1. Dress like an onion.
4. Check the weather.
While this might seem like an obvious step, it’s important to get a complete picture of the conditions for your trip, not just the temperature. Look at the precipitation, wind speed, avalanche reports, and daylight hours. I spoke with Peter Crane, the Director of Programs at the Mount Washington Observatory. He advises winter hikers to become knowledgeable about winter weather: “Do your research, learn about winter conditions and how they vary from summer conditions. It’s really a different world in the winter. A dozen people have died on Mount Washington due to avalanches. When you get above tree line, you have the added challenge of finding your way in limited visibility, or even whiteout conditions.” Be sure your hike is planned for a day when conditions are manageable. The good news is it is very easy to find this kind of weather information, and if the conditions are scary, postpone your hike.
5. Learn to use crampons.
When the trail is icy, crampons can make the difference between summiting and turning around, but if you use them improperly it’s easy to injure yourself. If you’re new to crampons, read up on techniques and try them out on an easy trail. Practice putting them on and taking them off. Have a more experienced friend show you how to use them going uphill and downhill. I’ll never forget seeing an obvious beginner jog nonchalantly down an icy rock face in his crampons. One misstep, one stumble, and he could have cut open his leg or sprained an ankle. Take it slow when you’re starting out to avoid accidents. Never forget that crampons are in fact metal spikes attached to your feet!
6. Take an experienced friend.
Hiking with friends is always the way to go, especially in the winter. Not only is it more fun to share the adventure with others, but it’s also safer to be with a group. An experienced friend can help you with choosing gear, using crampons or snowshoes, and identifying dangerous conditions. Also, avid winter hikers usually have extra gloves, hiking poles, and goggles laying around that you could borrow to fill out your packing list. Be sure to leave at least one friend at home who knows where you’re going.
7. Make tea or cocoa.
8. Invest in good gear.
10. Treat yourself to a great meal.