VARIABLES  AFFECTING A TRIP

 

INDEX OF CONTENTS.         Click on a subject to view it.

VARIABLES that can affect a trip are:

    [ weather ]     [ snow conditions ]     [ experience of skiers ]   [ time available ]    [ first aid ]   [  other problems ]

ITEMS to be considered for all trips are:  clothing,  food, water,  shelter,  navigation,  equipment,  tell someone

  WEATHER

The weather in Kosciuszko National Park can change rapidly (within half an hour) from calm and blue sky to a full gale with or without snow or rain. Such changes almost never “come out of the blue” and you will be prepared for them if you have seen an official forecast. The forecast does not always indicate or accurately predict the severity of a change.

Always be prepared for a weather change

  • Carry adequate clothing
  • Is it safe to continue or safer to change the planned route?
  • Have an escape route planned to use if necessary.

There is no need to stay at home in bad weather. There are many locations around Perisher and Charlotte Pass where you can find shelter from high winds and have an enjoyable day. Even Spencers Creek can be skied in a gale by staying in the trees on the eastern side. In a white out navigation and skiing is easier in the trees as you have a good visual reference. Avoid exposed ridges and saddles.  

What is it like to ski in bad weather?

The best way to answer this is to go out and experience it. Set off from Perisher on a day when the wind is blowing a gale and blowing snow. Conditions aren't too bad when you set out from the skitube so wear your parka but don't bother with overpants. Ski up the Kosciuszko Road to Perisher Gap. The force of the wind slows progress and it takes 40 minutes to ski there instead of 20 minutes. By the time you get to the top the wind has increased and the wet snow is heavier. You decide to put on your overpants as your skipants are already getting wet. You can't find any shelter so you stand in the wind and battle to balance on one leg while you struggle to get them on. You finally get them on but feel exhausted from the effort. Can your overpants  be put on while wearing ski boots? You continue on downhill to Guthries Creek but the wind is so strong that you have to kick and double pole all the way. Even on the steeper section down to Betts Camp you have to double pole. It's taken an hour to Betts Camp where you stop for a rest. There are no landmarks visible due to cloud and blowing snow. Your glasses are fogged up making it hard to read the map and your companion is no help as he needs spectacles to read. You are getting tired so you eat a sports bar and an apple and have a drink of water but while getting them out of your pack a lot of snow gets into the pack and you worry that your camera will get wet.  Doesn't matter because there is nothing to be seen to photograph. You are starting to feel cold from standing still. By now your gloves are wet so you put on overgloves.  Water is dripping down your neck and you feel a trickle down your front. You decide to turn back to Perisher. If you had to spend the night here where would you find shelter?  You get back to Perisher Gap in 15 minutes and find some shelter behind a tree for a breather but find that eddies of wind blow snow around and that you are feeling cold. Your overgloves are leaking because they are not good quality and your hands are freezing. How would you feel if you had to make camp here? The ski downhill to Perisher is harder than expected as the wind seems to be slowing you down. How come you get a head wind in both directions?  You arrive back in Perisher cold, wet and exhausted because you only had the one drink of water. You soon recover after a hot shower and a hot drink and a snack but how would you be in a tent?  With experience and planning you will be able to ski and camp in such conditions and remain warm and dry. Some days you may decide to stay inside. You will learn to avoid long trips into the wind and will have water and snacks easy to access. You may even enjoy skiing in such conditions.

ALWAYS OBTAIN A WEATHER FORECAST BEFORE GOING ON A TRIP

The best way to get forecasts is from the Department of Meteorology website www.bom.gov.au where you can quickly get forecasts, synoptic and cloud charts and four day forecasts. The service by fax on 1902 935 227 costs about 66c.  This fax forecast does not show cloud or synoptic charts. Printed forecasts are displayed at NPWS Visitor Centres, The Chalet at Charlotte Pass and some ski shops. Mountain forecasts include a four day outlook predicting weather conditions. Note that the predictions may be accurate, the weather may be better or worse than predicted or a front may approach quicker than predicted or bad weather may clear quicker than predicted. In general if the forecast is for bad weather conditions, believe it and if it is for good conditions be prepared for anything. Radio forecasts provide less information and are adequate for resort skiing but are of limited value for backcountry use unless bad weather is approaching.

