How to Survive Mountain Snow

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Tips for Surviving a Snowy Trip to the Mountains

Skiing, snowshoeing, snow camping: the lure of the mountains is strong this time of year. There’s nothing like fresh snow, clean crisp air, and truly remote wilderness for reconnecting with the best things about winter.

But the allure of the mountains in winter also comes with plenty of risk. Having fun in the snow can turn disastrous quickly, if you aren’t prepared.

Here are a few key tips for how to survive mountain snow. Exploring the mountains is inherently risky. These tips are just a starting point, and you should definitely do plenty of research and preparation before heading up the mountain. However, if you do choose to brave the elements at high altitudes this winter, this set of tips is an absolute must.

Be Smart Before You Go

The best steps for wilderness survival happen before you even hit the trail. It’s never a good idea to set off in the woods by yourself, and this is even more crucial when you’re dealing with winter weather. Make sure you and your buddies have informed someone back home of your plans: where you intend to be, how long you’ll be gone, and when they can expect to hear from you. If you do get lost, they can pass all this helpful information on to rescue teams.

Watch the weather report closely before you go, and be realistic about what you can handle. A winter storm means more than just snow: it means wind and lack of visibility, which can be fatal on a snowy mountain. Check as well for avalanche conditions, especially rapidly-rising temperatures. If you have doubts about the weather, stay home or postpone your trip.

Stay Warm and Dry

Once you’re out in the elements, two cardinal rules of snow survival are to stay warm, and—equally important—dry.

Wear layers, enough to keep you warm but not enough to overheat. If you sweat, your clothes will be wet and you’ll end up chilled. Give yourself plenty of breathing room as well—tight clothes can restrict your circulation and put you at increased risk of frostbite. Layers with plenty of ease will trap air, keeping you warmer, provide ventilation to stay dry, and let your blood circulate. When your clothes do get wet, dry them over a fire or stove as soon as possible.

Your feet and hands are usually the most vulnerable to frostbite. Bring extra socks and gloves, and be especially careful to keep them warm and dry.

If you’re camping, make sure to sleep safely. The best way to stay warm and dry is with a down sleeping bag and a tent. If you don’t have a tent, make sure never to sleep directly on the ground. Your body heat will melt the snow below and you’ll wind up drenched and freezing. Instead, lay a tarp, extra clothes, or even a pile of pine boughs under your bag.

If you have to build a shelter out of snow or branches, build the entrance at a downward slope from the rest of the shelter. This will allow moisture from the inside of the shelter (from melting snow), to run out through the entrance and away from you and your gear.

Lighting a fire or a camp stove in your shelter might sound like a great idea, but it usually isn’t. Without adequate ventilation, you’re at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and you’ll create a soggy, dangerous mess by melting the inside of your shelter too fast. A single candle (plus a ventilation hole) is usually enough to heat a snow shelter.

Don’t Eat Snow

If you run out of drinking water, you can rely on melted snow. However, you must melt it first, and resist any temptation to just eat snow directly. Aside from the risk of contamination, snow simply won’t hydrate you. It’s mostly air, and cold air at that. Instead of quenching your thirst, eating snow will drain your body’s heat, and you’ll have to waste energy heating it up internally. You’d have to eat about ten quarts of snow to yield one quart of water! Obviously, the risk of hypothermia is greater than any benefit you’d get from the snow’s moisture.

If you must use snow for water, melt it over a fire or campstove first. Ideally, bring it to a boil to make it safer to drink. However, if a fire or campstove isn’t a possibility, there is another option. Put snow in a black container in direct sunlight to use solar energy to melt it.

Travel in One Direction During the Day, Rest at Night

If you get lost, or run behind schedule, you might be tempted to press on through the night. Don’t. To stay alive in the snow, you need rest to replenish your energy stores. Plus, when you travel in the dark, you increase your risk of getting lost.

Take advantage of daylight to do your hiking, and set up camp as soon as it gets dark. If you lose your trail or get lost, travel in one direction only to avoid getting turned around. The best thing to do if you’re lost is to find a river or stream and follow it downstream.

If you find yourself on a snowy mountain, these tips can definitely help. What are your tips for winter survival?

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Stephan Aarstol is an American internet entrepreneur and author of the book The Five Hour Workday, which is based on Tower Paddle Boards' invention of the 5-hour workday in 2015 that would eventually spread the idea to over 10 million people worldwide. Since founding Tower in 2010, it has gone on to become one of America's fastest growing companies and Mark Cuban's best investment in the history of Shark Tank. Tower has diversified into a direct to consumer electric bike company called Tower Electric Bikes, a beachfront event venue called Tower Beach Club, and, where consumers can shop all the world's finest direct to consumer brands from one easy place.