Venturing outdoors for winter recreation can be an exhilarating, if chilly, experience. There are many ways to get outdoors during the winter, including downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing and fat biking. In addition to exercise, these activities can relieve stress and provide a welcome change to time spent indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While these activities can be fun, the nature of the outdoor environment in winter adds extra challenge and danger to be wary of.
Colder temperatures pose an obvious threat, and wind plays an even bigger role in causing convective heat loss. The ice and snow make travel to and from recreation spots more dangerous, and orthopedic injuries more likely during recreational activities.
Avalanche is a major risk if you are heading out West to the mountains. People may lose their life due to poor preparation and choices.
The sun in winter is dangerous in different ways than in the summer. You still can get a sunburn in winter. Ultraviolet keratitis from the reflection off the snow, called snow blindness, also can be an issue.
Before you go out, here are some things to consider to ensure a safe, fun venture:
- Study your map and familiarize yourself with the area you are exploring. Don't rely on GPS. Some people say GPS stands for "gets people stuck."
- Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Also, tell them if your plans change.
- Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
- Wear a mask and practice social distancing if you plan to participate in outdoor activities around others.
Don't forget these 10 essentials to carry with you when out on the trail or ice:
- Compass or navigation equipment
- Fire-starting equipment
- Signaling devices, such as flares or a whistle
- Small snack
- Knife or multitool
- Sun protection, including sunscreen and sunglasses
- Insulation, including extra gloves or layers
- Adequate water and purification equipment
- Emergency shelter, such as a bivy sack or jumbo trash bag
Also bring a small first-aid kit. If you or another person are injured, a kit loaded with supplies can protect an open wound and prevent infection.
In general, these rules apply through all seasons, but they are perhaps even more important in the winter. The farther from civilization you plan to go and the colder it is, the more prepared you need to be.
But don't be too complacent.
Getting stuck just outside town can be just as cold and difficult as getting stuck in remote Alaska if you aren't prepared.
With a little preparation, you can safely enjoy the outdoors in the winter or, really, any time of year.