By Noah Haber, High Peaks Information Center Staff
Getting outside during the winter yields a different type of beauty and appreciation for the natural world. This is grounded by the harsh and humbling conditions these months brings upon us. Consistent subzero temperatures, bare rock and vegetation coated in rime ice, hurricane force wind speeds (sometimes even in excess of 100 mph!), blizzards and ice storms, are just some of the frequent and marvelous hazards exhibited in the winter months in the Adirondacks.
Recognizing the heightened risks of outdoor recreation during the winter is paramount to the overall safety and success of the adventure you wish to set out on. For first-time winter recreators, figuring out where to start or how to prepare for such an endeavor can be a daunting and difficult task. Here are three important questions to ask yourself before you head out to make your trip safe and fun for everyone involved.
Did we pick a hike that’s appropriate for all members of our group?
Starting off, it is important to identify the skill level and physical ability of all group members and design an itinerary appropriate for everyone. This may seem obvious, but it is worth asking yourself “Is this something that everyone in my group can do safely and have fun doing?”
If there are people in your group who have very little winter experience it is recommended that you start with something smaller and shorter so they can practice snowshoeing or using micro-spikes. Snowshoeing is pretty intuitive, but it’s not always enjoyable when you are doing it the first time on a hike, particularly if that hike is already challenging for you and your party. Additionally, starting small will also allow you to identify issues with your packing or layering that you might have missed while preparing at home. This way, if something goes wrong, you aren’t too far from the trailhead or a safe bailout point.
What is the weather forecast?
In the days leading up, the night before, and morning of, remember to check the weather and keep an eye out for any warnings or hazards. Being caught in bad weather, such as a white out, which happens frequently in the alpine zone in winter, can be a disorienting and dangerous situation.
Checking the weather in advance of your trip will ensure you’re aware of the conditions and can help you avoid a perilous scenario. If the summit forecast is calling for exceedingly high winds and snowfall it might be best to postpone the trip a day or two or choose a hike at lower elevations. It is also important to be aware of the spontaneity of weather at higher elevations. Conditions can change rapidly in high elevations and weather forecasts are not always completely accurate, so it is always best to be prepared for the worst.