Weather signs

  •  Cloud and white out conditions can came from any direction. One of the most memorable sights the writer has seen was cloud spilling down the western slopes of Mt Kosciuszko until it completely covered the Wilkinson Valley and the peaks while the sky was clear and sunny all day at Charlotte Pass.

  •   The first sign of an approaching southerly change is whispy cirrus cloud high in the sky. A front may be preceded by increasing north westerly winds over a day or two that may bring rain or snow just before the front and continuing rain or if cold enough snow with the wind change to south westerly. Cold fronts usually start in a low pressure system and the southerly winds will continue until the following high moves over and past the mountains. The front in the synoptic chart pictured followed a clear day with two days of high southerly winds and temperatures down to -12deg.C.and a metre of snow. The cloud had cleared by midday the third day. (Note the close isobars, the extreme low pressure and high pressure and the isobars coming from deep in the Antarctic.) This system passed rapidly but further cold fronts may be embedded in the high pressure system. If the low and high systems originate in southern polar regions the cold change will be more pronounced. If isobars on the weather map are more numerous and close together expect stronger winds. The passing pressure system usually gives cloud and snow for from one to three days but following patterns can occasionally produce six or seven days of bad weather.

  • Other factors affecting mountain weather are the global pattern of cloud, troughs of low pressure from the north west and high pressure systems giving morning fog, easterly winds may bring rain or snow.

  •   If cigar shaped lenticular clouds are seen above the range or to the east it is a sign of high winds on the mountain range.

  • In fine weather with westerly winds the mountain peaks become cloud covered about midday and the cloud may extend down for 150 to 300 metres. This is the result of fair weather moist air being blown over the range and condensing to cloud. As the air sinks again the cloud dissipates so there may be scattered clouds at Charlotte Pass but clear skies at Perisher and Jindabyne. From the mountain top the appearance is of an increasing number of cumulus clouds approaching, passing mist and finally enveloping mist. This fair weather cloud will dissipate about 4 pm leaving clear skies again.

  • On clear nights and in early morning, a campsite may be affected by wind from an unexpected direction. This is usually a katabatic wind caused when cold air slides down a mountainside.

  • Do not be fooled by a warm sunny day at Thredbo or Jindabyne. Up on the peaks the temperature will be at least 10 degrees colder and wind can add to the chill factor and it could be in cloud.  

Summer weather

Most of the snow will have melted by the end of November but note that snowfalls, thunderstorms, heavy rain, low visibility due to low cloud, and gale force winds and sub zero temperatures may occur at ANY time of year in Kosciuszko National Park. Hypothermia is a risk at any time of the year. The temperature in the high country will be at least10 degrees cooler than Jindabyne or Thredbo, plus the wind chill factor, and there could be frost at night even in January. The clothing and equipment needed for day walks or camping is the same all year round. Huts can be difficult to find even without the snow cover. Rivers may be swollen due to snow melt or heavy rain. Sunburn is a greater problem in spring and summer. There may be fire-bans in place. Snowfalls may be heavier and the snow stay on the ground longer from April on and heavy snowfalls and permanent snow from June.                              


SNOW CONDITIONS

A frustrating thing about cross country skiing is that you can have a great day today and ski 25 km like a champion, go out the next day full of expectations and not be able to do a thing right and struggle over 10 km.. Why?  Because the condition of the snow has changed.

The best snow for XC skiing is spring corn snow and a few centimetres of  fresh dry snow on a firm base is just as good. In between are all sorts of snow types, some of which will make skiing difficult or possibly dangerous.

The impact on trips is that progress may be much slower than anticipated. Inexperienced skiers may have difficulty keeping up with the group. Some snow conditions are very tiring to ski in and unfit skiers may reach the limit of their endurance sooner. Skiers should assess the quality of the snow on the day and make appropriate alterations to their plans if necessary.

