Leave No Trace: Winter Edition

By: Jillian Johnson

leave no trace sign on snowy trail

In short, Leave no Trace is a set of 7 principles that all outdoor enthusiasts should stand by. It helps protect our spaces, lands and ourselves.

When you think of Leave no Trace or LNT, most people think of backpacking, hiking or some sort of summer activity. However, many of these principles are just as or even more important in the winter and we are going to go over why.

1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

Whether you are heading to a backcountry cabin, hitting an “easy” couple runs in the backcountry or even going to ski the resort this principle is probably one of the most important to follow during winter.

Planning where, when and how you are getting to the back country is essential in  winter. Even more, TELLING someone else those plans is EQUALLY important. Time frames and location are essential as they help rescuers have a more accurate scope to deal with. Winter conditions create more risk for rescue teams and the unpredictability means the more they know about your location, the better.

Though it may feel a bit like checking in with mom before you head out. It can mean the difference between life and death. Winter weather can change quickly, and no matter how comfortable and trained you are, avalanches can happen.

two people ski touring uphill

2. Travel on Durable Surfaces

If there is copious amounts of snow, this is less concerning during winter months, but if you happen to hit some patches of grass or brush, let them be.

3. Dispose of Waste Properly

This is a biggie during the winter. Sometimes we use the term “pack out what you pack in”. That means EVERYTHING. I often see half eaten peanut butter and jellies, goo fuel wrappers and single gloves. The snow makes these items stand out. We’ve all lost a glove at one point. If you see items in the backcountry, pick them up even if they aren't yours. 

There is no “cleanup” crew. Even at the resorts. If you drop a glove or a beer can off the lift, make sure you are skiing down to retrieve it. The leftover gloves, hats and other items quickly get covered by snow, and when the snow melts away in the spring, they are left behind.

4. Leave What you Find

This applies to organic and natural forest material. Things such as pine cones, and sticks are essential food for some of the animals out there. Leaving them where they belong ensures their food sources are plentiful.

woman hugging a tree

5. Minimize Campfire Impact

Most of us probably aren't starting a fire in the snow, but if you are, it's just as important to follow the protocols in the winter. Scattering your fire after you've put it out helps to return the area to how it was before you entered it. You can go a step further and completely cover the remains. Ensuring that anyone else coming across that area will see nothing but beautiful wilderness. 

6. Respect Wildlife

This principle applies to ALL animals. As sympathetic humans our first instinct is to believe that the animals are cold and hungry. However, these animals live here because their food is plentiful. They don’t need your leftover nuts, seeds, or turkey sandwich. 

Furthermore, giving these animals space in the winter months is important. Especially animals like Black bears, who have their babies during January and February. These mommas need plenty of space as they are grabbing a bite quickly and heading back into their cubs.

7. Be Respectful of Others

Ah, another biggie for the winter months. There are some common courtesy factors during winter that we often overlook.

Snowshoers should refrain as much as possible from walking on ski tracks. Skiers will reuse these tracks over and over if possible and snowshoes tramp the tracks down. In the same way, groomed trails at public parks are essentially for walkers and cross country skiers. Snowshoers should stay to the side when using these trails to limit their foot impact as well as to stay out of the way of skiers.

On the contrary, skiers should yield to walkers and snowshoers when coming down the mountain.

Sound! This is one of the biggies throughout the year. Don’t forget that your speaker can often be heard for miles. Many winter shredders love a good tune to get them stoked but being mindful that others may come out for the peace is important. When you see others turn your tunes down.

Overall, Leave no Trace is here to make the outdoors enjoyable for everyone. We want to make sure we have these spaces to enjoy for years to come. Following these simple principals not only makes you a caretaker of the wilderness it also just makes you a good human!

Author: Jillian Johnson

Jill has been obsessing over the Sierra Mountains for the past 11 years. When she isn't sleeping under the stars, identifying trees or sniffing bark she is adding to her certifications in the healing arts. She enjoys spreading her passion for nature and its healing powers through guiding. If you live in Truckee she has probably pet your dog. If you own a cow she will be your best friend.

1 comment

  • Jeff

    Loving these articles

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