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"The 10 Essentials" - Winter Edition

Updated: May 19

Planning on doing some winter hiking, ski touring, hut to hut hiking and other snowy excursions to close out this winter/spring? Make sure you've got all the right gear and intel!

"The 10 Essentials": Winter Edition

Were you around this fall to catch Our Rendition of “The 10 Essentials”? If not, you might want to check it out. If so, did you love it? If not, move along, but if you did, then you’re in luck! We won’t waste your time and repeat everything found there. Refer to that post for the basics. But we’ll summarize the big stuff as review and add some winter specifics crucial for a successful day out in the backcountry for all y'all who splitboard, ski tour, cross-country ski, snowshoe, winter hike, and snowmobile 🏂⛷️

1️⃣ Route Plan: Winter time means less daylight and an earlier sunset when temps can drop rapidly, so you need an early start and a much earlier turnaround time. Bring your AIARE field book with your detailed route plans A, B & C, and avalanche report notes at the ready. 30 minutes to your “turnaround time” but want to sneak in another run? We say it’s better to be safe than lost in the woods after a quick sunset. Head to the hot tub instead. 

Mount Washington Avalanche Forecast for safe navigation in the backcountry while splitboarding
Mount Washington Avalanche Forecast

2️⃣ Weather: I’ll say it again for the people in back: STALK THE WEATHER. That means study the avy report for your area in the days leading up to your trip, and the morning of (they usually post them around 5am). I don’t care if your favorite hill got 8 inches and it’s a 32 degree bluebird pow day, if the avalanche report reads anything above Low, you better know exactly what that means and how to read a compass so you know which direction a slope is facing. Even “safe” slopes (typically slopes with a pitch under 30 degrees) are not safe at all if they lay in the path of avalanche terrain (a pitch that’s 30 degrees and above). Hate to take it here, but even the most seasoned mountaineers die every year in avalanches. Know when the mountains are calling you in, and most importantly know when they’re telling you to hit the resort instead. 

Caltopo Route Plan of a backcountry skiing day with two runs planned and the hiking route
Caltopo Route Plan

3️⃣ Navigation: I’ll repeat myself here - a physical map and compass and the knowledge to use them. Pre-made maps on apps such as CalTopo and Gaia serve as a great way to study the terrain, and help you know exactly where the hazards are so you can plan out your hiking and riding lines prior to game day. Printing them out and keeping them in waterproof sleeves is a great practice and habit to get into.

A photo of a splitboard with bindings, skins and retractable poles for safe navigation in the backcountry while splitboarding in New Hampshire
Splitboard, Skins and Retractable Poles

4️⃣ Dress For Success: Apologies for the ramble, but it’s all important!!! Can’t stress enough the need for packing layers. And remember, cotton kills! Moisture-wicking materials like smartwool and other synthetic hydrophobic fabrics dry quickly so you don’t run the risk of hypothermia. De-layering while climbing uphill is just as important so you limit the amount of sweat you produce at all costs. Don’t forget the winter specific essentials like Buffs, balaclavas, neckies, snow goggles, waterproof mittens/gloves, long underwear, wool socks, snow pants, puffy, snowsuit onesie, waterproof Gore tex jacket.

Wearing bright colors and protective gear while splitboarding in the backcountry to avoid injury requiring physical therapy at keep it moving physical therapy in Burlington
Bright Colors FTW

Pro tip: Choose a shell that has the brightest, most fluorescent colors, that way if you get buried in snow, it’s easier for your friends to find you 😳 Lastly, you can’t forget the GEAR! Splitboard & bindings/ski touring setup, snowboard/ski boots, cross country skis, snowshoes, snowmobile, retractable poles, helmet, waterproof backpack that can comfortably hold all your layers, skins, or for the uber ambitious, a strong pack and lots of straps to affix your rig of choice to, to allow for comfortable uphill hauling. Okay I think that about covers it 😅

Warm food in a Thermos to keep you healthy and satiated and warm while backcountry traveling New England
Warm Food in a Thermos

5️⃣ FOOD WATER AND SNACKS: Warm food is a must imo, and lots of it. We burn so many more calories in cold temps so our bodies can maintain a safe core temperature, which costs a lot of energy. Sure, Thermos’ aren’t exactly compact, but damn they keep food warm for HOURS, even in sub freezing temps. A method by which to boil water (or melt snow) is also a huge plus (think Jetboil) in the event your water source freezes over. While we’re on that topic, Nalgene type bottles with wide mouths are the best way to go. Pro tip: Store them upside down since the lids are more susceptible to freezing. For the love of Janelle, leave the bladders and hoses at home. If the hose freezes, you’re up Schitt’s Creek.

