A little survival knowledge can go a long way
No matter how prepared I think I am, stories of survival, and the trying tales of heroism and sacrifice that go along with them, send me back to the books to reread the most basic techniques. These can truly be life saving.
Take the recent ordeal in the Sierra Nevada mountains. A woman was trapped in the snow for six days, and was found clinging to life on a snow-covered road, suffering from extreme hypothermia. Her companion, who originally set out for help after the duo's Jeep got stuck in the snow, was later found dead from exposure.
It's these stories that make me go over the basics I've learned in books from Hatchet to the U.S. Military field survival manual. The 2 oz. Backpacker also has great, easy-to-understand solutions for the most common outdoor problems.
It's important to spot the earliest signs of hypothermia – shivering – to keep the more severe symptoms, like sluggish thinking and irrational reasoning, from setting in. If the body can't be rewarmed after these symptoms arise, muscle rigidity and unconsciousness can set in within hours. The age-old remedy of placing a hypothermic victim inside a sleeping bag still holds true, however the jury is still out on whether a second person in the bag is beneficial.
Frostbite, or frozen human tissue, can be avoided in cold weather survival situations. In addition to having the right extreme cold weather clothing, maintaining circulation is key, and can be achieved by regularly wrinkling the skin on your face, keeping your hands in warm winter gloves and near your body, and wiggling your toes inside insulated winter boots. If you lose feeling in your extremities, this could be an early indication of frostbite.
Though the chances of getting caught in an avalanche are slimmer than succumbing to hypothermia or frostbite, you should still know the signs of problematic conditions. Travel early in the morning, before snow and ice have the chance to melt, refreeze and slide.
There are literally hundreds of resources for winter survival, and checking them out before any outdoor winter activity would likely be worth your while.