Seattle's Child

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avalanche photo by Jillian O'Connor

Winter avalanche danger? Yep, it’s for real

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

Important: Call 511 for highway conditions/closures before planning a trip to the mountains.

People are getting outdoors more than ever this winter. That’s great, but if you’re venturing into Washington’s snowy areas there it’s critical that you are aware of avalanche dangers and plan your outing accordingly. 

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 may pose an avalanche risk, even if you’re walking in a non-snowy area. 

One great resource for figuring out if a hike or snowshoe trail is safe in winter is the website of the Northwest Avalanche Center. 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.

You can also sign up with The Mountaineers for winter safety and avalanche awareness classes.

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 than 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

About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.