Winter backcountry safety
Glacier National Park
With steep mountain slopes and deep snow, most of Glacier National Park is avalanche terrain throughout the snow-covered months. Your safety is your personal responsibility. While natural hazards exist, the risks can be minimized by taking reasonable precautions. Careful pre-trip planning, appropriate equipment and knowledge of natural hazards are all essential. Choose a trip that reflects the level of ability of your group.
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Significant avalanche terrain exists throughout Glacier National Park. All winter backcountry users should have the knowledge and skills to travel in avalanche terrain.
Travel through avalanche terrain requires a special set of skills for evaluating avalanche risk. While in avalanche terrain, your entire group must be properly equipped with shovels, avalanche transceivers and probes, so as to be able to find and rescue a member(s) of your party should they get caught in an avalanche.
Weather in Glacier National Park can be extreme and unpredictable. Even if the day starts out sunny, be prepared for cold temperatures, snow, strong winds and poor visibility. Whiteout conditions can complicate route-finding and prevent you from detecting avalanche terrain, open water and glacier crevasses. Weather can also play a major role in the development of avalanche hazard.
It is important to check current weather conditions, weather forecasts, and webcams when planning a trip to Glacier National Park.
Hypothermia is the lowering of the interior body temperature, and is caused by exposure to the cold, aggravated by wetness, wind and personal exhaustion. Your body is similar to a furnace: if it loses more heat than it can produce, the body's core temperature will drop. Without an external heat source hypothermia can be fatal.
Watch for these symptoms:
- uncontrollable fits of shivering
- slurred speech
- loss of coordination: difficulty performing simple tasks
- changes in normal behaviour: a good-natured person may begin to grumble and complain.
Frostbite is the actual freezing of the body tissues caused by exposure to cold, especially when aggravated by wind and wetness. The nose, ears, cheeks and chin are most often affected, but more severe cases of frostbite can involve the hands and feet.
Watch for these symptoms:
- affected area becomes cold and numb
- skin turns white, yellow-white and/or mottled blue-white
To ensure you have a safe and enjoyable trip, please plan your trip carefully. Do not attempt activities beyond your skills and capabilities, and use your discretion when traveling in the backcountry. You are ultimately responsible for your own safety.
A few tips:
- It is always safer to travel in a group
- Pick an objective that is within your group’s ability and have an alternate plan in case conditions change.
- Check the weather forecast.
- Let someone know your plans. Leave an itinerary, route map and the names of your party with a friend or family member.
- Ensure that you are properly equipped.
- Take your avalanche safety gear and know how to use it if you are venturing into avalanche terrain.
- Dress in layers to adapt to changing conditions
- Drink and eat regularly to stay hydrated and maintain energy
- Set a turn-around time and stick to it.
NOTE: Except in an emergency, open fires are not permitted in the park. Backpacking stoves are your only source of heat in the backcountry.
Most of Glacier National Park is remote wilderness. Backcountry users must be entirely self-sufficient and able to handle any emergency situations on their own. In the event of an emergency you should be prepared for lengthy delays in search and rescue response times due to weather conditions, short daylight hours and/or the availability of both aircraft and rescue personnel.
Cell phone coverage is limited in the backcountry. We recommend you carry a satellite phone. Other satellite GPS messenger devices, such as a SPOT or inReach, can also be effective. Be aware that coverage can be adversely affected by vegetation and topography in some locations.
Parks Canada 24 hour emergency dispatch:
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