Dress for the weather
When venturing out into cold weather, it's important to wear clothing that holds the body's heat. Clothing should be windproof, water-repellent, and capable of allowing moisture to evaporate from the body. Down is good in dry conditions but becomes ineffective when wet. Cotton next to the skin draws heat out of the body when it becomes damp. Wool is the best protection. Certain new synthetics are also good.
Layering clothing is advisable, as the air pockets between fabrics hold the body's heat. Layered clothing also has the advantage of being removable if the temperature rises.
When heading out for a day of winter sport activity, bring along the following items:
- Cell phone, two-way radio, or money for a phone call
- Extra clothing
- Extra food and water
- First aid kit
- Identification and emergency medical information
- Matches / fire starter
- Sunglasses / goggles
- Thermal blanket
Be prepared to recognize the signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than the body can produce it. This causes the temperature of the main organs (heart, kidneys, lungs and brain) to drop. Both dry and wet cold can cause this condition.
The first stage of hypothermia is shivering of the body. Shivering is the body's natural reaction to cold. It produces heat. A person in this stage of hypothermia should move closer to artificial heat, eat hot food or add more clothing.
Once the condition has passed this stage, the cold will begin to affect the victim's brain. From this point on, the person will be able to recover only with the help of others. This more dangerous level of hypothermia occurs when the shivering stops. The person may look pale or blue. Movement will be slow. The body is reacting to heat loss by conserving all warmth for the main organs. Less blood is being pumped to the hands, arms, feet, legs and skin. The brain's reasoning power is affected, and main organs begin to slow down as their temperature drops.
At this point, it is vital that the person be removed from the cold. Wet clothing, if any, should be taken off. The person should be dried and wrapped in dry blankets, sleeping bags or clothing. Body-to-body contact may be necessary to warm the victim. If the person is conscious, give warm liquids slowly. Take the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible.
Protect yourself from hypothermia
- Know basic first aid, including CPR.
- Take a friend with you. Before you go, tell someone where you are heading and when they can expect you back.
- Wear appropriate layered clothing. Avoid cotton and down. Wear wool or suitable synthetics.
- Carry food, clothing, some sort of shelter and matches. Extra dry clothing may save your life.
- Maintain your energy supply by eating high-calorie foods frequently during your trip.
- Avoid becoming overly fatigued.
- Seek shelter from wind and rain if you are lost. Try to stay dry and put on extra clothing to keep warm. Cover yourself with a thermal blanket and dig a snow cave. Build a fire if dry wood is available.
While groomed trails are placed to avoid areas prone to avalanches, unpredictable snow conditions and erratic weather patterns can create an avalanche at any time. Be aware of the terrain around you and avoid areas that look unsafe. Signs of danger include old slide paths, recent avalanche activity, sounds or cracks and certain weather conditions.
Ensure a safe and enjoyable outing by checking on avalanche conditions before you go. Contact your local U.S. Forest Service Office or visit the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) website.
Important contact information
- Mountain Pass Report: Call 511, 800-695-7623, or 206-368-4499, or visit the Washington State Department of Transportation website.
- Highway Advisory Radio Service: 1610 AM (at posted areas on Interstate 90 in the Snoqualmie Pass area) or 530 AM
- Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center website
- Washington State Parks Winter Recreation Program: 360-902-8684