Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

avalanche photo by Jillian O'Connor

Winter avalanche danger? Yep, it’s for real

Research before you get on trails to hike, snowshoe, ski.

People are getting outdoors more than ever this winter. That’s great, but if you’re venturing into Washington’s snowy areas as an amateur, there may be a lot more to know than you’re aware of.

As stated on the Washington Trails Association’s website,A great summer trail doesn’t always translate into a great winter trail.” Snow in the mountains makes all the difference since that can pose an avalanche risk, even if you’re walking in the non-snowy areas. 

One great resource for figuring out if a hike or snowshoe trail is safe in winter is the website of the Northwest Avalanche Center. Look there for forecasts and warnings before you go. (You can even sign up with The Mountaineers for winter safety and avalanche awareness classes.)

And since temperature and conditions fluctuate so much in the winter months, heightening avalanche risk, always make sure to do a check before you head out on a hiking, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing adventure. 

To see trail conditions, WTA recommends you consult The Washington Snow Map.

Other resources are ranger stations, which accept phone inquiries, as well as the WTA’s Hiking Guide and Trip Reports, which provide condition updates from other hikers.  (Remember they may have a different experience level from your family members.) 

WTA recommends that trail users leave a hike itinerary form with someone not going on the day trip, since surprising situations can pop up, or just head to a local Sno-Park, where conditions are monitored regularly. 

Some great summer trails are known as avalanche chutes in the winter months (and are thus not recommended when there’s snow), including nearby Granite Falls, Lake 22, Snow Lake and Source Lake, as well as the area around the Big Four Ice Caves. (Entering the caves themselves is especially dangerous, even in summer, and there have been multiple deadly incidents at the site.)

Here’s WTA’s list of sites to skip in winter. 

And since you may need chains for your vehicle just to get to snow, and road conditions are constantly in flux, check the driving conditions before you go: WSDOT Road Conditions

More about winter sports

Let’s go sledding! Where to go from Seattle

Best ski areas you can drive to from Seattle

8 places Seattle families can go cross-country skiing

Tips for planning a family snowshoe trip

About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor is managing editor of the Seattle's Child print magazine. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.