Beacon Shovel and Probe - necessary rescue gear for safe backcountry travel in New England to avoid need for physical therapy at keep it moving physical therapy in Burlington
Beacon Shovel & Probe

6️⃣ First Aid/Emergency Kit: This section will be another long one because there are SO MANY NECESSITIES! Non-negotiables for winter travel out in the backcountry: Beacon, shovel, probe, Avalanche Education (we think AIARE is the best), inclinometer, AT LEAST one partner (3 is the perfect number in our opinion. Less makes a rescue mission a lot harder, and more means more personalities to manage, more disruption to the snowpack, higher chance for the “bystander effect” to take hold). Other items that are great to have: avalanche backpack equipped with airbag, ice ax for self-arresting, binding crampons, snow study kit, thermometer, walkie talkies, GPS trackers like Garmin InReach, external chargers, multi-tool, alan wrench, ski straps (multiple, snow scraper and brush, wax, edge sharpener, etc. Definitely bring extra parts/screws for your bindings, boots, etc. Things break, especially in the cold.

7️⃣ Self Defense: Self explanatory, but I’ll review - bear spray, whistle, knife, firearm and the correct licensure to carry. 

Sun protection on the face and eyes and UV blocking shirt to keep you safe when exercising outside in the backcountry while splitboarding

8️⃣ Sun Protection: Yes, even in winter. Y’all already know that bluebird days are the best for ultimate comfort on the snow. But with sunny skies shining down on fluffy white stuff that serves as a UV magnet comes direct exposure to UV rays. Any exposed skin not already covered by clothing should be covered by SPF. And climbing uphill usually means lots of sweat, so don’t forget to reapply!

9️⃣ Headlamp: For when you planned for the best but the execution just wasn’t there. Don’t forget extra (charged) batteries!

🔟 Trip Guide: Have a buddy at home with good cell and internet reception who knows your exact whereabouts, route plan, start time, expected end time, and won’t panic when it’s time to hit the OH $#!& button. We always suggest this no matter how big or small the trip, unless you wanna end up like that guy in 127 Hours, or worse 😳

Trip guide Paul Pickering a great friend from Winchester MA who goes to Keep It Moving Physical Therapy & Wellness for maintenance Physical Therapy & Massage Therapy in Burlington, MA
Our Forever Trusty Trip Guide, Paul Pickering

Some summative points: Be smart and use your head. If your seasoned backcountry friends with all the newest gear invite you on a last minute trip, and you envision yourself struggling to keep up while hauling your rig strapped to the 20lb pack from the 70’s you borrowed from your dad, maybe stay home. If your friends are hot doggers and unwilling to flex, and you’re only comfortable on green groomers, also maybe sit this one out. The backcountry is incredibly dangerous and things can change very quickly. Without ski patrol 2 lifts away, things can get sketchy pretty fast. Go with your gut and use your brain. Don’t put yourself or your friends at risk.

Drop In Procedure: Always coordinate with your group and agree on the plan. Clear communication and a well-determined plan with minimal risk significantly decreases the likelihood of disaster. When dropping in, it’s best to use a leapfrog fashion with your crew. There are a couple days to go about it, but our suggestion is that a strong skier/rider should go first to scope out the best line. Newbs/weaker riders should go second, that way there’s a strong skier above and below (preferably with walkie talkies) that can keep eyes on them the entire time from two different vantage points, and can communicate to coordinate a rescue if things go south. The strongest skier should go last for (we think) obvious reasons, since a rescue will be a lot harder from down the hill. 

Trail Etiquette: If there are people hiking below you, wait for them to pass before dropping into your line in case you trigger an avalanche. You don’t want them to be your collateral damage. 

As always, LEAVE NO TRACE, carry in/carry out, and most importantly, have fun!

Now what we really need is some cold temps and actual snow so we can have a snowpack to play on! #thinksnow 🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻

Think we forgot something? You won’t hurt our feelings, let us know! If you made it this far, kudos to you! You a real one 😎

Happy shredding! 🏂⛷️

-Britt & Megan

Four friends from Winchester and the Greater Boston Area hiking up Tuckerman Ravine, applying safe practice in the backcountry learned at Keep It Moving Physical Therapy & Wellness in Burlington, MA
Friends Braving Tuckerman Ravine!

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