Stories & Features

Winter fun can turn dangerous if you're not prepared

Snowmobiles can quickly get you deep into the back country. Have a plan and pack plenty of supplies. Show caption
A snowshoe to a frozen snowfall can make for a wonderful winter day. But when you're heading out on your own, having a plan and supplies is doubly important. Show caption
How deep into the back country are you going? Even when you have lots of company, file a trip plan and bring emergency supplies. Show caption
Crossing lakes can be safe, but always check the ice before you set out, and see the Adventure Smart guide to get an idea of how thick ice needs to be. Show caption

Search and rescue veteran offers tips that could save your life

Two Kelowna snowmobilers were lucky to be rescued after getting lost and spending a night on a mountain near Revelstoke last weekend. Local police said that while the pair had a basic avalanche kit, they didn't have the food or supplies required to survive nights in the winter wilderness.

And on the same weekend, two skiers from Spain were rescued by Golden and District Search and Rescue after spending four days lost near Kicking Horse Resort in B.C. Again, they were also unprepared to spend nights in the biting cold, and had not told anyone when to expect them back. They lucked out after their accommodation provider reported them missing a day after they were supposed to check out.

"Having a trip plan is the first thing you have to do before you head outdoors in any season," says Roz Nielsen, a BC Hydro program manager who has volunteered with North Shore Search and Rescue for more than a decade. "If anything were to happen, having a trip plan ensures rescuers know when and where to start looking.

"Imagine you're lost or injured and don't know how many days you may be outside because no one knows you're missing. As a search and rescue team, we encounter situations where it has been numerous days before we're called. When we have a trip plan to work from, we're much more likely to get to the person quickly and come back with good news."

Nielsen recently offered a series of tips to BC Hydro employees via a story on BC Hydro's intranet site. They proved so popular that we thought it was a great idea to take that advice to our customers.

Six things to cover in your trip plan

Nielsen knows how quickly a fun outing can turn dangerous, and how a trip outdoors in ideal weather conditions can change suddenly. Here’s what she says should be part of your trip plan:

  • Names of the people included in your outing
  • Intended destination and route
  • Time of departure and anticipated time/date of return
  • Description of the vehicle used to get to the trail head
  • Key equipment you're travelling with
  • Other relevant information that might assist searchers in confirming your last known point and most likely location.

Check and re-check the weather outlook and avalanche risks

Weather can change quickly, but you can get a better idea of what might happen by checking the Environment Canada website for a detailed forecast before you leave. Always listen for any wind chill warnings, and check the hourly forecast for a more detailed look at how the weather is expected to change.

Always check Avalanche Canada for avalanche warnings and risks in your area and be aware of your surroundings. If you need to cross ice during your activities, know how thick it should be and test it before you cross; check out this simple Adventure Smart guide. Respect boundaries, as going into out of bounds areas can get you into extremely dangerous terrain.

What to bring? The 10 essentials

Even the best weather can change rapidly, and even the widest trail can be lost. North Shore Search and Rescue recommends you have these 10 things with you when you head into the great outdoors:

  1. Light: Bring a flashlight or a headlamp with extra batteries, plus an extra light bulb if it's not LED.
  2. Signaling device: Bring a whistle, bear bangers or pencil flare.
  3. Fire starter: Options include matches, a lighter, a commercial Firestarter and/or a candle.
  4. Extra clothes: Hats, toques, gloves or mittens, plus a fleece jacket, Gore-Tex jacket, polypro underwear, good-quality hiking socks and Gore-Tex over pants.
  5. Pocket knife: multi-tool is best, but a good pocket knife with a quality blade will suffice.
  6. Shelter: Large orange plastic bag and thermal tarp.
  7. Food and water: Water plus Gatorade crystals, plus food such as high-energy bars.
  8. First-aid kit: If you can, include a pocket mask, Sam splint, bulk dressings, protective gloves, bandages, scissors and blister dressings.
  9. Navigation: Include a good-quality compass with built-in declination adjustment, and both topographical and interpretive maps. GPS highly recommended.
  10. Communications device: Bring a smartphone with a fully-charged battery. Also consider satellite-based devices such as the Spot or Delorme InReach, or a personal locator beacon.