Enjoying the Mountains in Winter – Safely
Winter in the mountains brings with it untold beauty – snow capped peaks, trees laced with icicles, branches laden with snow, and valleys softly blanketed like a fairy tale. And the Dolomite Mountains are some of the most beautiful in the world… But with this beauty comes hazards. This doesn’t mean you should hole up inside and watch from your window. It just means planning ahead and taking a few simple precautions you can make your winter excursions safer – and more enjoyable.
Whether you are off-piste or backcountry skiing or snowboarding, or snowshoeing, here are a few noteworthy safety tips to consider:
- Dress appropriately. We advocate the ‘layering principle’, wearing several layers of synthetic clothing. This includes a wicking base layer, synthetic middle or insulation layer, and an exterior shell. Synthetic fabrics are the most effective barriers against the cold and provide the best insulation, they are light in weight, wick away perspiration, and dry quickly if wet.
- Be sure to protect allexposed appendages to avoid frostite & ndash; don’t forget a warm hat and warm weatherproof gloves!
- Be aware of your surroundings – snow can mask objects that could be dangerous so tread lightly and always watch where you are stepping.
- Be avalanche aware! Review the avalanche advisory for where you plan to travel, carry and know how to use avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe pole! (See our Avalanche Safety article for more information on types of avalanches, what causes them, and how to avoid them.)
- Be aware of weather conditions before beginning your trip, and plan accordingly. Weather conditions can change quickly in the mountains, so be pay attention to weather changes as you ski or snowshoe.
- Be aware of your own limitations, and those of other members of your party. A good rule of thumb is to go at the pace of your slowest or least experienced group member.
- Always carry a trail map and compass or GPS – even if you’re at a resort. Unlike summer outdoor adventures, where you can “easily” retrace your trail, in winter, particularly with heavy snow or wind, your trail can easily be covered… If you don’t know the area, ask someone for safe well-marked routes, or hire a guide.
- Watch for the signs and symptoms of altitude sickness – headache, nausea, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. Return to lower elevation if these persist, and consult a physician if the symptoms don’t resolve by descending.
- Never go into the backcountry in winter alone. Guided tours with UIAGM/IFMGA Professional Mountain Guides are a great option, but even if you choose not to participate in a guided tour, you should always hike with another person for safety’s sake.
- Always let someone outside of your group know where you plan on going. Leave word at the front desk of your hotel or with others you are traveling with when to expect you.
- Stay hydrated – bring water to drink throughout your backcountry skiing or snowshoeing adventure. You may not feel thirsty, but at altitudes above 1,829 meters (6,000 feet) you exhale and perspire twice as much moisture as you do at sea level!
- Bring a cell phone with emergency numbers – Italian mobile service is outstanding in the Dolomties. Make sure to carry the numbers of you destination hotel or rifugio, tour operator, and local emergency services.
- Pace yourself – even the most experienced hiker may find the Dolomites challenging, so be careful and don’t push yourself too hard!
- Take regular breaks – this shouldn’t be difficult given the spectacular beauty you’ll be surrounded by!
- Bring snacks – while there is fantastic food available at rifugios in the Italian Alps, these can be miles apart.
Whether you ski, board, or snowshoe, the above tips should help you to be safe in your mountainous pursuits. Ultimately, the best way to remain safe in the Dolomites, or any mountainous area you are not familiar with, is to do so with the assistance of an experienced guide.
However and where ever you choose to explore, once you’ve taken precautions to be safe, go out and enjoy yourself!
Check out our Winter Skiing and Snowshoeing Trips.