Welcome to the fall and winter outdoor season. This is one of the most beautiful times of year to be hiking, snowshoeing or skiing in upstate New York. As I write this message, I am reminded of the time I was snowshoeing in the winter at Pine Ridge Cross Country Ski Area. On that day, the fresh snow was covering everything and making the pretty wooded trail truly beautiful. An owl was following me. I was watching her and she was watching me. It does not get any better than that.

So get your snow shoes, your boots or your skis and get into the woods in the winter. But remember that, with cold weather outdoor activity, there is an increased risk of injury. We all have been concerned and wondered about the hikers who are heading up the mountain with flip flops and one bottle of water in good weather. The cold, ice, wind and deep snow can make traveling in the winter very dangerous if you are not prepared.
Here are a few simple rules that will help to keep you safe:

1. Travel together. The best thing you can do to ensure your safety is to have another person on the trail with you. In the winter you should have at least 4 people in a group. One to stay with the injured person and two to go for help. Please keep in mind that cell phones may not work.

2. Be prepared. This is a good time to empty your summer pack and repack for winter. Lots of layers, no cotton, and enough supplies and clothes to last through the night if necessary. Hydration pack tubes will quickly freeze in cold weather. I would recommend carrying water in “bottle” that you can put in your pack. You should consider taking a winter wilderness first aid course.

3. Leave a note. Make sure someone at home knows where you are going and when you are expected home.

4. Stay together as a group.If one of the hikers is unable to achieve the goal of the trip we all head back home. The trail is not going anywhere and we can try again some other time. “Peak fever”, the single minded goal to reach the top of the mountain, can be dangerous. It is important to remember that injuries often occur to worn out hikers on the decent. Everyone in the group has “veto” power to turn around and the leader must champion this rule. This rule should be agreed on by everyone before you begin the hike. “Hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and paddling should always be round trips.” Have fun and be safe.

Jim Slavin, Chair of the Albany Chapter of the ADK.