Winter Mountain Adventures: What to Know Before You Run in the Snow

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website. Photos and videos by Tayte Pollmann.

Trail running in the mountains during the winter can be an incredible experience, but there are a few challenges as well. During winter months, mountain trails can be covered in ice and snow and weather can be volatile and unpredictable. Listed below are my top five tips for making the most out of your next winter trail running adventure in the mountains.

Where am I?
Having good orientation is essential to navigating on snowy trails. Snow can completely hide the trail itself, as well as signage and trail markers it’s common to get lost by following tracks in the snow that may not lead to your destination. Even trails you may know well during snow-free months can be much harder to follow when there’s snow. Plan additional time into your runs for route finding, as it is almost assured there will be moments when you may have to stop and reorient yourself. Trail navigation apps, such as Viewranger and Gaia GPS are great tools to help you find your way. Make sure that your phone is completely charged before you head out on your run and carry it in a safe and warm place (hydration pack, zipper pocket or pouch).

Stay Warm and Cool and Hydrated
Running uphill in the mountains generates heat. Even in freezing temperatures, you may find yourself sweating and taking off heavier layers of clothing when moving quickly uphill. On the contrary, running downhill produces less heat and you may find yourself getting chilled. When preparing to go out for a winter run in the mountains, dress more lightly on the uphill, but bring warmer layers to prepare for chilly downhills. When your head, feet, and hands are covered your core will stay warmer as your body doesn’t need to generate as much heat elsewhere in your body. If you can, start out with the wind at your back to “warm up,” as a result, the wind chill in your face and direction changes won’t be as shocking to your system. You still sweat during winter runs, so make sure you carry hydration and be sure that the vessel you are using doesn’t freeze.

Use Traction Devices
Traction devices are accessories either built into your shoes, or removable, that can help you gain traction on icy or snowy conditions. Popular brands include, Icespike, Kahtoola, YakTrax, or Hillsound. Most brands offer a variety of styles that are specific to different types of snow and ice conditions. There are also shoes that have traction already embedded into the tread such as IceBug or the Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX and Snowpike CSWP.

Consider Winter Season Cross Training Activities
Trail runners can take advantage of the many cross training opportunities during the winter season in the mountains. Snowshoe racing, cross country skiing and ski mountaineering are some of the best ways to build aerobic fitness and practice climbing in the mountains. Follow our coverage of the U.S. Snowshoe National Championships in “Trail Town” Leadville, Colorado in 2 weeks on February 28, 2020. Want to try snowshoe racing yourself? Click here to see our calendar of snowshoe events throughout the United States.

Learn About Backcountry Safety
If you are planning a winter trip into the mountain “backcountry,” or remote and undeveloped Wilderness areas, you must have the proper skills and equipment to be as safe as possible. Avalanches, strong winds, frostbite, and hypothermia are just some of the dangers that go along with backcountry adventures. Seek out winter safety training and avalanche courses before planning any trips in the backcountry. Find a certified course with The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. Be sure to let someone know where you are going and at what time you plan to return, or run with a partner or group.

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