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Know Before You Go: Winter Travel Prep – Seattle

The Seattle community hosted a virtual kick-off to winter hiking and snowshoeing season with a 'know before you go' lesson in winter travel preparations.

Partners from throughout the region shared tips and stories in order to keep yourself and your party safe this winter. Topics included weather, avalanche reports, trip planning, activity selection, gear, layering, essentials, injury prevention, and case studies. Watch the whole event below or skim through the sections to learn more.

Play Outside

We believe in the transformative play of the outdoors.

“We go to nature for many reasons. For some, it is an escape. For others, a place to feel humbled and inspired. It is a space for sitting and reflecting, a place to wonder and fill our minds with awe. For many of us, nature offers a place to feel challenged and empowered–digging deep into our abilities, bumping up against our insecurities.” - Dr. Sara Boilen, SheJumps Board Member

Love Winter


“I can think of no better friend these days than nature herself. In a time when our normal routine has been upended, courage is requisite. We must now solve problems we have never before faced. Every one of us is perched atop a proverbial line, prompted to drop in, scared to fall...I can't think of another time while on Earth when nature, as teacher, as healer, as therapist, as community builder, has been more essential.” - Dr. Sara Boilen, SheJumps Board Member

Safety First

SheJumps wants everyone to enjoy the healing power of the outdoors. To have the transformative experiences in our wild spaces that shape us into the people we are meant to be.

In order to have successful outdoor adventures you need to plan and prepare properly in order to keep yourself and your party safe. Ensuring you have a positive experience and return time after time to enjoy all our vibrant Earth has to offer.

The following tips and tricks will help you prep for your next winter adventure.

Weather Forecast

Presenter: Northwest Avalanche Center, Charlotte

Start winter planning and use the forecast to apply it to your day out in the mountains. Keep in mind the weather is a meteorologist's best guess. When you’re using the forecast, it’s even more important to think of all the details, like temperature, wind, elevation, and snow level.

Before you go, make sure you can get to the trailhead or where the snow parking option is. Check the road conditions ahead of time. If your driving route goes over a mountain pass, check to see if there are any restrictions or closures. Highway webcams provide a real-time visual of the road and make sure you have chains that fit your tires as a backup option.



Presenter: Northwest Avalanche Center, Charlotte

Avalanches only occur in avalanche terrain. Many of our favorite hikes in the PNW collide with avalanche terrain. A summertime hike, like the Snow Lake or Granite Mountain, do have avalanche risk once the snow accumulates.

If you’re backcountry skiing or snowboarding, most of you will be heading into avalanche terrain when the slope angle is roughly 30-degrees and above. If you do head into avalanche terrain, prepare yourself with gear (transceiver, shovel, and probe). Don’t only carry the gear but know how to use it in case an avalanche occurs and make sure you travel with an informed partner. Consider taking an awareness course or AIARE Level 1 to learn how to use the gear and how to travel in avalanche terrain. Check the avalanche forecast as various snow layers can cause moderate to severe avalanche triggers when traveling in the backcountry.

If you’re brand new to it and looking to start, we recommend taking a free awareness course. These courses are a good starting point or exposure of what it takes to travel in the winter.


Skill level

Presenter: Washington Trails Association, Anna

The Washington Trails Association welcomes folks who join the community. They have hiking guides, hike finder maps, among other resources.

Ask yourself: What do you want to get with your time outside?

It will help inform your decisions on where to go. Then ask where you want to go, how much of a challenge you want, and recognize what physical share you’re in. Consider scaling back the mileage you normally do in the summer for winter objectives. The daylight hours are shorter and the terrain can take longer to navigate.

Use the resources below to help plan your trip by checking trip reports, reading trail descriptions, and reviewing the map details.


  • Gaia GPS - Use to trip plan but also in the field.

  • WTA app - WTA Trailblazer that is volunteer built and run.

  • WTA’s Hiking Guide -

  • WTA's Seasonal Hike section

  • Local Facebook Groups: Washington Hikers & Climbers, PNW Outdoor Women

Please return to WTA and share your trip report for others to use.


Presenter: Gaia GPS, Laura

Gaia GPS is a planning and navigation app and website to help you stay safer while exploring the backcountry. Having a tool like Gaia allows you to always have a map and pinpoint exactly where you are in case you lose the trail, inclement weather rolls in, or you just want to see what’s ahead. We always recommend bringing a back-up map and compass.


To find and download a route, you can use Gaia GPS’s database of trails, national parks, wilderness areas and more on or right in the app.

Gaia GPS has hundreds of map layers to test out to find which will work for you. You can also look at national park, satellite imagery, and topographic maps and check for things like precipitation, snow depth, and avalanche danger so you know what to expect before you head out the door.