Icy snow

Damp snow will freeze when the sun goes off it and remain frozen until the sun gets on it the next day or the air temperature warms above freezing. Many skiers using a trail that is soft will leave many deep ski tracks in the snow and it is difficult to ski uphill in these tracks when they are frozen. Skiing downhill in icy rutted snow is tiring and may be dangerous. Inexperienced or weaker skiers will be very apprehensive on downhill sections. On the other hand untracked icy snow can allow easy and rapid progress if there is enough give in the snow for an edge to hold. Try to ski untracked snow within sight of a pole line if the trail is rutted and icy.

Sometimes when there is freezing mist at night upper slopes will be glazed with ice and numerous icy balls and lumps. Flat areas like the upper reaches of the Snowy and Merrits Creek can get like this.

Icy snow may be found in patches on mountain slopes with defined  areas of softer windblown snow. This can be negotiated on the way up by climbing on the soft snow and on the way down completing turns in the soft patches but coming down requires more skill than going up.

When skiing groomed trails have a fast ski early or an easier ski by setting out when the snow starts to soften. On day trips an early start will usually offer improving snow conditions. Inexperienced skiers should plan to be home before the snow freezes at the end of the day. When conditions are icy look around for an easier track somewhere.  

On the faster downhill runs and on the corners of the groomed trails the snow gets scraped and packed by snowploughs and stemmed skis resulting in an icy or fast surface. The effect gets more pronounced as more skiers go over it. Try skiing it with one ski running straight on the smooth surface and the other stemmed in the soft snow. 

Soft snow

Sun shining on snow will raise it's temperature with radiated heat. (Notice how you can feel the warmth of the sun in the mountains minutes after sunrise.) The eastern facing slopes will start to soften about 10am. The northern facing slopes will soften about midday and the western facing slopes will soften the least, later in the day. The degree of softening will be affected by any cold or warm wind blowing over the snow.

Some valleys or bowls are natural sun traps and seem to concentrate the sun's rays where the snow softens and the skier feels the heat. Climbing out of Lady Northcotes Creek and Little Austria in the spring melts the skier as well as the snow.

Snow will often be soft in the valleys, but as the temperature drops by about 1ºC every 166 metres of altitude you will find that the snow gets firmer as you climb higher. This difference in temperature affects snow on the Perisher loops where the vertical difference is only about 80 metres as well as on greater climbs such as Perisher to Charlotte Pass at 160 metres.

There are occasions on a warm day where new snow that is soft and about freezing, will stick to the ski and ball up. The only real solution to this is an application of "anti freeze" to the patterned base of the skis but it invariably occurs when you are unprepared for it. Fortunately a change in altitude usually brings you out of such conditions or you can prevent the balling up by keeping the skis sliding.

New Snow

Snow is classed as new on the day that it falls and it may be dry, or damp or wet in warmer temperatures. Dry snow may retain it's characteristics for a day or more in very cold temperatures. New snow that is dry and fluffy will leave a lasting impression and the desire to keep on skiing and the hope that it will still be there the next day. When it gets deeper carve it up with telemarks. Anybody having difficulty in skiing downhill in deeper powder snow will manage with traverses and basic snow plough turns.

Travelling uphill in fresh snow takes longer if the snow is deep ( the skis sink below the surface of the snow) and the patterned base may not give as much grip. Allow extra time for a trip in these conditions and alternate the lead to allow the trail breaker a rest. Fitting "skins" on the skis make climbing easier in deep snow. During a snowfall, new snow at about freezing may ball up on the patterned base of the ski.  

New snow usually has the effect of slowing the skis down on downhill runs. It takes two or three days of sun and some thawing followed by overnight freezing before new snow will consolidate and become firmer to ski on it, rather than in it.

Wind blown snow

In strong winds the snow often does not settle in exposed areas but if it is damp it will build up as a hard packed layer. On the flatter areas wind blown snow will develop many wind scours that make the surface rough. Fresh wind blown snow can cause problems because the skier will come across patches of softer snow that tend to unbalance them.

If going out for a day trip look for leeward slopes or sheltered areas in the trees where the snow will be more consistent.

Uncle Toby’s snow

This is delivered as porridge and is as exciting to ski as eating burnt porridge. It is heavy and the skis forget how to turn. If you complete a turn you feel that you will rip the bindings off the skis or tear your boots apart.. Telemarks will work if you keep the skis nearly parallel and edge both skis together.  It is surprisingly easy to ski on the flat and uphill but most skiers will have difficulty on the way down. Allow extra time in this snow and choose an open slope for descents by traversing and avoid gullies or closely treed slopes.

