Winter's Wonderland Workout

Go Deep, Be Safe

Feb 1, 2004
Outside Magazine

Empowered with your new winter skills, you can now punch your ticket at some of America's classic backcountry destinations, such as New Hampshire's Tuckerman Ravine, home to a 1,500-foot-high wall that locals have skied for more than 80 years; an overnight at the Peter Estin Hut, southwest of Vail; or the deep virgin snowpack of Hurricane Ridge, just outside Washington's Olympic National Park.

Whatever your choice, make sure you follow these backcountry rules from Cathy Sassin and Appalachian Mountain Club search-and-rescue coordinator Dave Herring: Check the weather forecast. It's no fun ending up in a blizzard. Then check the avalanche forecast to see if the snow conditions are safe. (Regional numbers are available at "Always call the local ranger district; they'll have current firsthand experience," says Herring. Prepare for the worst conditions by carrying a down jacket, waterproof-breathable parka and pants, heavyweight insulated gloves, and a warm hat in your backpack. In known avalanche country, carry an avalanche beacon and snow shovel and know how to use them (see "Class Outside," below). Once on the snow, travel single file, crossing open slopes one person at a time so an avalanche can't take out your entire group. Or choose a route that steers clear of avalanche terrain (anything steeper than an intermediate ski run) until you've taken a course on backcountry travel. When possible, stick to the trees, where there's less danger from an avalanche or a storm. Along the way, snack on foods like trail mix and cheese, and fuel up often. Finally, never stop drinking liquids. They'll help you avoid hypothermia and frostbite.

Once you learn to love the backcountry, winter may end up being your fittest time of year. The reason, says Lyle Haugsven, a backcountry guide with the American Alpine Institute, is simple: "The biggest advantage of winter's activities over summer's is that you have so much fun on the way down."

More Fitness