Winter Travel Prep – Utah

Updated: Feb 19

The Salt Lake City 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.



Special thanks to Utah Avalanche Center for collaborating with SheJumps over the past 10 years to bring avalanche education to women in the Utah region.


Weather Forecast

Presenter: Utah Avalanche Center, Nikki


National Weather Service


Start with the 7-day detailed forecast by selecting an area to see the written out forecast details per day. It will tell you what the sky is going to do, what the temperatures are, what the winds are going to do, and will estimate the chances of precipitation and the cumulative totals. The nice thing about the 7-day forecasts is that there is going to be a little map to select locations in more detail than your search, so you can compare what the forecast will be like in the valley versus mountain peaks.


Snow forecast is a resource that the meteorologists put together two times a day every 12 hours. The information that is included is a basic breakdown of the weather synopsis with what type of weather systems are developing in the area and what to expect. It then breaks down the next 12 hours with the temperatures, the snow totals, and wind speeds at various elevations. It’s focus is for the Alta area and has one as well for the Provo mountains.


When you pull up your weather sources, always look at the wind, precipitation totals, and the temperature and see how they are going to change throughout the day. Knowing this information will help you plan what gear to bring and what layering to have with you. Once you look at the forecasts, it’s important to be prepared for changes in the weather. Monitor the weather as you leave your house, arrive at the trailhead, and as you travel in the backcountry and take notice to how the in the field conditions measure up to the forecast you prepared for to help inform you of your decisions and adjust plans throughout the day.


Resources


Avalanches

Presenter: Utah Avalanche Center, Nikki


Who needs to know about avalanches? Really anyone that travels in the winter backcountry.


Utah Avalanche Center breaks down how to make smart, safe decisions for winter travel with their Know Before You Go steps. They have many resources online to dig deeper and learn more. Below are the basics:


Know Before You Go

  1. Get the gear - Transceiver, probe, and shovel

  2. Get the training - Getting on the snow is super valuable, as well as introduction courses

  3. Get the forecast - The weather and avalanche forecast and understanding what it means

  4. Get the picture - Putting it all together and make good choices in the backcountry

  5. Get out of harm’s way - Knowing how to navigate the terrain when you’re not the only group and etiquette and communication with other parties

Know the avalanche danger before you go.


Resources


Avalanche Forecast

Presenter: Utah Avalanche Center, Nikki


Know how to read the report


Every center’s resources pages look different but will give you similar information.


Danger rose shows avalanche danger by aspects and elevation. Avalanche danger ratings will give you travel advice, the likelihood, and size distribution avalanches will happen. There are five levels of danger ratings: Low, Moderate, Considerable, High, and Extreme. It’s not a linear scale and the jump from low to moderate isn’t the same as the jump from considerable to high.


The most common place for avalanche accidents is considerable because it is the combination of uncertainty, risk, and people traveling in the backcountry. When you see high and extreme, less people are traveling in the backcountry due to the instability of the snow.


The bottomline statement is a summary that forecasters try to provide of the conditions and the danger ratings. As you continue to scroll down the page and read through the report, you’ll see a bigger picture of what’s going on, including the weather and snow, recent avalanches, and avalanche problems. Avalanche problems are the types of avalanche slides you’ll see defined, such as persistent weak layer, wind drifted snow, wet snow, etc. The forecast shares where you will find the avalanche problems, the likelihood and distribution of those avalanches, and what to expect when you’re traveling.


Pro tip: Monitor what’s going on with the weather throughout the season.


Skill level

Presenter: SheJumps, Freddy


What’s your goal for getting outside and deciding what activity you want to do? How much of a challenge do you want or how much exercise can you sign up for? Consider the elevation and weather changes when making the decision. Decide where you want to go after looking at the weather and avalanche forecasts.


Know how long or amount of time you want to be out for and set a turnaround time. Skill level will help you decide what activity you want to do.


Resources

Presenter: SheJumps, Freddy

  • Gaia GPS

  • Wasatch Backcountry Skiing Map (app)

  • Paper map and compass

  • Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation

Facebook Groups with Trip reports

  • Women Who Backcountry Ski: Utah

  • Utah Backcountry Ski Touring

  • Wasatch Mountain Wranglers


Navigation

Presenter: SheJumps, Angela


Gaia GPS allows you to plan a route, track your route, and download maps offline. Using Gaia GPS various map layers can help get a bigger picture of the snow depth, slope angles, and terrain features when you're outside.


In the winter, trails are covered by snow. Though trails can be a good guide, you can make the route your own. Know how to read topographic maps and use the map before you go. Always bring a printed map and compass. If you have a printer at home, you can print a map from GaiaGPS.com. If you rely on your phone heavily, consider bringing extra batteries or a battery pack and keep devices in warm areas to help with battery life.


Discover hiking trails and areas on the app and leave trip reports after you finish.


Follow Gaia GPS on social media for new map features or head on over to Gaia’s blog or YouTube channel to learn more about how to use the app to its fullest potential.



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


Snowshoeing

Presenter: MSR Rep, Sara


If you like to hike and play outside, snowshoeing is a great way to access the outdoors in the winter time. What is great about snowshoeing is you can go just about anywhere. Think where you like to hike is where you can go snowshoeing and choose the best route for you.


Photo by Patrick Hendry

Snowshoes help with flotation and traction to keep you stay on top of the snow. Add poles with snow baskets to keep you stable and balanced when using your snowshoes. Use gaiters to keep snow from getting in your boots.


Snowshoes are made by various brands and have different models. Most anything will work. We recommend trying snowshoeing out before buying a pair of new snowshoes. You can rent snowshoes from local retail shops, like Lone Pine Gear Exchange.