I was asked to put together a series of articles on being prepared for winter riding. I’ll talk about being prepared before you leave home, equipment to bring along, group dynamics and riding, and finally what to do if you find yourself needing the help of Search and Rescue. Although I ride with two skis, whether you’re on a bike or sled, the same principles apply.
A little about myself: I’m a 12-year member of Vernon Search and Rescue, with a few years of part time volunteering for sled searches before that. Along with three or four others, our team does most of the winter searches in this area for sledders, bikers, and other outdoor recreationalists. We’ve seen a number of things go wrong that result in SAR being called out, and not being prepared before you leave home is a frequent cause.
When you’re getting ready for a day of riding, think about who you are leaving behind and what they know about your plans. In many cases we find that the rider’s spouse, or parents, or whomever is waiting for them knows only the vaguest details of the rider’s plans. Since many riders ride the same area each week or at most two or three different areas, leave a basic trip plan for each area at the start of the season. Write down which access area you use, where you normally park, and what route you take to the riding area. Tell someone what electronics you bring, and how to get in touch with you by Sat Phone, by VHF Radio or by inReach. Many local areas have several accesses and multiple riding areas within one mountain, so narrowing it down beforehand saves a lot of time if we’re coming to look for you. That’s a good start
For each trip out, tell someone at home who you are going with, how many in your group, which area and access you are using, and most importantly, when you are going to be back. If you don’t have anyone at home, text someone you trust about your plans. If you change your plans along the way the same thing applies – tell someone about it.
Have a look at this Online Trip Planner for a detailed layout.
This helps you have a safe day as well. Put all of your riding gear in one bag, and when it dries out after the ride, put it back right away – not on the way out the door on your next ride. All of your survival gear should be in your pack or on your sled, and the various electronics that make riding safer now should be with your riding gear. It’s best to sort all of this out in November and keep it the same spot, every week. We’ve seen many people who had an uncomfortable night because their GPS, Radio, Sat Phone, spare gloves or what have you is sitting on their kitchen table.
A big part of what you can do to make your ride safer takes place on the day before you go for a ride. Make a plan, tell someone your plan, stick to your plan and tell someone if it changes.
Ride Safe, never ride alone and don’t forget to check avalanche.ca before every ride, every time.
What to Bring Along
I’m the guy that carries a lot of stuff with me – a lot. My sled is the one with a pelican case mounted to it. Some people laugh at it all, but no one is laughing when they’re having a cup of coffee at 3 AM beside a roaring fire.
As much as people make fun of what I bring along, lots ask about what I bring. I came up with my list from trial and error and from seeing what our subjects are lacking when they spend the night in the bush. I’ve also spent a few nights out there looking for people so I’ve learned what makes my night more comfortable. Here’s what I have:
There are a lot of gadgets out there that can make your day go better and prevent you from spending the night. Everyone should have a good GPS. Phones are getting better but they don’t replace a GPS. A VHF Radio is very useful, for the drive up in your truck and for communicating within your group. We encourage all riders to monitor the LADD 3 Channel if they are lost; we will broadcast on that channel. In the last two years the Garmin inReach has made many advancements, and is one of the most useful tools we have come across. It tracks you, you can send messages on it with your location, and it has a monitored SOS feature that works extremely well.
In the Pelican case I have a Snow Bungee, hand saw, knife, plastic tarp and spare water. I have an aluminum container with a handle that allows it to hang above a fire as a pot. In my handlebar bag, I carry a windproof butane lighter, fire starter, spare batteries, a Leatherman knife and an LED flashlight. I keep all this stuff in the bag as it gets used more often, and I don’t want to break into a survival kit on every ride.
The Snow Bungee is one of the greatest inventions ever for riding (for snowmobiles), so it needs another mention. I carry a decent first aid kit and a couple of folding splints, for the type of injuries you normally see from sledders. A couple of lightweight foil blankets are useful for first aid situations and if you’re spending the night. Everyone needs a whistle for alerting SAR or friends if they are lost as well.
It should go without saying, but everyone needs an Avy Bag, a beacon, shovel and probe.
A lot of situations can be avoided if you can get yourself fixed up and get out. I carry a roll up tool pouch with sockets and wrenches, vice grips and a screw driver. Also a plastic water bottle with the lid cut off which contains a bunch of metric bolts, some JB Weld, steel wire, and spare spark plugs. Of course a tow rope and a spare belt as well.
Dry gloves can make a lot of difference, and I always have one pair. I also keep a spare pair of wool socks in my pack. Jeans get wet and uncomfortable when they’re wet, and for SAR we all wear wool pants that keep you warm no matter what.
By no means do you need all of this but it might give you a good idea what you’re missing. On a bike, you have less room than a sled but pick the important stuff and bring it. It makes all the difference between a good day, or a bad night.
Please feel free to use the PDF version of this document, found below, as a planning tool.