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In alpine areas in winter, there are extra precautions to take. Here we list some of them. Some safety equipment is also listed under Alpine Gear.
- Ice is obviously very slippery and is most common in the morning and late afternoon. If youíre not confident of your ability to ski on ice, avoid these times of the day, especially areas which are in shadow.
- Never, ever, attempt to ski across a frozen lake or pond. Water bodies rarely freeze solidly enough to support the weight of a skier. If you fall through the ice you will be struggling against the weight of skis, pack, and thick waterlogged clothing; not a good situation to be in. Should you manage to get out of the water, you are then at risk of hypothermia.
- We find that our water intake increases markedly in the snow. Water is often either frozen or inaccessible, so carry enough for the day. We carry two litres in a flexible bladder with a drinking tube, and another litre inside the pack for lunch and as a reserve.
- While the idea of cooking your dinner over an open fire in an alpine hut seems romantic, in the real world it is rarely practical. Wood is hard to find and usually wet, if it exists at all. Carrying a fuel stove is quicker, more effective, and has less impact. If you do light a fire: (i) use wood sparingly, as the next person may need the fire more than you do, (ii) keep the fire small, and (iii) make very sure the fire is out when you leave.
- Stay well away from the lee side of a mountain ridge; overhanging cornices can develop and collapse without warning. The eastern side of Mt Feathertop is one location where this can occur.
- If snow camping, select a site out of the wind. Use whatever cover you can find; rocks, trees, or mounds of snow. A small wall of snow around your tent will help stop wind getting under your fly.
- If constructing a snow cave, stay as dry as possible. Rubber washing-up gloves are useful for this. Remember to keep the entrance clear and well-ventilated during the night. A cord tied to a nearby tree and passed through the vent into the cave can be helpful in keeping the vent clear.
- Be aware that fuel stoves release carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. People have died from using stoves in unventilated snow caves.
- Do not rely on huts for accommodation; they may be full, difficult to find, or you may not reach them. Always carry a sturdy tent.
- Do not leave anything outside overnight. It will be very difficult to find if it snows during the night. In particular, your snow shovel should be inside the tent vestibule. Leave skis upright in the snow outside the tent.
- Stay dry at all costs. Although snowflakes yield surprisingly little water when melted, anything wet or damp is liable to become cold.
- Remember that alpine winds can be vicious; carry several layers of warm clothing and a windproof shell garment.
- Knowing your own capabilities and staying within them is an important factor in staying safe. An expedition that one person might be able to undertake could be beyond the capabilities of another.
- Itís easy to overestimate how quickly you can cover a certain distance. Plan how far you intend to travel carefully and be conservative in your time estimates, especially for a group with varying skill levels. Snowshoeing in particular becomes significantly harder in soft snow.
Alpine expeditions have many similar characteristics to bush expeditions, but with additional factors caused by the more extreme environment. Parties venturing into alpine areas in winter should be properly equipped and prepared for the conditions.