Camping and backpacking in the snow is appealing to those who enjoy the quiet of wilderness during the winter, and haven’t seen the ending of The Shining. If you are not adequately prepared for these weekend backpacking trips in the snow, a peaceful and relaxing weekend could go south. Hiking in the snow with a 40 or 50-pound bag on your back is going to create some obstacles that the average hiker isn’t likely to face in the summer.
Winter backpacking trips require more planning. Do research on the area where you are planning to hike. Is there risk of avalanches? What are the snow conditions like? What is the weather forecast? These are important pieces of information that can make the difference between a pleasant weekend and, well, something you might regret.
Hiking in the backcountry during winter requires an understanding of navigation (i.e. how to use a compass, GPS, avalanche beacon, etc.). The Gear House rents out avalanche beacons, compasses, and maps. Be aware of simply following other’s tracks in the snow. Granted, some trails in the winter will be heavily tracked and others not, but always be aware of your surroundings and actively use your navigation tools.
When packing for winter camping, add a few things to your bag that you would leave at home during the summer. Depending on how snow-covered and steep the terrain is, there are different types of snowshoes you can use; flat terrain, rolling terrain, and mountain terrain. In some situations you won’t need snowshoes if the trails aren’t covered in snow, in other cases there will be over 10 feet of snow. Snowshoes are available for rent at the Ahlberg Gear House ($10 per week). Of course, snowshoes will not always be necessary for winter hiking. Warm socks and good waterproof and insulated hiking boots can suffice for certain terrain.
The extent that you will rent winter hiking gear depends on the snow and terrain conditions. You can use crampons, avalanches probes, snow shovel, all-season tents, and layers of clothing. Clothing for winter hiking plays an important role in safety and comfort. Make sure to have three layers of clothing, the base (wool fabrics, avoid cotton), middle (fleece or down), and outer (waterproof/windproof). Essentially, choose clothing that is waterproof and breathable, dries quickly, and insulates well.
There are a lot of safety steps that come with hiking in the winter, but the payoff is amazing. There are less people on trails during the winter time, resulting in a lot of peace and quiet accompanied by beautiful scenery. The lack of deciduous leaves and understory brush allows you to take in different features of the land and truly appreciate how lucky we are to live where we do.
Colorado Springs is a beautiful area to live in during all four seasons. The weather should not stop you from going outside and enjoying the mountains. It can be stressful to collect all of the gear to ensure your winter backpacking trips are safe, but the results are worth it. Experiencing the mountains in the winter can give you a different perspective, much needed solitude, and a peaceful weekend.