Start planning on on the big screen. Use public tracks to see where others go and the routes they use. You can save it to your phone, so you have it when you’re in the backcountry.

Tracking and navigating

Using the app, you can record a route of where you’ve been and see where you need to go. You don’t need wifi or cell service to use it–just make sure you download your map and route before you go.

Follow the trails on the map to know where to go when the trails are covered in snow. However, you don’t always need to follow the summer route in the snow. Understand how to read the details on a topographic map if you decide to make your own trail. Also, check the map if you’re following other footpaths in the snow to make sure you know where you’re going and are headed in the right direction.

Sign up for a FREE 3-month trial with Gaia GPS:


Presenter: Washington Trails Association, Anna

Snowshoeing is similar to hiking. Snowshoes give you a floatation mechanism to help break trail and prevent plunging through the snow. Don’t forget layers and the ten essentials for any winter activity you pursue.

Why try snowshoeing?

  • It’s a great winter exercise

  • It’s accessible to all ages and abilities

  • It’s inexpensive

  • It requires only a few basic techniques

Snowshoeing is a lower skill bar than cross-country skiing and downhill skiing. Snowshoeing is basically like hiking with the main difference is keeping your feet a little wider when you walk with snowshoes strapped to your boots.

The biggest tip is knowing you’re traveling through snow. Be prepared that there might not be an established trail and you might end up breaking your own trail.

Snowshoeing gear list

You can find gear to rent at local outfitters or borrow from a friend or a community group.

  • Snowshoes

  • Warm, waterproof boots

  • Winter layers

  • Adjustable poles with snow baskets

  • 10 Essentials

Breaking trail takes a lot of physical work. Make sure you layer well and stop to take breaks to minimize the sweat your layers absorb.

Start planning and preparing with WTA’s Snowshoeing 101 guide.


Presenter: Washington Trails Association, Anna

Make sure your trail is open and know if you need a trailhead or parking pass. Read recent trip reports or land management sites to see how accessible the parking and conditions are. In the winter months, some trailheads that are plowed require a Sno-Park permit. Pack a shovel and chains for your tires just in case.

Leave your itinerary with someone that isn’t joining you and check in when you return.

Give yourself enough time and bring a headlamp with you in case you run out of daylight hours. Having traction devices with you come in handy and don’t take up much room in your pack. Bring extra layers just in case.

Warm up after your hike by changing into dry socks and clothing for the drive home.

Case Studies

Presenter: King County Explorer Search and Rescue, Judi

Please call 911 if you need help.

Snow Lake Back Injury

Two subjects went out night hiking. One slipped and fell 100 feet downhill from where the trail was. She had to lay in the snow for a couple of hours before the team could respond. It took special riggers and equipment to return her to the trail before they could evacuate her out.

Snow Lake Overdue Hikers

The incident involved two subjects that went on an afternoon hike to enjoy the beauty of nature and the snow. Went hiking and took a wrong turn and ended up at Gem Lake instead of back at the trailhead. The hikers were not prepared and did not have snow traction, lights, food, navigation, and was a new area to them. Searchers were out until midnight and paused the search until resuming the next morning. They were found in the morning and were out without shelter for 16 hours in winter conditions.

Your plan

Leaving a hike plan in your car will give search and rescue an idea of where to find you.

  1. Make sure someone knows when you are due back and when they should call if you haven’t returned.

  2. Make sure you go prepared with everything you need to stay safe in the event of an unplanned overnight.

  3. Have all of your trip plan info available to your loved ones/key points of contact. Leave a copy in the car if needed so SAR can find it if they initiate a search.


Presenter: Arc’teryx Seattle / PNW Outdoor Women, Meghan

We don’t want to wear cotton in the winter time. Cotton gets wet fast and stays wet. The moisture can stay on your clothing and can freeze. Cover your skin when you’re out. You're exposing your skin to wind, cold, sun, and frostbite. Avoid constrictive clothing to make sure blood flow can get to all your extremities.

Layer management is important. Having synthetic or wool layers. Take off your down pieces and keep those insulating layers dry when you can. Try to avoid sweating as much as possible because wet clothing is hard to dry and will prevent your body from generating heat to keep warm.

Hand warmers and foot warmers are helpful. When you’re done with them, put them back in your bag and throw them away at home.

It might not seem like you need sunglasses, but snow is reflective even if the sun isn’t shining. The brightness can harm your eyes. Protect the eyes not only from sun but also from cold wind. Same tips go with sunscreen on any exposed area. You might not think you need it but it is easy to sunburnt when the sun isn’t out.

Q: Also are there any socks that are water resistant?

