|We often hear about skiers, hunters, and
snowmobilers lost or injured in the winter wilderness who become the
victims of tragedy. Most, if not all, of these situations could have
been avoided had the victims been "Winter Aware"- that is,
knowing about winter preparedness and being able to successfully
deal with the winter environment. Whether you're a down hill skier,
cross country skier, or other outdoor enthusiast, be prepared and
carry the tools for survival.
||BEFORE YOU GO
Check The Weather Forecast: Television,
radio, and the Forest Service have weather and snow reports. Know
what conditions exist where you're going and be aware that weather
can change rapidly in the mountains.
|CHECK YOUR EQUIPMENT
Is everything in good repair? Waterproof your boots, examine skis
and bindings for loose screws, delamination, or other problems.
Items that might be included in your daypack or fannypack are
sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses or goggles, and a basic first aid
kit. The first aid kit may include bandaids, aspirin, cravats, tape,
moleskin, safety pins, and a Swiss Army knife. An ensolite pad is
also useful, as it provides good insulation from the snow.
A SURVIVAL KIT IS A MUST!
Two large plastic leaf bags (to be used as a poncho or emergency
shelter in bad weather), waterproof matches, plastic whistle (three
short blasts means help), candle, metal cup for melting snow, dust
tape ( for repairs) can be wrapped around the top of a ski pole,
cocoa or other powdered mix, and a couple of quarters for emergency
DRESS IN LAYERS
This will keep you warm and dry. Dress for changeable weather-bring
more clothes than you think you need.
BE WELL FED & WATERED
- Wicking layer: This layer should pass moisture away
from your skin. Polypropylene or wool undergarments give you a
dry layer next to your skin for more warmth. Don't wear cotton,
cotton is cold when wet and very slow to dry.
- Insulating layer(middle layer): Polyester pile,
fiberfill, wool, thinsulate, etc. are materials that will keep
you warm and dry quickly. Down is a good insulator, but
unprotected down will wet quickly and is slow to dry.
- Protective Layer: Keeps wind, rain and snow out.
Raingear should be large enough to fit over all your clothes and
should have a hood.
- A Wool Or Polarfleece Hat Is A Must! 40 to 75 % of your
body heat is lost through the head.
- Gloves: To keep your hands warm and dry, wear
polypropylene liners underneath mittens. Carry a pair of
waterproof overmitts. Mittens are warmer than gloves.
- Feet: Dress in layers here too. A liner, then a thick
wool sock and correctly fitted boots keep your feet warm and
comfortable and prevent boot friction-also wear gaitors.
- Eat Before You Go Out: It's important to eat
continually during your outing to replace expended energy. Bring
a lunch-sugars (fruit or candy) for quick energy, carbohydrates
(crackers, breads) for storing energy, and proteins (jerky,
nuts, cheese, etc.) which become available to the body after
several hours. Stopping for snack breaks lets you take the time
to enjoy the winter environment, the reason you're there in the
- Drink Plenty Of Liquids: Bring water with you, at least
two liters per person. With strenuous exercise your body can
lose 4-5 liters of water daily. It is essential that this water
- Do Not Drink Alcoholic Beverages: Alcohol impairs
judgment and opens blood vessels at the extremities, allowing
blood to cool. This can lower your body's internal temperature.
|THE THREE W'S Before your trip tell a
responsible person the three W's: This is essential information in
the event a search is started.
- Where are you going. Do you have maps of the area?
- When are you returning (day and time).
- Who are you going with (never ski alone. Stay
|WHEN YOU GO...
IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY
- Map And Compass: Be familiar with the area you are
entering. Carry and know how to use both a map and compass.
Trust your compass reading.
- Constant Observation: Be winter aware of the weather.
People get lost most often during storms. Observe the weather
(sun, clouds, winds) and snow conditions (powder, crust, ice).
These can dictate the length of a trip or where to ski.
Continually check your surroundings, observe familiar peaks,
creeks, and other landmarks that will allow you to get back to
your starting point.
- Personal Observation: How are you or those in your
party feeling? Does gear fit correctly? Is anyone hungry, wet,
or tired? Plan the days' skiing to accommodate the lowest skiing
ability in the group. Be willing to cancel the trip if dictated
by weather or other conditions.
- Obey Ski Area Signs: These are for your well being. Ski
in-bounds only. Get an area map. Tell family/friends where
you'll be skiing and when you'll meet them. Be aware, ski with
care. Most winter backcountry searches are for downhill skiers
who have skied out of bounds.
- Ration Your Sweat, Not Your Water: Drink often. Hot
soup or tea on a cold day is a pleasure-think about carrying a
thermos. Water gathering techniques: Melt snow in black plastic;
refill half full water bottles with snow and shake bottle
vigorously; if near a creek, pack ski pole baskets with snow and
dip in water-it saturates snow like a snow cone and keeps you
from falling into the creek. If you become wet, your body can
lose heat 25 times faster than if you are dry.
- Don't Eat Snow Crust Or Ice: Especially if tired, cold,
unhealthy, or injured. It takes too much energy to convert snow
too water and it cools the body internally.
- Recognize And Avoid Snow Avalanche Terrain: Most
avalanches that bury people are triggered by those people. The
main cause of avalanches are people entering an avalanche zone
and/or a new snow fall. Learn to be "Avalanche Aware".
