Winter Recreation Safety Tips

Snowflakes are falling.  You’ve switched out tennis shoes for ski boots. Your hot chocolate consumption has shot up at an alarming rate. Wintertime is in full swing.  The coldest months of the year offer some sensational recreating opportunities; many Washingtonians will head out to ski, snowshoe, and hike in the frigid temps. But icy, snowy, subfreezing conditions can present serious risks to even the most experienced recreationists.

Aside from bringing along the “10 essentials” we’ve put together a list of additional considerations to keep in mind before heading out on your next snowy excursion.

Don’t recreate alone. You might fancy yourself a lone wolf, but with a heightened risk of injury due to cold temperatures and finicky weather conditions, you’re better off adventuring with a buddy. At the very least, make sure you let someone know your location, plan, and estimated time of return before heading out.

Opt for wool. Wool is a natural, breathable, moisture-wicking fabric. It simultaneously absorbs and repels water, wicking sweat from your skin and resisting moisture from the external, like rain or snow. That means it keeps you nice and warm and – most importantly – dry. Basically, it’s a magical material for cold weather.

Invest in foot traction devices. Snow and ice-covered trails present a serious danger of slipping and falling. Adding crampons or ice cleats to your standard winter recreation outfit can reduce the risk of injuries on days when the trails are unexpectedly precarious.

Take short breaks. Your body begins to drop in temperature when you stop moving. Rather than taking a long lunch or water break that would keep you stationary in the cold for an extended amount of time, take short, frequent breaks to keep your body moving.


Dress in layers. Bringing along multiple of clothing that you can remove and add will keep you warm and reduce overheating. You should always wear three distinct layers: a base layer for moisture-wicking and insulation, a mid-layer for added warmth, and an outer layer for wind and moisture protection.

Eat up. Forget your diet; winter recreation is the perfect excuse to eat all the caloric foods. Trudging through snow burns calories quickly, so don’t underestimate the amount of food you should bring. Snack throughout the day and eat portable, high-calorie meals to keep your body warm and your energy levels high.

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Study avalanche “red flags.” The majority of avalanche victims unintentionally trigger the slide themselves due to traveling near unstable snow slopes. Stay alert when traveling in avalanche country – a rapid temperature increase, heavy precipitation, cracking or collapsing snow can be precursors to a slide.  Check before heading into the backcountry.

Know the signs of hypothermia. Involuntary shivering, a loss of motor skills, and a change in mood or confusion are the first signs that something is wrong. If you’re getting cold, put on more dry clothing and eat some high-carb foods. Don’t hesitate to turn back to shelter.

Don’t forget to hydrate. You probably won’t be craving water like you would on a hot summer day, but it’s important to keep your body hydrated throughout your adventure. Your metabolism is like a furnace for your body—keep it fueled with plenty of water and food and it will produce warmth.

Recognize your limits. If you don’t have experience with winter recreation, take it easy. Stick to populated areas that you’re familiar with. Take trips with more experienced winter recreationists to learn, but always be clear about your comfort level and skill set.