A: I’ve never encountered water resistant socks but I’m a big fan of wool socks for the winter. Wool stays warm when it’s wet and is very durable. Another key piece of gear aside from waterproof boots to keep your feet dry are gaiters. They prevent snow from falling into your boots from the top and are a key piece of gear for the winter!

Q: Do we need to cover the whole head or is it okay to cover the ears alone?

A: Covering the ears alone keeps that sensitive skin protected from the elements and if you’re sweating a lot it’s a great option. However, when you stop or become cold, consider covering your head as the heat from your body can escape easy.

Get the gear

Presenter: Arc’teryx Seattle / PNW Outdoor Women, Meghan

Gear lists seem long and expensive. Try gear before you spend the money and rent the gear. Many local outfitters offer gear to rent. Ask friends to borrow the gear. Look into getting used gear Ascent Outdoors, Wonderland Gear Exchange, or Isella Outdoors consignment. Facebook groups are also a good way to find used gear or gear tips.

10 Essentials

Presenter: The Mountaineers, Tailor

The 10 Essentials is a list of gear to have with you wherever you go outside.

  1. Navigation - Map, compass, or GPS device or app.

  2. Headlamp - Plus extra batteries

  3. Sun protection - Sunscreen, lip balm, and sunglasses

  4. First aid

  5. Knife

  6. Fire - Matches or lighter

  7. Shelter - Emergency mylar blanket or bivvy

  8. Extra food

  9. Extra water

  10. Extra clothes

For more information, check out the Micro Ventures: 10 Essentials blog post.

Leave no trace principles. Take everything you bring with you back out with you.


Presenter: The Mountaineers, Tailor

When it's cold, your body doesn’t remind you that you’re hot, sweaty, or dehydrated. An insulated water bottle or thermos is your friend for winter adventures. It will keep your water from freezing, barring some truly frigid settings. For longer adventures, you’ll want to have a stove system for melting snow unless you’re near an open water source. Another key note: if you use a hydration system that has a hose, make sure you clear the hose or it will freeze. You can also buy an insulated hose. I’ve had mixed success with those but in temps closer to and above freezing they work!


Presenter: The Mountaineers, Tailor

Pack food you love and will be hungry for and will eat when you don’t want to. Find high fat or calorie foods on colder trips. Your body will heat up to burn off the calories. Keep snacks easily accessible so you can eat while moving to stay warm.

Pro tip: Bring a stove with you for a trail side hot drink or soup session.


Presenter: Seattle Mountain Rescue, Anna, ER doctor

Echo what Judi and want everyone to recreate safely but please call if you need help. Most likely you won’t have to pay for a rescue since most are volunteer organized.

Prevention is the key! Check in with yourself and your friends. Be mindful of tingling feelings or changes to your skin.

Signs of frostbite

  • Common locations: toes, notes, ear, fingers

  • Skin is cold, waxy, and pale

  • Feel tingling, numbness, or pain

  • Skin feels soft if partially frozen or hard if fully frozen

  • After thawing, blisters often form with superficial and deep frostbite


Presenter: Seattle Mountain Rescue, Anna, ER doctor

If you’re cold, other people in your group may also be cold. Shivering or confusion are mild or moderate signs of hypothermia. When shivering stops is when you should be concerned. Intervene at the early stages if you can. The worst temperatures where hypothermia sets in ranges between 33 to 37 degrees.


It is easier to stay warm than to get warm. Maintain your body temperature. It is easy to get sweaty. Stop and take time to delayer and relayer when you need to because it can turn into wet, sweaty clothes that may have a hard time to dry. Pack in hand and toe warmers and use them.

Keep eating and stay hydrated so your body has calories for your body to generate warmth. If the conditions aren’t working for you, it’s ok to turn around and return another day.

Keep an eye on your friends. Stop, ask, and look for signs. Don’t leave a hypothermic person unless absolutely necessary.

Case Studies

Presenter: Seattle Mountain Rescue, Anna, ER doctor

Mount Baker Skier

A young guy went skiing at Mount Baker and was wearing new ski boots and had numb feet the entire day while skiing. The day after, he was still feeling pain and had blisters, so he visited Anna at urgent care. What he thought were blisters from new, tight boots was actually frostbite. Stop and change and be aware of tight boots.

Mount Rainier Almost-Summitter

A friend sits down at the crater and says he’s fine but asked to be left. The group continued to the summit. When they returned, they realized he might have had altitude sickness and didn’t add layers while he waited resulting in hypothermia. The whole team mobilized and moved to descend. Hypothermia can get to even the best or most experienced people.

Thank you everyone who attended the event. The winner of the raffle was announced and though past time, a few questions were answered by the presenters.

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