Breakable crust

This is usually heavy “wet concrete” type snow with a frozen surface. It is difficult to ski if the skiers weight causes the ski to break through the crust. By skiing gently you may be able to stay on top of the crust and do stem or christy turns. If you break through the crust skis are liable to go in different directions or edges get caught.  If the crust breaks readily you could try a jump turn to break through the crust before completing the turn.

Allow extra time in this sort of snow, ski in control and keep away from obstacles.

Composite snow

Sometimes an area will contain patches of two or more different types of snow. There could be wind scoured rough patches with areas of softer snow, fast snow and slow snow, deep snow and packed snow or soft snow and firm snow or soft snow with icy patches under trees where there has been water dripping from melting snow in the trees. Inexperienced skiers will be hesitant in these conditions until they become accustomed to the effect that the changes have on their skiing.

Spring corn snow

Corn snow is snow that has been repeatedly thawed in the sun and refrozen at night and eventually has the appearance of a layer of hailstones on a reasonably firm base. Great for skiing on for kilometre after kilometre. Any sort of turn will work. Some slopes will get wetter as the day goes on and become slower to ski. On gentle slopes you just have to work harder to keep going forward.                

Cornices and avalanches

AVALANCHE DANGER IN KOSCIUSZKO NATIONAL PARK

KCros is concerned that some cross country skiers, snowboarders or mountaineers may not be aware of the danger of avalanches in the KNP backcountry.

In the winter season 2000, a combination of heavy snowfalls and low temperatures since May  produced many massive overhanging cornices and snow conditions which favoured slope avalanches. Many slab avalanches occurred including  one on the southern face of the Sentinel ridge that extended downwards for about a kilometre and have a slab thickness estimated at least a metre.

Several cornices collapsed spreading debris over a wide area below the ridge, including the Twynam West Ridge towards Watsons Crags where the debris tumbled 200 vertical metres down almost to Watsons Creek; and from the trig point at 1838m at the end of Crummer Spur down to the Snowy River and in both cases fault lines appearing in the snow indicate that more will follow.

KCros recommends that skiers do not ski or camp anywhere below a cornice as falling debris can extend to the bottom of the slope and even be pushed over gentle slopes or level ground below.

Snowboarders should not jump off cornices as they run the risk of setting off a slab avalanche or the cornice collapsing. It is advisable to stay at least 10 metres back from the edge of a cornice.

Because avalanches occur only in the backcountry and are infrequent there is no formalised danger warning procedure. Skiers who want to ski the “extreme” slopes can only get reports of snow conditions from backcountry tour operators. KCros will endeavour to collate any information on the cause and possibility of avalanches in KNP as local conditions are different from those prevailing in northern hemisphere countries where avalanche forecasting is a priority.

 

Cornices are formed along the top of ridges that run in a north south direction and may be two or three metres or more in vertical height above the slope below and are frequently overhanging. They pose a danger in a whiteout if one falls over them. Don't ski too close to the edge of a cornice as it may give way. Take care skiing underneath a cornice as it may avalanche at any time, with the debris containing large blocks of snow falling to the bottom of the slope. Cornices are found on the Watson Crags (pictured),  Kosciuszko Ridge from Cootapatamba to Muellers Peak, Etheridge Ridge, Mt Anderson and many other main range ridges as well as lesser ridges such as Mt Guthrie.    

Avalanches are not common in the Australian mountains but they do occur. In July 1956 an avalanche off Mt Clarke destroyed Kunama Lodge. They may occur after a moderate to heavy snowfall on a firm or icy base and are usually formed on the leeward slope. They are not restricted to steep and long slopes but can occur in a small area on relatively gentle slopes. The avalanche pictured (right) occurred about 10 am in mid August 2000 after about 1 metre of snow built up on the slope in the previous day and night. It is located just above the Kosciuszko Rd. on the ridge to the south of Guthrie trig on a slope that is quite skiable by an intermediate telemarker. The slab slid from the top third of the slope and almost buried a small tree in the centre with debris covering the bottom two thirds of the slope. The slab thickness was measured at 75 cm and parts of the debris were slabs up to 2 metres square. Fortunately the photographer was traversing above the avalanche when it occurred (the track in knee deep snow is visible in the top right corner). The result of a skier being caught in this avalanche could have been fatal.   

