One foot in front of the other is my mantra when hiking, whether it has been the short trek to the height of Stowe Pinnacle Trail, hiking the full stretch of Long Trail from Massachusetts to Canada, three weeks on the John Muir Trail in California, or my 1,200-mile journey covering half of the Appalachian Trail. No matter the length, keeping those feet moving is what gets you to your destination.
My mantra played on repeat in my brain, on especially loud volume, during a recent trek through thigh-deep powder on the ascent of White Rock Mountain in central Vermont’s Worcester range. As the first people up the trail since the last deep snowfall, breaking trail — which I did taking turns with my hiking partner — was exhausting. But we kept moving and were rewarded at the summit with crystalline spruce tops shimmering against a bluebird sky and clear views to the east, south and west.
Winter hiking is different from summer hiking, but offers its own sweet rewards. To entice others out on to the trails in winter, the Green Mountain Club, the maintainer and protector of Vermont’s Long Trail, hosted the 23rd annual Winter Trails Day last weekend, on Saturday, March 2. Vermonters came from all around the state to Flood Brook School in Londonderry, where they embarked on 15 options for free, guided winter hikes for every ability. Plus, there were winter workshops, free snowshoe demos, a campfire with s’mores, and children’s activities, followed by an après celebration.
But you didn’t have to attend last weekend’s event to enjoy winter hiking. No matter what ability, there are hikes to be enjoyed in the cold and snowy months. Enjoying winter hiking does require a little more preparation — and gear — than in summer, but there is still a lot of fun to be had. Read on for some tips and suggestions for getting yourself out there.
Dress for success
The first thing to think about is footwear. Boots need to be warm and waterproof, and hikers can add snowshoes or slip-on traction to keep a grip on slippery surfaces. Hiking poles with snow baskets are also helpful for maintaining balance in variable conditions.
Layering is the key to temperature success when enjoying any activity in the winter, including hiking. Start with a wicking base layer made of synthetic material or wool, followed by an insulating layer such as fleece or thick wool, followed by a weatherproof barrier such as a parka and snow pants. Be prepared to cover all exposed skin with neck gaiters, gloves or mittens, and a breathable hat. If your hike includes an exposed summit, like the Mount Mansfield ridgeline or another alpine zone with high winds and cold temperatures, consider packing a highly insulating layer like a thick, down jacket and bring an extra hat and gloves for the top.
In your pack, bring plenty of food and water, as you would with any hike. But in winter, consider extra calories in the form of nut butters, rich chocolate, or bagels. Moving through steep snow, especially if you are breaking trail through untracked powder, can take a lot of energy.
Be careful to protect your water from freezing by keeping it inside your pack or storing it upside in an external water bottle pocket. Since ice floats, your water will freeze at the bottom of your water bottle, meaning you will still have liquid to drink at the top. To keep hydrated, hot tea kept in a thermos makes a great addition to your hiking pack in the winter, since it will also warm you up from the inside.
Staying safe in the woods is important in any season, but the consequences can be a little higher in the winter. Hypothermia is a serious threat, for example, as is frostbite. For a detailed explanation of these threats, plus a list of recommended first aid supplies, see the GMC’s blog post on winter hiking preparedness at https://www.greenmountainclub.org/winter-hiking-preparedness-part-deux/.
Pick a spot
Winter hikes can be found for any ability, from a gentle meander through the woods to a quick push to a spot with a view, or even an all-day trek through the state’s biggest mountains like Camel’s Hump, Mount Abe and Mount Mansfield.
The hikes at last weekend’s Winter Trails Day included Stratton Mountain, Prospect Rock, Equinox Mountain, Root Beer Ridge, Lye Brook Falls, Bromley Mountain, Styles Peak, Lowell Lake, and trails right on Flood Brook’s campus that were perfect for families with young children.
For a list of suggested hikes organized by region, visit GMC’s blog post on the topic at https://www.greenmountainclub.org/hiking/day-hikes/. For more information on winter hiking preparedness, visit two GMC blog posts on the topic at https://www.greenmountainclub.org/winter-hiking-preparedness/ and https://www.greenmountainclub.org/winter-hiking-preparedness-part-deux/.