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Make your list and check it twice: tips for winter recreation

Tips & Considerations for Being Prepared for the Next Season of Outdoor Fun 

As humans we know the change is going to happen.  It does every year.  It is a constant of nature.  If you are like me, however, the change can still take you by surprise.  The transitions from winter to spring, spring into summer and even summer into fall seem to be gradual and unnoticeable.  The cold winter mornings gradually dissipate as temperatures rise and the outside world begins to bud and sprout forth a myriad of natural colors.  Before long the heat and lazy days of summer are upon us with the return to the cooler days of fall not far behind.  The mornings start to take on a new freshness as the temperatures gradually decrease with the afternoons staying comfortably warm.  All of nature begins to show its preparation for the next season with leaves turning and falling; creatures putting on that extra layer of sustenance or finding dens for an extended nap; and plants draining of color to drift into dormancy.  It all seems to happen without comprehension of what is to come, until…BAM!  We wake up to our first snowfall of the year and frigid temps.  Winter has arrived and the scramble to get skis tuned; fat bike tires inflated; ice tools sharpened; and find our stored winter shells, gloves, hats, etc. is on.  Lulled into complacency by the previously soft transitions from season to season, the sudden and abrupt onset of winter, can leave us unprepared to take full advantage of one of the best seasons of the year.

For years, the brusque transition from fall to winter shocked me into action, as I scrambled to get my gear, body, and mind dialed in for the fun that was to come.  As I progressed in my profession as an outdoor educator and enthusiast of all things outdoors, I began to develop a system to combat my lack of preparedness. No longer am I caught off-guard when the flakes start falling.  Rather, my thermoses are prepped for hot drinks; my equipment is tuned; my body is fit for long days of movement in the winter environment; and my mind is sharp for managing the hazards the season presents.  My preparation begins with the first cool morning of fall and the ensuing tinges of color changing in the trees outside my kitchen window.  Winter is coming and it is time to prepare for it.

Dial in Your Gear Often, our winter gear gets hastily shuttled away into storage bins and to the back of our garages, as mountain bikes, rafts and other warm weather gear take precedence. The broken buckle on the ski boot or the blown stitching on the winter glove gets forgotten until the big surprise rears its head 6 months in the future. Image via Brett Davis   Sliding Equipment—All skis, snowboards and appropriate boots are brought out and inspected.  Edges are sharpened.  Bases waxed.  Bindings tested for proper function.  Boot liners, buckles, power straps and laces are checked (ski boot liners can take a beating through a season with holes rubbed in high friction places within the boot shell).  Ski pole tips are replaced if needed.   Avalanche Safety Equipment—Fresh batteries are placed in all avalanche beacons.  Software updates for the beacon are downloaded and a function check is performed to ensure the beacon is operating properly.  Avalanche shovels and probes are inspected and tested through deployment.  Ski pack buckles, zippers, and other pack specifics (ice axe loops, snow safety equipment pocket, etc.) are checked.  If utilizing an airbag pack, the proper functioning of the system is checked and tested.  Does the electronic system charge properly?  Is the compressed air cannister holding air?  Is the airbag trigger attached properly and working?  I make it habit to refamiliarize myself with the pack functions and deploy the airbag in the comfort of my home prior to heading into the backcountry.  These devices are highly effective but can only achieve their purpose if working properly.   Image via Brett Davis   Ice Climbing Equipment—Ice tools, screws, and crampon front points are sharpened.  Picks replaced if needed.  Dry treated ropes are inspected.  Climbing hardware such as quick draws, belay devices and spare carabiners are organized into my ice climbing kit.  There is nothing so frustrating as getting to the base of a climb and realizing your belay device is still on your summer climbing harness.   Fat Bikes/Winter Commuter Bikes—Is your bike in need of a tune up from the local bike shop?  Studded or larger tires (for increased float when riding in snow) need to be put on.  Cold weather additions such as pogies (gloves that are attached to the handlebar) or fenders for those slushy days are readied.  Clipless pedals are switched out for flats which allow for riding in winter boots.  Bike lights are inspected, tested and charged.   Image via Brett Davis   Soft Goods—Dig out those hats, gloves, jackets, pants and other layers from the storage bin.  Inspect them all and replace if necessary.  Utilize Nixwax or a similar product to revitalize the water proofness of all outwear.  Recondition leather ski gloves to make them season worthy.  Check your winter eyewear (goggles, sunglasses) for scratches.  Inspect your helmet buckles and padding.   Ideally, the early fall is the time to be proactive on prepping your equipment for the upcoming season.  As I have learned from experience, waiting until the day you need them is too late to deal with that forgotten broken binding or other piece of gear.  By starting early, you give your local outdoor store time to get parts ordered, skis tuned, etc.  Heck, if you are really on it, a lot of the above prep should take place at the close of the previous season when putting everything away.  Then, when the new season comes around the prep time is shortened through some cursory inspections.  Additionally, if needing to replace gear, the close of the winter season is a great time to do so.  Season-ending sales are often the norm as retailers look to dump their stock to make room for the upcoming greatest and latest.  Amazing deals can be found for those who are far-sighted.