 

 

 

 

Photo at left shows a large block of frozen snow and other debris that dislodged from a cornice on the main range.

                                                                           

 

 

 

The photo at left shows a slab avalanche on the Mt Sentinel Ridge that occurred sometime prior to 13 September 2000. Four skiers skied the creek depression on the ridge behind on the day that this photo was taken and descended towards Strzelecki Ck then climbed up to the ridge on the left and then climbed left of the cornice. Parties skiing slopes such as these should be aware of the risk of avalanches occurring. Accounts of avalanches may be read in "Skiing the Western Faces Kosciusko" written by Alan Andrews. (Mt Jagungal in the background)


THE SKIER’S EXPERIENCE

WHAT IS EXPERIENCE?

Experience is knowledge and skills gained from life by contact with events. Experience is relative. A skier who has skied 500km around the Perisher Loops has a lot to learn about the backcountry. A skier who has made a trip from Charlotte Pass to Mt Kosciuszko has very little experience of the backcountry. Someone who has been on several backcountry trips may have gained little experience if they just skied blindly at the back of the line. A bit like the "experienced" car driver who travels thousands of kilometres every year but has an accident on icy roads. A skier who goes into the snow country and is aware of their surroundings, and aware of the things that make the trip easy, difficult or impossible will have gained useful experience and will acquire skills that will enable them to plan and conduct a trip easily and safely. A skier may have 25 years exposure to ski touring but will continue to come across situations or conditions that are new or different and the "experienced" skier will have the skills to make the journey safe and enjoyable. 

The effect of age.

Children can learn to XC ski at an early age and at 7 or 8 years old can ski up to 5 or 6 km a day in good weather. Children have less stamina, less strength for technical skiing and less will to continue when tired or cold so trips and activities should be planned at a level that is comfortable for them. They can become frightened by height and steep slopes unless they are introduced to them gradually. When they graduate to steeper climbs such as going up Mt Guthrie they should follow a leader who will pick out the best route and they should be guided down again on the safest traverses. Boredom is usually a bigger problem that lack of energy so avoid long treks by skiing for a kilometre or so and then digging a snow cave, playing games,  looking for foxes or having a picnic. Children are good imitators and love learning so teach them to telemark or use a compass.

Children must not be allowed to ski without an adult being present as they lack an understanding of how to react in an emergency.

Advancing years may have little effect on an experienced and fit XC skier. They may slow down a little but they can do it smarter and their stamina can be the equal of younger people. Results in the KAC 8 km race show that there is not a lot of difference in the times of people in the 50 to 70 age bracket. The winner of the men’s over 70 age group in 1999 was faster than 70% of the finishers. The men in the over 80 class take about 1½ hours and enjoy it immensely.

When planning a trip take account of the age and experience of the skiers to determine a distance and route that will be achievable and enjoyable for all. The weather conditions and snow conditions will also have a bearing on the feasibility, safe conduct and success of the trip.     

 

TIME

Available time

This is dependant on the length of the day, the starting time and the amount of time spent resting, waiting for others, having fun skiing downhill and meal breaks.

The KAC ski race from Perisher to Charlotte Pass on a prepared track is a good indicator of how ability affects the time taken to ski 8 km be able to keep on skiing. The winner will skate the distance in about 25 minutes and be able to ski back to Perisher immediately. An experienced classical skier takes about 50 minutes, while the majority of skiers who have done a bit of cross country skiing finish in under 1¼ hours and can ski back after a lunch break. An alpine skier who has never used XC skis before is often highjacked into the event and can do it in about 1¾ hours but will not have the energy to ski back to Perisher. Anyone who has never skied before should not attempt this event.

Plan an early start for day trips.

