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Cross Country Skiing in
Glacier National Park

Enjoy Glacier’s winter landscape on one of the ski trips linked above. Take into account your skiing ability, and check with rangers for local weather and snow conditions. Severe weather, lack of snow, winter rains, or melting conditions can quickly alter the difficulty of any winter trip. Ice is common on roads and on heavily skied trails. Plan to break trail on less popular routes. The Middle and North Forks of the Flathead River present major barriers to travel on the west side of the park. Skiing on frozen lakes is dangerous and not recommended. Skiers, snowshoers, and hikers are asked to maintain separate tracks.

As winter snows start to melt, emerging vegetation is revealed. Please stay off these fragile areas. Spring skiing opportunities remain at Granite Park, Many Glacier, and Logan Pass, but remember, warming conditions greatly increase avalanche activity.

Most ski routes are not marked. Pay attention to descriptions and local landmarks. A topographic map will help.

Arduous cross park trips contain extreme avalanche and terrain hazards and should be attempted only by experienced and well equipped parties.

A permit is required for backcountry camping. Practice “Leave No Trace” camping techniques described in the information provided with your permit.

Skiers and snowshoers please register at the trailhead registration boxes. Climbers should complete the Voluntary Climbers Registration form, available at ranger stations and the Apgar Visitor Center.

Pets are not allowed on trails, unplowed roads, in the backcountry or off leash. Snowmobiles are not permitted anywhere in Glacier National Park.

Avalanches are a major danger and potential killer to winter backcountry travelers. An understanding of avalanche conditions is the skier’s best defense. Watch the signs of previous activity. These include old avalanche paths, downed trees, recent slides, and clumps of snow. Choose the safest route. Stay off cornices, steep to moderate open slopes, and stay out of gullies. If you must travel on a dangerous slope, go straight up or down; never traverse back and forth.

Glacier is part of the Northwest Montana Avalanche Warning System, which provides a weekly assessment of local avalanche conditions. Forecasts are updated each Friday morning during the avalanche season, and broadcast by local radio stations. Information can also be obtained by calling 257-8402 or 1-800-526-5329.

About 80% of avalanches occur during and immediately after storms. Avalanche activity increases with a foot or more of new snow, snowfall of one inch or more per hour, sustained winds over 15 miles per hour, changing temperatures, and during spring warming. Learn to recognize dangerous weather conditions. Carry rescue equipment including rescue shovels, ski probe poles, and transceivers. If you must cross a steep slope, cross one at a time, loosen all pack straps, remove ski pole straps, fasten all layers of clothing, and put on a hat and gloves.

If caught in an avalanche, discard all equipment and make swimming motions toward the surface. As the sole survivor, do not go for help unless it is only a few minutes away. After 30 minutes, the buried victim has only a 50% chance of surviving. Mark the place where the victim was last seen, search directly downslope from this point for clues, and begin to probe immediately at the most likely location. Use probes, ski poles, skis, or anything available. With more than one survivor, send for help while the rest search.

Hypothermia Winter backcountry travel increases the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia, the “progressive physical collapse and reduced mental capacity resulting from the chilling of the inner core of the body”, is the primary killer of outdoor enthusiasts. Drink liquids, stay dry, carry survival equipment, wear layers of warm clothing, and snack frequently. Be alert to symptoms of drowsiness and confusion. Once hypothermia sets in, external sources of warmth are necessary to revive the victim. Frostbite can occur on the ears, fingers, toes, face, or any exposed skin.

Wildlife viewing remains very rewarding in winter. Remember, survival during the long winter is difficult for Glacier’s wildlife. Human contact adds unnecessary stress. Avoid approaching or startling any animals or birds. All park animals are wild and should never be fed. Bears, asleep for most of the winter, sometimes awaken for short periods of time. As always in bear country, exercise extreme caution, especially with food and garbage. If approached by a mountain lion, act aggressively. Do not run! Lions may be scared away by being struck with rocks or sticks, or by being kicked or hit.

Listed below are the three most popular areas in the park for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Information on other areas is available at the Apgar Visitor Center, Park Headquarters, and the Hudson Bay District Office

Information provided by the National Park Service.

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