Although winter is not technically here until Dec. 21, for those who recreate and work in the winter backcountry, winter is here! Snow cover is well established on the mountain peaks and beginning to accumulate on the valley floor.
With that said, if traveling in the winter backcountry this season, we need to start thinking about what gear we will need to make our winter outings safe and enjoyable.
First and foremost on the “Need List” is training, knowledge and experience matched for whatever backcountry winter activity we plan on pursuing this winter.
If you are unfamiliar with winter backcountry travel, but know you want to explore the outdoors this season, take some basic winter-related outdoor education courses before venturing out. These types of courses are critical for ensuring a safe, fun and successful outing. For those of you who are experienced winter backcountry travelers, it is time to get “dialed in” by taking some winter skills refresher courses.
There are many local opportunities to pursue winter-orientated education and training for all levels of expertise. Information can be obtained from local outdoor retailers, guide services, Flathead Valley Community College or online.
As for gear, it is critical to not only have proper gear but properly functioning gear. Before you head out this winter, check batteries and all other gear to make sure it is functioning properly, nothing has broken or been misplaced over the summer. As for battery dependant items: replace all batteries and make sure that if you left batteries in a device over the off-season (first mistake ever) that the batteries haven’t corroded and potentially damaged the device.
If you’re purchasing new or used gear this season for your winter endeavors, it is again critical for the sake of safety and enjoyment that you know what gear to purchase for the activity you are pursuing. Although a lot of this gear can be purchased online, seriously consider local options. Our local outdoor retailers are well stocked with specialized gear for winter utilization and their employees can personally assist you with gear-related questions, fitting and function that will work best for you this season.
On a final note about winter gear: it is important to remember that regardless of what high-tech, wiz-bang gear you are using this winter, all of it is designed to be utilized as a tool. In order to utilize these tools properly we need to have proper training and decision-making skills to know how, when and where to best employ these tools for maximum efficiency.
Have a great season, thanks for listening and be safe out there!
Ted Steiner has been involved with outdoor education, winter rescue and avalanche-related work since the mid-1980s. He continues to work professionally as a local avalanche educator and forecaster.
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