Call your avalanche hotline or avalanche forecaster for current
local conditions. Avoid all avalanche terrain during periods of
unstable snow. Many, but not all, avalanches occur during or
immediately after a storm and on slopes 30 degrees or steeper.
Deep and unstable snow tends to accumulate on the lee sides of
mountains and in gullies. Learn to recognize and avoid snow
avalanche terrain. Also, be aware of ice covered streams and
lakes. Crossing these can be dangerous.
When in an emergent situation, such as becoming lost, injured,
fatigued or experiencing equipment failure, remember
Stopping and implementing a plan will help you to control fear and
to avoid panic. Remain calm even if things aren't going quite to
plan. Control your thoughts.
- Stop-Stay put (if in a safe place). The farther you go,
the longer it will take searchers to find you.
- Think-Evaluate your options. What about the others in
your party-is everyone prepared? What can you do to remedy the
- Observe-Look around you and use what you see to help
the situation. Check your surroundings and your equipment.
- Plan-Formulate a plan of action.
Think Positive Your situation is only temporary. If you do get
anxious, breathe deeply, hold onto something, hug-a-tree, talk to
yourself and keep yourself busy.
|IF YOU DO BECOME LOST
Stay where you are.
IN THE EVENT OF AN INJURY...
- Make A Shelter: It should protect you from wind, rain,
snow and avalanche. Build them small, as large shelters require
more time and effort. Use materials at hand (tarps, ropes,
garbage bags, bark, branches, ice, crust, etc. Improvise ).
Emergency shelters are easy to build, but take time and effort.
Do whatever is necessary to keep warm and dry. A tree is the
best type of shelter since it is already half built. Select a
tree well that is out of the wind and has limbs drooping to the
snow. Add more limbs, bark, tarp, garbage bags or slabs of snow
for the roof and build up snow for the sides. Insulate the floor
with boughs, pack, etc. Keep off the snow. Face the shelter's
entrance east for morning sun and don't hide from search
parties. Trenches, fallen trees, rock outcroppings and caves
also offer protection.
- Make Signals to Help Others Find You: Cross your skis
and poles and stamp out a trail in four directions from your
shelter. Also, stamp SOS in the snow. Any signal in three's
(such as shouting or whistling) means emergency. Fires create
smoke in the daytime and a light source at night. Don't waste
energy or get wet. Try to make yourself big and obvious to
HYPOTHERMIA IS A DEADLY CONDITION...
- 1. Monitor breathing. Keep the airway open.
- 2. Check for heart beat. Is CPR required?
- 3. Check for bleeding. Usually the most effective way to stop
bleeding is direct pressure on the wound and elevation above the
- 4. Keep the victim warm, dry and out of the wind. Treat for
- 5. Immobilize broken or badly sprained limbs.
- 6. Seek help.
Hypothermia is a lowering of the core temperature of the body. It is
easier to prevent hypothermia than to treat it in the field.
THE WARNING SIGNS OF HYPOTHERMIA ARE
- 1. Wear proper clothing, dress in layers.
- 2. Stay dry. Wet clothes, especially cotton, are useless.
Don't get caught wearing killer jeans. Wear a wool hat.
- 3. Eat high energy foods and drink plenty of liquids.
- 4. Do not become overly fatigued, rest often.
IF LEFT UNTREATED, HYPOTHERMIA WILL KILL... Treatment of
- 1. Shivering.
- 2. Loss of coordination and the ability to do simple tasks.
- 3. Disoriented or confused attitude. As one of the symptoms of
hypothermia is a reduction of mental ability, you may not notice
the onset in yourself. It is very important to carefully observe
the others in your party.
- 1. Get the victim out of the wind and elements
- 2. Prevent heat loss by getting the victim in warm, dry
clothes (your own if necessary) or a pre-warmed sleeping bag.
Get into the bag with the victim (both unclothed). Insulate the
victim from the ground.
- 3. Give warm liquids and sugars/carbohydrates for food.
- 4. Continually assess their condition.
The preceding information contains many useful tips. You should,
however, prepare a checklist tailored to your personal needs.
Tahoe Nordic Search And Rescue Team, Inc. An
all-volunteer group dedicated to skiing and mountaineering safety
P.O. Box 7703 Tahoe City, CA 96145
- Downhill Skiers should carry a survival kit, hat, gloves,
sunglasses, sunscreen, and a candy bar.
- Snowmobilers should carry goggles, a basic tool kit, and spare
- As your level of activity in the winter environment increases,
you may want to improve your techniques and knowledge. Further
information can be obtained from the following texts:
- Map & Compass Use--Be An Expert With Map And Compass by
- Avalanches--Avalanche Handbook by Ronald Perla; ABC's Of
Avalanche Safety by Edward La Chapelle; The Avalanche Book by
Betsy R. Armstrong.
- Winter Survival--Tom Brown Jr.'s Field Guide To Wilderness
Survival by Tom Brown Jr., Surviving The Unexpected Wilderness
Emergency by Gene Fear.
- First Aid--American Red Cross Advanced First Aid &
Emergency Care; Medicine For Mountaineering by James R.
Wilkerson, MD; Hypothermia, Frostbite & Other Cold Injuries
by Wilkerson, Bangs and Hayward; Medicine For The Outdoors by
Paul S. Auerbach, M.D.
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