Always plan to get back home an hour before last light. Not only does the snow freeze late in the day but it can be difficult finding your way after dark. If you are not home by the appointed time warn your friends to check at the pub before raising the alarm but if you head off somewhere else make a phone call to tell them that you are back.

Time taken

The time taken for a trip should be monitored through the trip to make sure that the camp or lodge will be arrived at within the allotted time. It is better to turn back before the goal is reached than to be caught out late. The actual time taken will vary according to all the variables listed and the route taken.  


FIRST AID

Fortunately cross country skiing is a low risk activity when care is taken. The risk of injury is low but if a person has to be evacuated from the snow there can be a long delay before rescue occurs and the greatest risks to the victim are the effects of shock and cold. For this reason any party going more than half an hour from a village would be advised to carry at least one sleeping mat and a first aid kit, and a space blanket for each person. The knowledge gained in attaining a first aid certificate is useful and additional skills will be attained in a remote area first aid course. For information go to www.stjohn.org.au 

Snow blindness is sunburn of the eye tissue which is extremely painful with inflamed eyes that feel gritty. It is prevented by wearing sunglasses and treated by rest in a darkened room for 3 days and antibiotic or antiseptic eye drops guard against infection.

Sunburn can be prevented by applying a factor 30 sunscreen. Best applied half an hour before going outside. Add a layer of white or coloured zinc if extra protection needed. The treatment for bad sunburn is to stay out of the sun or seek medical advice if severe. On warm sunny days resist the temptation to ski without clothes. You will not feel the effects of sunburn as the temperature is low but after even a short time you will have severe sunburn. Very severe sunburn may need medical treatment.

Dry lips can be prevented or treated by frequent applications of a lip balm containing sunscreen.

Blisters are caused by ill fitting or new boots. Wear in new leather boots around the backyard and soften them with leather dressing. Blisters are preventable. If they are known to be a problem tape the affected part of the foot with Beiersdorf Fixomul® tape BEFORE going skiing. This prevents rubbing of the skin and is most effective in preventing blisters. If a blister forms or you can feel an irritation, catch it early before it gets too big or breaks and apply one or two layers of the tape, or a layer of the tape covered with a shiny zinc oxide tape. This will prevent the blister getting worse. Leave the tape on until it washes off, unless there is throbbing or pain indicating that a blister has formed.

If a small blister forms or the skin breaks the best chance of still skiing is to stick a Scholl felt bunion ring around the blister and tape it in position. Do not apply bandaids over blisters or tender areas as they will cause more rubbing. Tea tree oil applied to the blister will help it heal and is antiseptic.

If taping fails or the blister is not caught early enough (see picture) then Spenco Blister treatment will enable you ski back home. The blisters pictured occurred years ago before effective prevention was available. Blisters should never reach this stage and now skiing is out of the question and rest is the only cure and the blistered area should be kept clean. There is a risk of infection.

Viral or other infection may affect someone while out skiing and is most likely to occur on the first or second day in the snow. They may not feel 100%, but will set out in the morning apparently well and will suddenly over the period of an hour or less fall behind the group, feel tired, lack energy, lose their appetite and at that point be unable to struggle on for more than half to one hour. Evacuation or a diversion to safety may be necessary. It is important that they are forced to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and although they may have a temperature, they should be kept warm and sheltered until rescued.

Sprains can be supported well enough with a crepe bandage for the victim to continue skiing. On a fine day the affected area can be packed with snow immediately for 10 to 20 minutes to reduce swelling and pain. Otherwise apply snow when shelter is reached and avoid heat .

Broken limbs are rare in XC skiing but as it takes 5 triangular bandages to immobilize a leg fracture we recommend that each skier carry a triangular bandage and a crepe bandage. These bandages are also necessary to treat a head or eye injury. Serious injuries need the help of a trained first aider. Do you have a trained first aider in your party?  For more information on wilderness first aid contact WFAC from the links page.

Frostbite   

Frostnip and frostbite are best prevented by dry clothing that is suitable for the conditions. Wear balaclavas, parka hoods and undergloves and overgloves in very cold conditions. A frost bitten nose is a possibility from skiing into a blizzard for an extended period unless it is covered.

