This is the weekend you’ve been looking forward to for a long time: a combination ski and snowmobile trip with your family and your best friend. The weather is perfect. It is a crisp morning with lots of blue sky and an acceptable temperature for winter–45 degrees. The plan is to take to a trail before lunch.
Knowing you have only the weekend, it is hard to fight the temptation to just get on the snowmobile and start down the first trail you see.
“But wait!” Have you asked the most important question before leaving civilization for the great unknown? That question is “What if…?”
What if the weather suddenly turns colder and a biting wind blows up? What if, while you are out on the trail, a blinding snowstorm develops and you can’t see where you’re going? What if you get lost on a trail and have to stay out all night?
OK–so these things may never happen. But then again, they might. And you need to be prepared.
What is involved in snow safety? It’s the same whether you’re skiing, hiking, driving, or just going out to shovel or blow snow from your driveway.
Map Your Plans
Let’s start with the snowmobile trail. Have you taken time to get a good map and to plan your route? Did you let someone know what route you were taking and approximately when you plan to return? (These two steps can make the difference between life and death: Rescuers will be able to find you if an emergency occurs.) Did you check the weather forecast? Do you have a compass, knife, penlight, and high-energy snack with you? Is the snowmobile filled with gas? Do you know how long it may take for that tank to be emptied? Are you taking the trail ride with others in convoy fashion so that there is someone to help in case of accident? Have you checked the map to locate stopping points along the trail if you need shelter? These are all important steps to take before leaving.
If you are traveling by car and encounter a blizzard that forces you to pull off the road, be aware that this can be a very dangerous situation. Rescue vehicles may not be able to reach you for hours. What to do?
1. Stay in the vehicle. Walking in a blizzard can be disorienting and dangerous when landmarks are blotted out by driven snow.
2. Do not exert yourself trying to get unstuck. Exertion burns up energy you may need to survive.
3. Keep a downwind window open a crack for ventilation. Snow can seal a car like a tomb.
4. If you run your engine periodically to get the benefit of the heater, be aware that carbon monoxide may enter the car. Check periodically to see that the tailpipe is free of snow, and leave that downwind window open for ventilation.
5. Mild exercise inside the car improves circulation. Don’t sit in one position too long, but do not exercise so much you become fatigued. You need energy to maintain your body temperature.
6. Always have someone in the car on watch for help. Take turns sleeping, and try to stay awake as long as you can.
7. At night, turn on the dome light inside the car to make it more visible to rescuers. Do not use the headlights unless you actually see rescuers; they draw too much energy from the battery.
8. In winter, it’s smart to carry some high-energy snacks inside the car, along with a blanket. This is especially true if you’re taking a long trip.
It’s All in the Dressing
Before going out in cold weather, you need to dress for the occasion. Loose-fitting layers of clothing are more effective than a snug, heavy sweatshirt. Outer garments should be water-repellent, and be sure to wear a hat. Mittens are better than gloves for preventing frostbite, since they allow your fingers to be in contact with each other.
Many people falsely believe that alcohol will help keep you warm in cold weather. The exact opposite is true. Alcohol is a depressant. It causes the body to lose heat. Alcohol and cold weather do not mix!
Whatever activity you are doing in winter, there is one other hazard to think about that is easily forgotten: the sun. Snow reflects the sun’s rays and can make the risk of sunburn and snowblindness critical. Always cover exposed skin with sunblock or sunscreen. Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet light.