With nationwide attention on the recent rescue of the Klein family and questions generated from the public, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and its Search and Rescue Unit would like to take this opportunity to remind people about being prepared before winter travel. Each year, the Sheriff’s Office responds to countless calls from motorists who have become stranded or stuck on impassable roads because they were following “alternate routes” listed on technology devices and map apps. Even if you are headed out for just an hour, an injury, severe weather, traffic accidents or a wrong turn could become life threatening. A short drive can turn into an emergency if you are unprepared. Keep Weather-Aware & Equipment-Prepared!
Know before you go – Be aware of existing and impending weather conditions, and check weather and road reports frequently. If extreme winter weather is predicted during the duration of your trip, cancel it. Research alternative routes. Be prepared to stay overnight if weather changes or travel is delayed. Contact places you are planning to visit to confirm hours of operation and accessibility. For hikers, remember that in the winter, trails that are typically fairly easy to follow in the spring, summer, and fall are often covered in snow making following the trail difficult to impossible.
Leave Detailed Trip Plans with a Trusted Person – The plan should include times and dates of departure and return. It should also include when you will arrive at certain checkpoints, even if no contact is established, it will assist searchers in locating you should you need their assistance. If trip plans change, it is important to notify the people with whom the trip plan was left so that this information can be shared with search and rescue teams if necessary.
Don’t Rely on Phones & Map Apps – There are many places where cellular services or coverage still DO NOT exist. A cell phone does not guarantee your safety. Have the appropriate navigation equipment and knowledge of how to use that equipment. Do your research before following map app directions and realize that just because a route is listed does not mean it is passable.
Accept Responsibility for Yourself – Emergency responders may not be immediately available and may take several hours before they can respond. If your location is unknown to emergency responders, it can take hours or even days before someone finds you. Resources such as helicopters and other specialty equipment are not guaranteed to be able to respond. Have emergency and survival gear with you. Become self-reliant by learning about the terrain, conditions, local weather and your equipment before you start.
Stay Together – Turn back and come the way you came if possible, or stay put. If you have prepared with appropriate winter weather gear and shared your trip plans, it is safer to stay put than to expose yourself to the elements or unknown terrain. Fatigue and unexpected conditions can affect your ability to survive.
Be prepared for cold weather and winter driving conditions – Have a full tank of gas, chains, flashlight, blankets and other emergency items. Always fill your gasoline tank before entering open country, even for a short distance. If you leave your vehicle running to provide heat make sure the tail pipe is properly vented and clear of snow or any other debris. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is silent and deadly.
Dress warmly in layered clothing. Layers allow you to easily adjust your clothes to regulate body moisture and temperature. Three types of layers are considered normal: a liner layer against your skin (long-johns), an insulation layer (fleece), and a water- and wind-proof outer shell. Cotton loses its insulating qualities when it gets wet, whether it is from rain or sweat. Cotton also takes a long time to dry out. Wool or synthetic materials are much better suited for cold weather conditions. Boots should have a waterproof outer shell such as oiled leather or plastic. Hiking boots alone are usually not adequate in deep snow conditions for extended periods. Protect from heat loss through your` head by wearing a warm stocking cap or other winter hat. Make sure socks and gloves do not fit so tight that they constrict the blood flow which keeps your hands or feet from warming up. Pack plenty of extra clothing in case you the clothes you are wearing become wet. Hiking clothing or footwear that gets wet not only makes movement more difficult, it also can contribute to hypothermia and other cold related injuries or illness.
Food & Water Tips: Keep yourself adequately nourished to provide fuel for hiking and for simply keeping your body warm. Food should be easy to prepare and tasty enough to be appetizing. Drink plenty of water even though you don’t think you are thirsty. Water is necessary for your body to generate heat. A good rule of thumb for checking hydration is the color of your urine. Urine will be light colored or clear if you are properly hydrated. Keep water bottles from freezing in your pack by putting them in a wool sock or insulated bottle cover.
Gear Tips: Even for short day hikes winter outdoor enthusiasts should carry survival equipment. Essential items include fire starting equipment, a light source and extra batteries, appropriate extra clothing, water, food, navigation equipment, pocket knife, shelter materials, sunglasses or goggles, a backcountry shovel, a backpacking stove and fuel and a small metal cup.
Backcountry users: Be familiar with avalanche hazard recognition and carry the appropriate safety equipment including an avalanche beacon, avalanche probe, backcountry shovel and winter survival gear. Backcountry users should not travel alone and should leave a detailed trip plan with a trusted friend. Cell phones are valuable tools but should not be relied upon in backcountry locations since cell coverage may be marginal. It is incumbent on winter backcountry users to acquire training and knowledge about avalanche safety. More information is available from the Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center at www.kachinapeaks.org.
Tips for Safe Snow Play: Be safe and aware. Don’t park along the highways to play in the snow. Watch out for hazards and other visitors. Be patient. Be a courteous driver. Roads may be congested. Leave no trace other than footprints and snowmen. Take your trash with you. Respect private property and other locations where snow play and sledding is not appropriate.
Here are a few links to some additional resources:
Winter Driving Safety Tips
Winter Storm Preparedness & Winter Safety
National Park Service and US Forest Service websites for different areas often have messages specific to recreation safety: