Heading to the backcountry? SFNF encourages visitors to exercise caution and educate themselves about the additional hazards, challenges and safety risks posed by winter recreation. Courtesy/SFNF
SANTA FE – As backcountry winter sports become more popular, the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) encourages visitors to exercise caution and educate themselves about the additional hazards, challenges and safety risks posed by winter recreation.
The SFNF urges winter recreationists to take safety seriously by following these recommendations:
Learn to recognize avalanche terrain. Most avalanches occur on slopes between 25 and 60 degrees, but there are always exceptions. Self-study is no replacement for instruction by a trained professional, so we encourage backcountry skiers and snowshoers to take an avalanche safety course if they’ll be traversing steep terrain.
The Taos Avalanche Center and American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education are good places to start. The Taos Avalanche Center also provides avalanche forecasts for much of New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo range, including periodic observations from popular areas like the Nambe Chutes. If you’re ever in doubt, don’t risk it.
Carry the right safety gear. An avalanche beacon, probe and shovel are all standard recommended equipment for traveling in avalanche terrain. Wherever you travel, dress appropriately for the conditions, take plenty of food and water, and invest in a good first aid kit. A flashlight/headlamp, matches, extra food and clothing, and even an emergency bivouac are all recommended if there’s any chance of getting stranded overnight.
Never travel alone. Avalanche beacons are virtually useless if you’re by yourself and in need of urgent help. If you are solo and suffer an injury in the backcountry, you do not have an immediate first responder or a critical communication channel for getting help as quickly as possible.
Know the terrain. Always carry a good map and compass, and know how to use them. Keep in mind that over-snow travel often takes much longer than it would to traverse the same terrain in summer. Pay attention to topographic lines that indicate steep features that could pose hazards.
Always check the weather forecast before you go since conditions within the forest, especially at elevation, will be significantly different than conditions in nearby towns and cities, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
Know your limits. If you have any doubts about your physical or technical capabilities, always err on the side of caution.
Have a plan. Incorporate all of the above into a game plan that doesn’t just cover your “ideal” trip, but also considers the range of hazards and safety risks posed by winter backcountry conditions. Set criteria for turning around in the face of such conditions, and stick to your plan.
The Santa Fe National Forest offers a range of winter backcountry recreation experiences. Know before you go and recreate responsibly to make sure your adventure is both fun and safe.