Checklist for leading winter trips

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Here's a bunch of things to think about in addition to the normal preparations! Get out & enjoy the snow!

Daylight

There’s less of it, plan accordingly. Turn around if needed!

Weather

Check the hourly forecast right before you go, to see predicted highs and lows, and how the weather will change over the course of your trip.

To get an idea of what snow/ice conditions are probable to be like, check out NOAA's historic snow database. **Better yet, check out NOAA's real-time snow pack data and modeling site (this links to the Mt. Washington output, but you can select other sites across the state and nation).

Trail conditions

It’s ideal to ask someone who has been to the mountain what the trail was like (how deep was the snow, and how packed? Icy? What gear did they use?). That said, trail conditions can change rapidly.

A great place to access community knowledge of current trail conditions is the Appalachian Mountain Club's White Mountain Guide Online - it requires a subscription, but is well worth it. If you are a Leader or Heeler (prospective leader) in CnT, WMG Online can be accessed through the club's account.

Food

Pack LOTS. Trippees will eat way more in the winter. Generally the more strenuous a time they are having, the more they’ll eat (even if you’re leading an “easy” hike, individuals might be having a strenuous time). Some food (eg Nutella) freezes into a totally useless brick when it’s cold. Great cold weather foods: peanut butter, fig newtons, granola bars, sesame crack (from the bulk section of the Coop), yogurt raisins, chocolate covered raisins, trail mix, oreos, pitas, tortillas, Twix, Snickers, cream cheese, bagels, and of course, Cabot.

Gear

Provide a detailed packing list, and mention they can rent anything from DOR *for free*. And by detailed, I mean excessively so. Describe everything & include some explanation. For example: “hardcore mittens/gloves: these need to be water resistant & windproof, and it’s a good idea to bring liners or double up, for example, a windproof synthetic glove on the outside with fleece gloves on the inside. Mittens are warmer than gloves.” Your trippees will appreciate this. Don’t forget to say ABSOLUTELY NO COTTON ALLOWED EVER. Seriously. When cotton gets wet, it stays wet and provides absolutely no warmth. Even on a sunny cold day, you’ll sweat, and your cotton long underwear will be useless.

  • Know how & when to use gaiters, crampons and snowshoes. It’s great to demonstrate to your trippees how to put these on long before you actually need to. You don’t want to be above treeline in howling wind trying to teach everyone how to put on their crampons. That said, you don’t want to be above treeline in howling wind putting on crampons anyways. It’s ok to backtrack!
  • Check the DOR gear & bring extras!! Individually check for broken gaiter buckles, holes in gaiter fabric, dysfunctional poles, and crampons that have unadjustable bolts. If you are bringing crampons, bring some tools (pliers on a leatherman work great) for tightening/loosening.
  • Bring extra everything! Extra fleeces, socks, mittens, hats & neckwarmers (you can get them from DOR).
  • First aid kit: make sure Mike gives you hand and toe warmers.
  • Emergency supplies: you as a leader should have compass, rope, map, phone (turned off-batts die quickly in the cold), headlamp, knife, matches/lighter, winter sleeping bag & stove with you for emergencies on any substantial backcountry hike.

For a sample gear list, see Sample Winter Gear List

Do you SKI as well as hike?

If so, check out this spreadsheet of DOCers who have 2011 season passes - and try to carpool!