Is It Safe to Play in the Snow?

As winter trudges on, heading outside seems to be the safest way to get some exercise without putting others at risk. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when hitting the slopes or trails. Here’s a roundup of advice from the local outdoor experts:

HIKING OR SNOWSHOEING

When done responsibly and respectfully, hitting the trail can be a safe way to get your family out. But, be sure to adhere to the government’s most recent restrictions and re

commendations, and keep the number of people in your travel pack as small as possible.

photo of snowy mountain

Do your research: Visitor centers, restrooms, trashcans and other amenities that normally make recreation easier remain closed this winter. You will need to plan accordingly and have an idea of how to pack in and pack out every single thing you need. Also, pack everything beforehand to limit gas station or extra grocery store stops along the way.

Avoid the popular spots: Unfortunately, with so many activities limited this season, everyone has the same idea of hitting the trails. Opt for one of the lesser-known options to avoid crowds. That might mean doing a bit more digging through trail reports (visit wta.org) and driving, but it’s worth the effort.

Practice proper etiquette:  Navigating other people (and sometimes dogs) on the trail is always tricky. Add facemasks and six-foot social distancing standards into the mix, and you might find yourself in a standoff unsure of how to pass. To play it safe, always wear a face cover (gaiters work great in this situation) when you see other hikers and be the first person to step off the trail to let others by. When in doubt, be the more cautious, courteous hiker.

Remember Rentals: By this point, most outdoor shops and stores have mastered the art of sanitizing gear. Don’t hesitate to support your favorite spots, and grab rentals if you need a pair of snowshoes or some hiking poles. If you are especially cautious, bring your own sanitizing wipes and cleaning gear to give it all a good wipe down prior to using.

Best Information Resource: Washington Trail Association regularly updates their website with information on how to recreate responsibility during this challenging season. They also have an up-to-date list of trail and park closures. Visit here.

SKIING

Like hiking and snowshoeing, skiing might seem like a safe way to get in some thrills this winter. However, the precautions vary and each local ski area is operating a little different.

Resort downhill skiing: This is arguably the most risky because of the lines that can accumulate and the proximity to others. All of the Washington resorts are following the most stringent protocols possible (keeping a six-feet distancing rule, limiting number of people on chairlifts, enforcing facemasks, closing lodges and public areas, etc.). But all of these measures can’t eliminate the risk altogether. If you do go, the biggest piece of advice is to prepare to treat your car like a mini lodge. Pack all food and hydration needs, and gear up at the car instead of inside.

Cross-country skiing: This year might be the best time to try something new. If you’ve never opted for downhill’s more strenuous cousin, cross-country skiing, rent a pair and get moving. Cross-country trails (which are in abundance at all the major local resorts) don’t involve lines of people or chairlifts, so you can more easily limit your contact with others. Be prepared to work quite a bit harder though and pack extra water and food (in your car, of course), and possibly a little extra patience as you learn a new skill.

Backcountry skiing: If you are adventurous and skilled enough, backcountry skiing might be the ultimate way to go if your safety buddy is someone from your quarantine pod. Chances are you can enjoy this sport without seeing or coming in contact with other people at all. It does come with other risks, obviously, but with a little extra time on your hands to learn new skills, it could be a fun venture.

Best resource: National Ski Areas Association is a great resource to see how different resorts and states are handling the ski season. Not only does the website tell you the state of operation of each area, but also best practices and tips for those who want to participate. Visit here.

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