by Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
Winter is a wonderful time to experience the outdoors. Many find that winter offers solitude, scenic beauty, and a chance to hone outdoor skills. But, with winter use on the rise, users and land managers are beginning to witness more winter recreation-related impacts such as user conflicts, inappropriate human waste disposal, vegetation damage and significant impacts on wildlife. As a growing number of skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and telemarkers venture out in winter for day or overnight trips, the need to practice Leave No Trace winter techniques is significant.
Fortunately, for recreationists, many of the usual worries about the impacts of three-season backcountry use are of little concern in winter. Although growing, the visitor numbers are lower than those of other seasons, and soil and vegetation are often covered under a thick layer of snow, which greatly helps to minimize impacts.
By adhering to the following Leave No Trace winter use principles, outdoor enthusiasts can help to ensure protection of resources and the quality of winter experiences.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Familiarize yourself with the area you plan to visit. Always check avalanche and weather reports prior to departure. Check with local land managers about high danger areas, safety information and special regulations for the area you plan to visit. Prepare for extreme weather, hazards and emergencies. Monitor snow conditions frequently and carry and use an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel. If necessary, take a winter backcountry travel course. Always be sure to leave your itinerary with family or a trusted friend. For overnight trips, remember to repackage your food to eliminate the amount of potential trash being carried into the backcountry, and to save weight! Lastly, use a map and compass or a GPS to find your way, which eliminates the need for tree markings, rock cairns or flagging.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
While on the trail, stay on deep snow cover whenever possible. If you’re out in the shoulder seasons and conditions are muddy, stay on snow or walk in the middle of the trail to avoid creating new trails and damaging trailside plants. In winter, you should travel and camp well away from avalanche paths, steep slopes, cornices and unstable snow. When choosing a campsite, look for a durable surface such as rock or snow – not tundra or other fragile vegetation. Campsites should be in a safe location, which is out of view from heavily traveled routes and trails. Camps should also be located at least 200 feet from any recognizable water source – consult your map.
Dispose of Waste Properly
Pack it in, pack it out. Pack out everything you brought in with you. Trash and litter should not be buried in the snow or the ground. Be sure and pick up all food scraps, wax shavings, and other litter. Bring along an extra trash bag to pack out litter left behind by others. Solid human waste should be packed out. If packing human waste out is not an option, it should be disguised in deep snow well away from travel routes and at least 200 feet from water sources. Snow makes a great natural alternative to toilet paper. If you do use toilet paper, be sure to use it sparingly and pack it out. When washing dishes, use very small amounts of biodegradable soap if necessary. Strain dishwater into a sump hole after removing any food particles, which should be packed out. Before you leave, inspect your campsite for trash or other evidence of your stay. You should dismantle all snow shelters, igloos, or wind breaks to naturalize the area.
Leave What You Find
Leave all plants, rocks, animals and historical and cultural artifacts as you found them. Be sure to let natures sounds prevail, by keeping loud voices and noises to a minimum.
Minimize Fire Impacts
Campfires cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Winter backcountry users should always carry a lightweight camp stove for cooking. If you determine that it is safe and responsible to have a fire, use only dead downed wood, if you can find any. All fires should be put out completely, and the cool ashes should be scattered widely. When gathering wood, never cut or break limbs off live, dead or downed trees.
Winter is an especially vulnerable time for wildlife. Wildlife should be observed from a distance, and should never be followed or approached. Feeding wildlife is particularly harmful and should never be done. Special consideration should be taken to properly secure food and trash.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Winter recreationists should be considerate of other users by sharing the trails, yielding to downhill and faster traffic, and being courteous. When taking rest breaks, move off the trail to allow other to easily pass by. Whenever possible, separate ski and snowshoe tracks. Also, avoid hiking on ski or snowshoe tracks. If you decide to take your pet with you, educate yourself about local regulations regarding pets. Be considerate of others by keeping your pet under control at all times. Always remember to pack out or bury all pet waste.
For more information, please visit www.LNT.org. You can also learn about Leave No Trace ethics and other backcountry basics in Wilderness Trekking School, Introduction to Hiking Safety and other CMC courses.