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Winter Hiking in Alberta: 7 Tips for Beginners

Every season in Alberta offers its own unique set of characteristics that allows it to stand out. And this is especially true with winter. The tranquil calmness of the snow-covered terrain provides a striking spectacle unparalleled when compared to other seasons. And what better way to take advantage of that natural landscape than to go for a hike? Winter hiking in Alberta, however, is not something that should be done without some safety precautions put in place. And this is a sentiment that is amplified when it comes to beginners. So if you’re a novice hiker looking to survey the serene sights that Alberta has to offer, then you’ll want to keep reading! Because this article will share 7 tips for beginner hikers to make the most of your Alberta hiking adventure.

1. Pace Yourself

As a beginner, it’s important to remember that unless you’re particularly athletic, you most likely won’t be able to keep up with more experienced hikers. There’s nothing wrong with this — it’s just the way it is. But with this being the case, you’ll want to go at your own pace and comfort level. Trying to compete with more seasoned hikers will just wear you out unnecessarily, and as a result, take all the fun out of your hike. Remember, this is something you’re supposed to savour and enjoy. You’ll be hard-pressed to do that if you’re constantly trying to keep pace with others who are more competent than you. A hike that may take a more experienced person 4 or 5 hours to complete, might take you 7 or 8 hours. And there’s nothing wrong with that — this is about the journey, not the destination. Another reason for pacing yourself is that it’s easy to underestimate the difficulty of a hike if you’ve never done it before. It’s easy to see the distance and think that it’s not a big deal. But it becomes an entirely different story when you’re actually out there in the snow, ice, and the chilly temperatures biting at you.

2. Assemble the Proper Gear

A winter hike is supposed to be fun and exhilarating. However, you shouldn’t let that get in the way of being properly prepared. Just because it’s fun doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential danger out there on the trails. Having the right survival gear is key to a safe hike in the winter. And although it may seem like something that only happens in the movies or at least to other people besides you, that doesn’t exclude you from the potential dangers. Be safe and gather the survival equipment necessary that will ensure a safe hike. Some things to consider would be:
  • Water bottles
  • Compass
  • Map
  • First aid kit
  • Materials to start a fire
  • Food
  • Proper clothing (bring layers)
  • Headlamps with extra batteries

3. Bring a Friend

As a novice just starting out with winter hiking, it’s a wise decision to have a more experienced person to guide you along the way. If you happen to have a friend or family member who is a seasoned winter hiker — bring them! And if not, find someone else or hire a guide. You don’t want to embark on this endeavor on your own. Maybe once you gain more experience and become comfortable, you can consider doing that. But when you’re just starting out, it’s best to have someone by your side. Besides, having a friend with you allows for the experience to be that much more rich and exciting! Everything’s better when you’re with the right people!

4. Don’t Skimp on the Snacks

In colder temperatures, your body burns calories quicker and in greater quantities than it does in warmer temperatures. For this reason, it’s important you pack enough food and snacks to last you for the duration of your hike. With enough food, you will ensure that your body has the fuel to really go the distance. Here are a few high-calorie snack ideas you may want to consider:
  • Beef jerky
  • Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, etc
  • Cheese
  • Oats
  • Trail mix
  • Grains
  • Chocolate

5. Verify Weather Conditions

The weather is a crucial factor of how your hike will unfold. Knowing in advance what the weather conditions will be like will not only help you know what to pack, but will also help you to determine if it’s even safe to go or not. As a beginner, the last thing you need in your life is to show up in anticipation for your first hike, only to have your expectations dashed and deflated by a snowstorm or blizzard — all because you failed to check the weather report. Keep your eye on the forecast on the days leading up to your hike. You’ll be glad you did.

6. Pay Attention

It’s easy to get consumed by the excitement and thrill of the hike, but try to maintain a level head while you’re out there and pay attention to details. Do you trust the ominous clouds in the distance? Are your food and water rations in ample supply? Does your body feel well? Do you feel confident about pushing forward? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then it’s time to start heading back. As a novice hiker, you don’t want to overdo it. You may feel confident about yourself in the moment, but if you fail to pay attention to the details of your hike, then you can quickly lose touch with how things are really going. And oftentimes, when that happens, trouble is right around the corner.

7. Recognize Frostbite

Frostbite is a real concern when you’re out there in the cold. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going for an unassuming hike in a forest near your home, or a rigorous trek on a rocky mountain hiking tour, the threat remains. Frostbite occurs when cold temperatures cause the blood vessels to contract. Your body reacts to the cold by withholding your blood reserves within your body’s core. This prevents [the blood] from circulating to your extremities. As a result, numbness, aches, and with enough time, death of the skin tissue occurs. And while the chances of this happening from a single day’s hike is unlikely, it’s still prudent to be aware of the potential of frostbite and to know what to look for — some signs include:
  • Throbbing or aching of affected area
  • Feeling of “pins and needles”
  • Numbness
  • Shiny or hard looking skin
  • Muscle and joint stiffness
If, in the unfortunate event you believe you or your hiking buddy feel the onset of frostbite, it’s important to act promptly. Here are some things you can do:
  • Remove any wet clothing and replace it with dry garments
  • Safeguard the area from further cold exposure
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area
  • Refrain from moving the affected area
  • Keep the injury slightly elevated

In Closing

As a beginner just getting started with winter hiking, it’s crucial to know what you’re getting into. And despite the potential dangers, this sport is very safe so long as you take the proper precautions that are listed in this article. And above all, make sure that you enjoy yourself and soak up the experience!
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