Frostnip is common with the affected hands, feet, ears or face being cold and white and feeling cold and painful. Treated by applying warmth to the area which will cause temporary pain and throbbing. Cold fingers may be warmed by swinging the arms rapidly in a circle for 20 revolutions to get the blood to the fingers.

Frostbite occurs as white, hard and painless tissue that has no feeling as the tissue is frozen. The treatment is immersion in warm water about 40 deg.C and warming the whole body. Care must be taken that the affected area does not refreeze or the resulting damage is worse so thawing may be best delayed in the snow if the victim can reach civilisation in a short time. In a shelter in the snow, the best treatment is as for hypothermia with shared body heat.

Hypothermia. 

In cold and / or wet conditions inadequate clothing, tiredness and insufficient food can combine to cause a lowering of normal body temperature (hypothermia) which can result in collapse or death if untreated.

Danger signs

  • Victim is exhausted, incapable of rational thought and action, lags behind, stumbles, may have slurred speech and appear drunk, and is reluctant to keep walking or skiing.
  • Cold hands, feet and face are not necessarily a sign of hypothermia but a victim's abdomen is cold to touch. 
  • Pulse is slow and shallow.  They may be difficult to reason with. 
  • Shivering is the body's first reaction to cold in an attempt to warm it. People with hypothermia may not be shivering. When shivering stops a major emergency is imminent. 
  • Be aware, signs of hypothermia are often mistaken for fatigue.
  • If the victim becomes unconscious check for pulse and resuscitate if necessary while warming them by any means.

Treatment

Treat the victim IMMEDIATELY by providing shelter and warmth, dry clothes and beanie, sleeping bag or shared body warmth. Warm the person from the inside out and avoid excessive external heat such as placing them near a fire or rubbing the skin. Once in shelter, avoid moving the victim until they recover. Give warm sweet tea if the person is conscious. As they recover encourage them to eat.

Let their body temperature rise gradually and allow them to rest. Do NOT give alcohol or cigarettes. Send for outside help if possible.


OTHER PROBLEMS SOLVED

A broken stock can be repaired by splinting it with a length of conduit that has been sawn in half lengthwise and binding it tightly with cord. A broken ski tip makes the ski useless unless a spare ski tip is carried. A broken ski or binding may be repaired enough to walk on by using gaffa tape or cord and epoxy. A broken boot can be bound with tape. Avoid walking on gravel roads to protect the boot soles. Drying boots or leather items in front of a fire may damage them.

Gear is less likely to fail during a trip if it is well cared for and maintained and checked before using. Keep leather treated with dubbin, Sno-seal® or other leather preserver. Check the screws in bindings and the workings of adjustable stocks. A little smear of lip salve on the adjusting bolt thread will make stocks easier to adjust and prevent rust. Do not over tighten or they may be impossible to adjust in the snow. Is the gear suitable for the trip that is planned?  Check the tent for frayed spots and frayed guy ropes. Know how many pegs you need and make sure they are all collected when camp is broken.

The most efficient and safest stoves to use are the MSR brand. Check the stove before each trip. Are there any fuel leaks? Does it work?  Do you have sufficient fuel?

RIVER CROSSINGS

If you are lucky there will be a good snow bridge. The only sure way of testing if a snow bridge is sound is to send the bravest  member of the party across first. Cracks appearing in the bridge should cause caution. Is the bridge well supported by rocks or is it arched? Are there recent tracks over the bridge. Will you be able to get out of the water if the bridge gives way?  Ski across quickly one at a time. If there is any doubt do not use the bridge.

In flat areas a creek frequently floods an area adjacent to the creek and a large area can become frozen. In the thaw these areas should be treated with caution in case you break through over a deeper section of water.

If a river has to be waded care should be taken if the water is fast flowing. Try to pick the smoothest area of water. Wearing sandshoes or wetsuit boots will give more secure footsteps and keep ski boots dry. If water is fast flowing and above the knees consider looking for another crossing. A crossing that is unsafe for one person can often be safely crossed by two or three people who cross in a line parallel to the flow, bracing themselves with arms linked and around a pair of skis.

Rivers may rise rapidly following rain. In good weather they are usually lower in the morning and rise a bit during the day.

