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Two Ways to Prepare for a Snowy Outing This Winter

Posted by Anna Roth at Dec 02, 2016 04:05 PM |

Snow is here! And on the steep slopes of mountains that Northwesterners love to play in, it can be as dangerous as it is enchanting. While snowshoeing is as easy as walking, there's more to it than simply stepping out on trail.

It's finally snowing! The terrain in the mountains is transforming into a totally new landscape, where boulder fields and young evergreens become fluffy Seussian sculptures and sound is muted by a blanket of crystallized water.

But snow, particularly on the steep slopes of mountains that Northwesterners love to play in can be as dangerous as it is enchanting. And though snowshoeing is as easy as walking, there's more to it than simply stepping out on trail.

snowshoeing to skyline lake kellybork
Snowshoers and backcountry skiers head up to Skyline Lake for a fun day in the snow. Photo by kellybork.

1. Know the risks

Because of the way snow changes the landscape (and therefore the terrain you're traveling through) it's important to be able to choose a good place for your ability. Scott Schell, Exectutive Director for the Northwest Avalanche Center, wrote this helpful piece for MSR's blog, The Summit Register about looking at trails though a wintertime lens. It's a good read, even if you're just looking for a short day trip with your family in the snow this winter.

For example, did you know snowshoers or hikers are more likely to be traveling through avalanche zones that backcountry skiers and snowboarders don't have to worry about as much? Scott writes:

"When it comes to snowshoeing in particular, we see a higher percentage of avalanche incidents occurring in the Track or Run-out rather than in the Start zones. This is partially due to how snowshoers move through the backcountry in contrast to skiers and splitboarders. Skiers and splitboarders’ equipment allows them to much more easily and quickly access those high-pitch Start zones. Snowshoers, on the other hand, tend to stay in lower terrain."

The piece also covers the change in danger between a summer trail and a winter route, and how your favorite summer trail may not be the best destination when there's snow on it, for reasons you might not expect. From NWAC's blog:

"Unlike the summer when the terrain above you has little to no impact on your [hike], in the winter, knowing what’s above you is paramount. Ask yourself: Are there slopes angled 30+ degrees located above me?

If so, you may not start an avalanche, but if one breaks loose, you could be in its path.

2. Take a class

Avalanche awareness classes are unequivocally the best way to get a better handle on the stability and risks in snow. This year, REI and NWAC are hosting a their Going Deep series, which focuses on teaching beginners the basics about avy awareness.

There are also a multitude of winter skills courses hosted statewide. See which one is most convenient for you.

More resources: WTA has lots of resources that can help you stay safe in the snow.

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