Dial in Your Body Just as I prime my equipment for the upcoming season, I begin to get my body prepped for the specific rigors that the winter environment and its respective activities present.  This preparation takes the form of incorporating activity specific exercises into my regular weekly workout routine (i.e. wall sits, jumping lunges, and squats for downhill skiing; pack carries and step ups for backcountry skiing; ice tool pull-ups and lock offs for ice climbing, and so on).  A quick google search for your specific sport will yield countless exercise recommendations and free work-out plans.  Additionally, there are backcountry sport specific fitness plans that can be purchased on-line.  Also, check in with your local gym as they may offer fitness classes designed specifically for the outdoor individual. Along with building my fitness for the impending winter season, I also start thinking about how to maintain proper nutrition for the winter environment.  One of the biggest impediments of performing well in the cold, is dehydration.  When physically working hard in frigid temperatures, the body loses a lot of fluid through increased respiration.  This combined with a reduced desire to drink water while in the cold, is an equation for becoming dehydrated.  To combat this performance sucker, I find my thermoses and think about some tasty drinks I will consume during the winter (i.e. tea, soup broth, etc.).  I have found that my body is more apt to take in fluids when they are warm and tasty.  I tend to stay away from highly sugar laden drinks or caffeinated beverages, because they have significant negatives with regards to my performance.  Regardless, you should do what is right for you and put some consideration into what you are going to drink while landing that ultimate powder shot or smoothly skating along the groomed cross country ski trail.

Beyond fluids, what I eat along the winter trail is also an important consideration.  Our bodies tend to burn more calories than the norm when in the winter environment, as staying warm is the body’s number one priority.  With that stated, find what works for you.  Soft foods such as good fats and proteins that are high in calories and slow burning work well for me.  I choose my energy bars wisely, as I find it hard to choke down one that is frozen and rock hard. Again, my physical preparation begins in the early fall, and it is done with intent.  My goal is to be ready with my sport specific fitness right out of the gate. In doing so, I know that I will maximize the enjoyment of playing in the snow and ice.

Dial in Your Mind The winter environment provides some unique risks that are not found during the warmer times of year.  Good risk management originates in thinking ahead.  For example, the risk of cold exposure can be mitigated with thoughtfulness given to the appropriate clothing and layer selection for the activity you are pursuing. For those recreating in avalanche terrain whether backcountry skiing, ice climbing, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, etc., the risks are real and can be substantial.  Hopefully, anyone who plans on playing in the mountains where avalanches are a risk has taken an avalanche safety course.  This should be an essential prerequisite for all wishing to understand what is involved when making the choice to recreate in avalanche terrain.

Though I have years of experience teaching avalanche education and working in such terrain, I still make it a part of my preseason system to prepare myself for managing the risks ahead.  Beyond checking my avalanche safety equipment, I begin reviewing my training curriculum.  Pulling the textbooks off the shelf and refreshing their contents in my avalanche brain.  Watching videos on how to properly perform a beacon search or perform a snow pit test.  Attending an avalanche workshop to learn the latest break throughs in snow science and practice my avalanche safety skill set.  Additionally, I begin watching my local mountain weather. Noting the first snow fall and the weather patterns between each time the flakes fall.  I am building my knowledge of the local snowpack, which allows me to anticipate the avalanche problems that I will encounter when I get out there.  As late fall rolls around, I make sure to subscribe to the daily emails from my local avalanche center.  Creating access to the knowledge of avalanche experts is crucial in my preparation for the season and will remain that way for its entirety. In doing all the above and by taking the time to think about winter hazards, I am laying the foundation of a strong risk management plan that is grounded in experience, relevant and up to date information, and a solid decision-making framework.  Given what is on the line when avalanches are in play, I prefer not to wait until the last minute to begin such preparation.  It could be the difference between a great or tragic day in the mountains.

Final Thoughts As I type these words and glance out my office window to a warm and sunny late fall day, I feel confident that I am prepared to venture out into the snow whether it comes weeks from now or tomorrow.  My gear is ready.  My winter fitness prep is on course.  And my avalanche brain is tuned up.  This internal assurance hasn’t always been the case for me.  It has evolved through too many years of being behind the eight ball and taken by surprise when the new season ushered in with a bang.  During those winters, I was playing catch up and didn’t really find my rhythm until late into the season.  Dealing with improperly tuned equipment; an unfit body; and an incomplete risk management plan put me behind and thus, compromised the enjoyment factor of my favorite season. Famed home run hitter, Roger Maris, is quoted as saying, You hit homeruns not by chance, but by preparation.  Well, here’s to knocking it out of the park this winter.  I am ready to enter the arena.  Stand at the plate.  And crush any snowballs that mother nature throws my way. Let it snow!     

Brett Davis

Brett Davis is the director of the Outdoor Pursuits program at Fort Lewis College.  For 20+ years he has worked in collegiate outdoor recreation, creating opportunities for college students to experience the lessons that our planet’s deserts, mountains, rivers, and oceans have to offer.  As an avid adventurer himself, Brett can often be found seeking out those lessons on his own time via human powered means.  He can be reached on Instagram at @brettrdavis(Se abre en una ventana nueva) or through his website, abre en una ventana nueva).