Make sure that your skis and poles are secure and will not be dropped as they will quickly float away out of reach. Undo the waistband on your pack so that you will not be trapped if you fall in. If you do fall in wring out wet clothes or use dry ones if possible but if it is very windy just put on parka and overpants and ski to find shelter before attempting to dry out.

If in doubt about the safety of a river crossing DON’T CROSS, stay put, go back or go the long way round.

SKIING ALONE

All the warnings say never ski alone. The ideal minimum number in a party is four so that in the event of having to go for help one person can stay with the victim and two can go for help. Three in a party is almost as good. If you ski as a couple then the victim must be left alone while the other person goes for help. Having a number of people on a trip increases the chance of solving problems of navigation. In a large party make sure that someone is at the end of the line to look after the stragglers. In a large group consider breaking into a fast group and a slow group, each with a leader. If part of a group decides to ski off away from the group make sure you tell the group.

In spite of the warning many people ski alone and overall  very few incidents arise but one skier is lucky to be alive after breaking a leg, crawling several kilometres through the snow before being found by a passing group. He owed his life to staying calm. If you chose to ski alone at least plan the trip carefully, take adequate survival gear, tell someone where you are going and reassess risk throughout the trip. Avoid high risk situations like fast, steep skiing or difficult terrain. If anything goes wrong you are on your own, rescue will be delayed and you have only yourself to blame.

LOST or DON’T KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?

Not sure where you are?  Is there someone in another group to ask? Can you climb to higher ground to have a look? Follow the suggestions below.

Completely lost. Stay calm. Stay where you are.

If the weather is clear study your map and go over where you have been. Do the features that you can see match any details on the map?  Can you climb higher to get a better view that will establish your position?  Can you back track to your last known position?  Can you take two bearings on known features to establish your position?  Even one bearing will give you a zone of probability. Being lost on a fine day should not happen if you refer to the map and compass early when first covering new ground and if you keep confirming your position on the map at frequent intervals or major features. If you are in trees and do not seem to be getting where you expect consider retracing your track and trying another way, or taking a new course to intercept a known feature.

If visibility is poor or in a whiteout  stay calm and stay put. Check on the map for your last known reference point and draw a circle or arc on the map over the area where you could be situated. Can you recognize any landmarks?  Can you retrace your track and start again?  Were your compass bearings correct?  Is there a direction to ski that will safely take you to a pole line, a road or a major feature like a river? What are the dangers in continuing or retreating? Do you have a GPS unit to determine your position? Take steps to get warm and dry or remain warm.

If you are lost on the Rams Head Range between Thredbo and Perisher do not attempt to travel down through the bush to the Thredbo River as the bush is dense, you will break through snow cover and be up to your neck in scrub and will quickly be exhausted and very difficult for a search party to find.

If you are lost it is best to stay where you are. If you are forced to spend a night out in the snow without a tent you can do a lot to make the night more comfortable

  • If there is no way you can find your way out or if you are out of food, or injured and in danger can you summon help with a mobile phone?  If not, do you have an EPIRB to activate?
  • Get out of the wind. If possible get into a treed area or find a feature that will provide a windbreak. Make preparations before dark if time permits.
  • Dig a snow cave or a shelter from wind and rain. Make a shelter by digging a hole or building a wall and using skis and a space blanket for a roof.
  • Break branches off trees to make a floor and more to crawl under if necessary.
  • Use upturned skis to make a floor.
  • Ration food if necessary but look for water and drink plenty.
  • Put on all your clothes and hat.  Keep your boots on but put your feet and legs inside your pack if possible or use it to sit on.  
  • Keep wet clothes on if wearing thermals but put on dry sox and gloves if possible.
  • Huddle together or in a foetal position and wrap in a space blanket to conserve warmth.
  • Light a fire if there is sufficient dry wood to get one started.  
  • Do not smoke or drink alcohol as both increase blood circulation in the skin and cause loss of body heat.
  • Stay calm and try to sleep.
  • At daybreak reassess your situation.

Now that you have read all the content of the KCros website on backcountry safety go out and enjoy your skiing. The risk of a serious incident is definitely reduced with good planning. View the disclaimer for this website before going skiing.

copyright © KCros July 2000 

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