March 21, 2008

Winter Hiking Safety

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In one last effort before giving way to spring, the winter sky unleashed what looked like the world's biggest pillow fight gone wrong over our minivan. I kept my cool outwardly, but the slushy snow on the highway made me grip the steering wheel just a bit tighter.

Fortunately, it was a short drive to the conservation area where our winter hike awaited. Enough snow had fallen to cover everything in a seamless blanket of white, but not so deep to require snowshoes. As we were getting out of the car, a conservation district patrol jeep approached.

"A Peel-EECE car!" shouted 3-year-old Aaron, a fan of all things vehicular.

"Just checking to see if you folks needed any help," the officer said as the boys climbed out of the van.

"We're good, thanks. Just going for a hike," I said, adding that I'd already called my neighbor and husband to let them know where we'd be and about how long we'd be gone -- a standard safety precaution every hiker should take. (For more, search "winter safety tips" on www.aap.org, the American Academy of Pediatrics website.)

The synthetic "vrrwip!-vrrwip!-vrrwip!" of snow pant legs rubbing together drowned out the officer's wishes for a safe hike as the boys raced to the trailhead. Swaddled in layers of breathable fabric (long underwear, fleece) with a waterproof outer shell (snow pants, parkas, hats and mittens), I'd dressed the boys for comfort in the snowy outdoors. (I find gear at www.rei-outlet.com, www.campmor.com, www.PlayItAgainSports.com, and through my friends-with-older-kids connections.)

I'd chosen a familiar trail that I knew 3-year-old Aaron could manage, because every family hike is only as do-able as the youngest hiker's abilities. On the trail, we relished the peacefulness of the snowfall: the whole outdoors seemed muted. We stuck out our tongues to taste snowflakes and were careful to hike to one side to allow cross-country skiers to carve grooves later on.

We discovered that the snow was wet enough to make snowballs, which also meant snowmen and snow boulders. Hiking to the top of a hill, the two older boys rolled a snowball into a boulder and we cheered and clapped as it, well, snowballed downhill.

"This is my favorite day of the whole year!" said Jackson, who scurried downhill to the boulder, which had cracked in half at the bottom of the hill.

"Mine too, buddy," I said. And I meant it.

What special safety measures do you take for winter activities? Click the comments link below to share ideas.

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