It may be spring, but there’s still snow in many places across the globe! If you have the luxury of late season snow access, you should take advantage of it, but know that there are factors you need to consider to stay safe.
Thank you to our friends at the Washington Trails Association for highlighting this list from Mountaineering Educator Mike Zawaski.
Snow travel: a good skill to add to your backpack
- A snowy pass can provide a significant and dangerous obstacle for the unprepared hiker traveling in the high country. Even if you don’t aspire to climbing peaks, it is definitely worth your time to learn how to kick good steps and travel with an ice ax.
Hiking on snow can reduce your impact
- Having the confidence to travel on snow allows you reduce your impact by walking on snow instead of around it, a practice which can create additional trails and destroy vegetation.
Travel on firm snow reduces risk from avalanches
- Late spring and early summer can be a great time to climb snowy routes on peaks, but avalanches are still a hazard. Reduce your chances of getting caught in an avalanche by climbing and descending your route while the snow is still firm. For east-facing routes, this may mean completing much of your ascent before sunrise.
Look ahead to spot hazardous transition zones
- Common places where falls occur are transition zones. These are places where the terrain or characteristics of the snow changes and climbers fall because they fail to adjust their equipment or technique. Avoid these hazards by looking ahead and preparing for changes before you encounter them. For example it may be much easier to put on your crampons on a low angle section instead of waiting until you are starting to slip because the snow is too steep or too firm.
How to kick steps in snow
- Kicking steps with your feet is more complex than most books make it seem. The two tips I commonly offer are to 1.) choose the step that gets the most of your boot’s sole in contact with the snow (if you’re worried about falling) and 2.) not to tiptoe around when kicking hard-firm snow.
Old footsteps can be icy: you may be better kicking your own steps
- Beware of following an old set of footsteps across a snowy slope. These may be very icy, especially on a cold morning. If you are proficient kicking steps you are much more likely to find a better route or travel more safely across pre-existing steps.
Getting technical: crampons, ice axes and rope teams
- While ski poles or trekking poles may help you maintain balance while kicking steps across a slope, an ice ax is superior for helping you self-arrest if you fall. Self-arresting with ski poles is possible, but it is much more difficult and you will slide further than if you are using an ice ax.
Crampons: only to be used on firm snow and ice
- Crampons are an amazing tool that give your feet traction, but they should only be used on very firm snow and ice. The danger on soft snow is that snow will build up under your boot so that your points fail to stick which may cause you to fall.
To learn more about kicking steps, using crampons, and using an ice ax for going up, traversing, resting, and descending on snow, check out Mike Zawaski’s Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow.
Spring brings the opportunity to snowshoe higher and deeper into the backcountry. It’s also a time of high avalanche activity from wet snow and persistent slab slides. Now is a great time to have a look at late season snow conditions and be reminded of the BCA’s five backcountry basics and avalanche safety for snowshoers.
- Get the Gear. Before you head into the backcountry, get the avalanche safety gear you need, at minimum a beacon, probe and shovel. Carry all required backcountry safety gear, on your body, all the time to help you find a buried partner and be found yourself. Consider two-way radios to communicate should your group get separated, as well as navigation and first aid equipment.
- Get the Training. Take an avalanche course to learn the backcountry basics, including how to use your avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel in event an avalanche rescue is necessary.
- Get the Forecast. Check your local avalanche center website for weather and avalanche advisories.
- Get the Picture. Research and inspect your route, look for signs of recent avalanche activity, identify and avoid dangerous terrain, communicate with your group and always make a plan ‘B’ with alternate terrain options.
- Get out of Harm’s Way. Limit your snowshoe group’s exposure to backcountry hazards and dangerous terrain.
Backcountry Access has some great educational avalanche avoidance videos and avalanche rescue videos that every backcountry snowshoer should watch.
Atlas Backcountry Access Spring Giveaway
To entice our snowshoe community to travel safely in the backcountry, Atlas Snow-shoes and BCA invite you to enter our spring giveaway contest!
[ ENTER CONTEST HERE ]
Enter for a chance to win your choice of a set of Atlas Montane or Atlas Endeavor snowshoes, plus a Backcountry Access DTS avalanche rescue package, complete with avalanche beacon, probe & shovel. Prize package MSRP value $530. Enter by Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
New registrations received by 11:59 PM MTN on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 will be eligible to win, US and Canada only. Winner will be selected and contacted by April 30, 2017. All fields must be completed for valid contest entry. You agree to opt-in and to receive Backcountry Access and Atlas Snow-shoes email by entering this contest. Company reserves the right to substitute prizes of similar value based on availability. See contest rules.
The “Access” in Backcountry Access means a lot more than just getting after it in the mountains. Since 1994, BCA avalanche safety gear has been designed to make backcountry riding and snow safety more accessible: more widely available, affordable and easy-to-use. The “A” in access also stands for access for all backcountry users, no matter what the means of travel. BCA dedicates discretionary spending towards promoting avalanche education, not restricting access to the backcountry. For more information or just to get stoked, visit backcountryaccess.com.