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FEDME safety tips for winter terrain

Performing physical activities in the natural environment is a fascinating sensation. Feel the emotion of the landscape, the intensity, the agitated breathing, the cold on our cheeks and that unique calm of entering a terrain that seems even wilder.

Logically we have to adapt our actions to the special conditions, to be able to go safely in our enjoyment of nature.

ACCESSING THE DESTINATION

The first thing we have to take into account is the access to the starting point of the activity:

  1. Foreseeing the need to use snow chains is imperative (obviously you have to know how to put them on, so gloves and a headlamp will be great for you). But we must also be clear that sometimes (due to snow, ice, roadblocks …) we will not be able to get to the point we had in mind.
  2. In areas close to ski resorts or very popular destinations we have to count on unpleasant traffic jams or even with the cut-off of accesses due to excess capacity or due to weather conditions. All this must be taken into consideration in the planning of the activity as it can involve the displeasure of not arriving at the desired place or of arriving late.
    We have to think that the hours of light in winter are scarce and that in general after 3 pm there are many areas in which the sun no longer hits, which causes a rapid decrease in temperature.

THE LAND

In much of the mountainous territory it is easy for us to find snow or ice on the ground. Other times it will be the mud that makes it difficult for us to walk. This means that, we need to adapt our footwear and means of progression to the terrain and its conditions.

Sneakers tend to get wet faster on the inside than boots, hiking boots are ineffective on icy terrain, crampons can be a hazard in areas with moderate slopes and deep fresh snow, snow-shoes become useless objects on steep slopes, mountain skis become a nuisance in areas of forest or shrubby vegetation. We must be careful with the terrain and conditions, to choose the most suitable material in advance.

Variations in the weather can be abrupt in winter: rainfall, extreme temperatures, strong winds, fogs … These phenomena sometimes force us to be more meticulous in preparing the activity, in the material to use and carry for good decision-making. Even sunny days with blue skies can pose serious problems, for example, if we do not use sun protection for our skin.

When planning a route, we must ask ourselves: What happens in this area is there fog, low clouds or a blizzard? How will we orient ourselves ?; If someone in the group has a mishap and has to wait for help to arrive, how are we going to react and avoid hypothermia? If we come across fresh snow on the way, how much will our pace slow down? Will our feet stay dry and hot?

In snowy terrain we must be especially cautious: carrying the correct material and knowing how to use it can be the difference between life or death, consult the avalanche danger bulletin (BPA) for the area in which we are going to be and act accordingly. Summer roads and paths may not be the safest terrain when they are snowy, be aware of waterways buried under the white blanket of snow… snow requires enormous learning that we can find in mountain clubs and professional guides.

THE CONDITIONS

In our preparation of the route, we have to assess the conditions in which we will find the area we are going to visit, taking into account that the snow fall can change radically in a matter of hours. In the morning we can go from a small layer of fresh snow, to a thin layer of ice that prevents us from progressing safely.

Likewise, we have to think that with the gain in altitude the temperature tends to decrease, but the thickness of snow or exposure to the wind also increases. In the same way, a sunny orientation is not the same as one that does not receive it. All these data must be controlled, as well as the slopes inclination through which we are going to progress or the irregularities of the terrain (concavities and complexities) , the existence of vegetation, rocks or the presence of wooded land.

Once again, knowledge and experience will be our best allies, and we must be clear that knowing the winter mountain well is a long process that requires patience and dedication.

THE GROUP

The group is a determining factor in any activity, we have to be more meticulous if possible when carrying out activities in winter (or looking for simpler activities).

We have to think that the conditions are going to be more demanding, and we have to adapt the level of activity to the group, and never the other way around.
Apart from the individual progression equipment and all the necessary material, whenever we are going to carry out activity in snowy terrain, we have to equip the whole group with DVA (avalanche victim detector), shovel and probe. These three elements are essential to carry out an effective self-rescue in the event of an avalanche, since we have to count on only having 15 minutes to unearth an avalanche victim.

Training in the use of these tools is essential, even among experts, in order to minimize errors when working under pressure. Receiving training in snowfall and avalanche rescue is a very important matter, but it is also exciting and can be really entertaining.

Whenever we go to carry out a sporting activity in the natural environment, we must be clear at all times of this question: What is the objective of this day? Once we have answered this, then we have to ask ourselves: What am I willing to do to fulfill that objective?

In summary, physical activity in the natural environment is something fascinating with a huge amount of benefits for our physical and mental health. We also generate a huge socioeconomic benefit in the areas we go to.
For these activities to be fully satisfactory, we must be aware that access to remote areas also involves dangers against which we must prepare and protect ourselves, as well as take care of those who accompany us.

Always keep in mind that nothing replaces good training, the accumulation of experience and the analysis of it. Enjoy, learn and share.
An excellent way to start thinking about safety in the mountains is to follow the guidelines that, we as the FEDME Safety Committee, transmit to you by giving you a hand at https://seguridadfedme.es/capsulas-formativa/