalanche areas such as narrow clearings running down slopes or wide, open steep slopes. The safest routes around those areas are on ridge tops and slightly on the windy side away from cornices. If traveling on ridges is not possible, the next safest route is out in the valley, away from the bottom of slopes. Most Forest Service offices have information about avalanches.


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. Hypothermia is caused by exposure to cold and is aggravated by wet, wind and exhaustion. It is the number one killer of outdoor recreationists.

Suggestions for Safe Snowmobiling

  • Know Yourself: This means knowing your physical limitations. A mechanical breakdown may mean an arduous trudge through deep snow for you.
  • Know Your Machine: Keep it in top-notch condition and carry spare parts and tools.
  • Know Your Supplies: Carry extra warm and windproof clothing, first aid kit, compass, map, snowshoes or skis, spare food pack -- all the necessities of a good survival kit.
  • Know Your Route: Don’t travel alone; a party of at least three is preferable. Be extra cautious of ice travel. Frozen lakes and streams can be treacherous and deadly. Your machine can smash through slush ice hidden under snow.
  • Know Your Weather: Hold off if you know a storm is on the way. Don’t underestimate frigid weather, your speed will exaggerate it and can cause frostbite.
  • Have Someone Know Your Plans: Inform a responsible person where you are going, and when you’ll return ~ just in case. Please sign the trail registers provided.