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Whenever new snow falls, there is excitement in the air. That excitement leads adventurers into the mountains and beyond the safety of resorts. Now, before the excitement sets in is the time to refresh your winter backcountry knowledge.
If you have determined it is safe to head into the backcountry, make sure you are aware of the following information not only to be prepared but to increase your chances for an auspicious time in the backcountry.
I always recommend taking an avalanche or safety course before heading into the backcountry during winter. American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) is a great place to find avalanche courses and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) is a great course to learn medical and safety training.
Make Your Plans
Before you head into the backcountry, determine the main plan (A), a backup plan (B), an emergency plan (C), and tell someone a timeframe they can expect to hear from you by and what to do/who to call if they do not. Finally, never go into the backcountry alone and make sure your travel partners are ones you would trust with your life.
Read the Forecast
The first thing you should do the day of adventure is read the forecast to be ready for what mother nature has in store. There are many excellent resources to find your forecast, so I recommend checking in with your state's avalanche information center. Here in Colorado, I use Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) to assess the avalanche danger in the region I’m heading towards. Watch this great video by Backcountry Access (BCA) to gain a deeper understanding of reading forecasts:
Chose the Right Gear
Temperatures throughout the winter fluctuate immensely when the sun is shining and when it is not. One of the benefits of reading the forecast is you now know how to adequately choose the appropriate clothing to keep you happy. Furthermore, if have gear you haven’t used in a while or that requires batteries, try it out a day or two before to make sure it works properly.
Stay Warm and Full of Energy
You have checked the forecast and chosen the right gear, and as a result, will be warm and comfortable throughout the day. Finally, eat a substantial breakfast full of carbs and protein to keep you going. Additionally, make sure to pack a lunch full of good food to keep you going throughout the day and enough water to keep you hydrated. Food and water keep our attitudes positives, minds sharp, and bodies going.
Know How to Travel
When heading into the backcountry, you should know where you are going. Use a map, photos, and a compass to keep on the trail you have chosen and to get the big picture of where you are and where you are going. When traveling across avalanche terrain, proceed one at a time. When moving across dangerous terrain, use extreme caution or choose an alternative route. Watch this great video by Backcountry Access (BCA) about getting the big picture for a more in-depth understanding:
Identify Avalanche Terrain
Avalanche and unsafe terrain are usually identifiable by ‘flags.’ Flags are avalanche and unsafe terrain indicators such as slope angle and shape, avalanche paths, terrain traps, recent avalanches, vegetation, and more. Watch this great video by Backcountry Access (BCA) about getting out of harm’s way for a more in-depth understanding:
When traveling on avalanche terrain, know how to evaluate the snowpack and identify any dangerous layers buried below that may cause an avalanche to occur.
Now that you have spruced up your winter knowledge, you can head into the backcountry with confidence. Always take caution, play it safe, and have fun out there!