By Ken Cluff
Dec 03, 2015

Expect the Unexpected

X-country skiingAnything can happen in the cold winter outdoors and often does. You should take measures designed to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring. Consider all reasonably foreseeable problems and then devise a plan to minimize the risk to manage a crisis. Expect the unexpected. Cross country skiing and/or snowshoeing safety is a matter of foresight and good judgment.

An injury that doesn’t happen needs no treatment.
An emergency that doesn’t occur requires no response.
An illness that doesn’t develop demands no remedy.
Managing Risk

Obviously, the best way to stay safe in the outdoors is not to get into trouble in the first place. That requires team planning, leadership, and good judgment. As long as you  keep your wits about you and clearly consider the consequences of your actions, you’ll be able to enjoy even the most remote wilderness areas safely.

The preparations you make before a trek can do a lot to ensure your Scouts are safe in the backcountry. Thorough planning means your Scouts will have the clothing, camping equipment, provisions, and survival gear they’ll need.

You will have thought through the route you intend to follow, checked weather forecasts, practiced any special skills the outing will demand, and left a complete trip plan with responsible people who will search for you and your team if you are overdue in returning home. Since your chances of getting into difficulties are greatly reduced when you travel with others, you must have at least four participants (2 adults and 2 youth, BSA rules) in your group. In short, you’ll have done everything you can to foresee and avoid problems before they can occur.


Each of your boys needs to have a whistle around his neck at all times, day and night. When you are injured and can’t walk, when you are lost in the woods in a blinding snow blizzard, when you have drifted away from your scout buddy, a loud whistle sound is the best way to get attention in a hurry.


telemarkingHow fast should the snow trek be paced? Not faster than the slowest team member. Keep some space between skiers or boys on snowshoes; 6 to 10 feet is about right. Space will allow safety (no skiing or stepping on heels or catching flying snow covered tree limbs in the face); it also allows for convenient stops and a good chance to view  the surrounding environment for possible problems. A steady even pace results in fewer rest stops and less chance that team members will overheat.

This is important especially if some of your boys are having a problem keeping up. Too frequent rest stops signal a too-rapid speed of skiing is taking place. Skiing or snowshoeing with a pack is much different than walking without one. A pack on your shoulders alters your sense of balance. Its weight puts extra strain on your feet, ankles, and knees, especially when you’re trudging uphill. Take it easy at first until you become accustomed to the sensation of carrying a pack, and rest whenever you begin to tire.
Ken Cluff
Author: Ken Cluff | Editor, The Varsity Vision Newsletter


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