Planning a winter adventure into avalanche terrain can be done safely and within your risk threshold if the proper care and preparations are taken. There is nothing like being the first human to enter a wilderness after a fresh snow. There is a beauty and calming that only an untouched winter mountain landscape can create.
However you do winter outdoor recreation, winter in the mountains is surreal. Be smart and have fun!
- Know before you go – Always check the local avalanche forecast. Know the conditions before you go and understand the risks.
- Winter-friendly trip planning – Pick an objective that allows for safe winter travel.
- Practice basic snow safety and Always carry avalanche gear – Everyone in the group must carry a probe, beacon, and shovel. Do a beacon check with others in your group before leaving the parking lot. Always turn cell phones off – cell signal will interfere with your beacon.
- Winter Route finding – Avoid common terrain traps such as narrow canyons with steep walls, steep rocky terrain, and large exposed faces above treeline.
- Communicate with the group – When entering an area that is higher risk, be sure everyone in the group understands.
- Don’t make simple assessments – Just because an area has ski tracks in it or other people are in the area does not means it’s safe. The tracks you see may have been made my someone who knows less than you about avalanches or has a much higher risk tolerance than you.
- Listen to the snow – Whumpfing, the sound of snow collapsing on itself deep within the snowpack is a clue of instability and potentially dangerous slopes.
- Look at the snow – Look for signs of previous avalanche.
Bulges of snow on a slope may indicate cross loading.
- Always move through high risk terrain one at a time – The rest of the party actively watches from a safe spot.
- Eyes on each other – When skiing or snowboarding, do not drop in until the entire group is ready to drop in as well. The second person should not drop in until the first person is out of harms way and is ready to watch the second person.
- Dial it back – The backcountry is not a ski area. Hidden obstacles and terrain traps are everywhere. Big powder also means big tree wells, micro avalanches on small features, and no ski patrols. Play accordingly.