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AUSABLE WATER WISE: Plan ahead all the way to the trailhead

Evan a small amount of snow can make it hard to pull in and out of parking lots without slipping, as seen here along state Route 73 at the Cascade Mountain trailhead. (Provided photo — Brendan Wiltse)

It’s finally here! The winter weekend you planned with your friends for months.

Maybe you’re going cross-country skiing through Avalanche Pass or have your ice fishing tent set up on your favorite pond. If you follow the local outdoor news, you may have noticed a lot of emphasis on planning ahead and preparing for your trip. Bringing enough food and water, giving someone your trip itinerary, and similar precautions can help secure a safe and fun trip.

But what about on your way to the adventure? How can you ensure you have a safe and comfortable trip to and from your next trailhead? We have some tips.

Let’s start with your vehicle. Try to keep your fuel tank half full for added weight (which helps with traction), and in case you need to idle for a while to stay warm. It’s also best to use snow tires in the winter, since they have a more aggressive lug pattern, and are made of softer rubber to help maintain traction on snowy roads. This will make your driving experience safer by shortening stopping distance and giving you better control on winding roads and snowy parking lots. However, snow tires alone aren’t enough. It often takes municipalities days to clear out trailhead parking areas due to the volume of roadways that need attention. Even in well-plowed areas, there’s still the possibility of getting stuck.

Therefore, make sure you always carry a snow shovel and kitty litter to help you get out of these situations. It’s also best to carry a bag to scoop up the used kitty litter rather than leave it on the ground after you get unstuck. Sand also works for emergency traction, but it won’t absorb moisture like kitty litter and is harder to clean up after use.

There are other things to carry in your vehicle for emergency situations. A tow rope is handy if a shovel and kitty litter don’t work and there are people around to help you. A snow brush and ice scraper are critical since you never know what the weather will be like while you’re out recreating. A model with an extendable handle for reaching the top of your vehicle helps you comply with local regulations to clear snow off of your entire vehicle. Traction devices for your winter boots, such as microspikes, are also helpful for icy or slushy conditions. There is a good chance that it will be dark when you have trouble with a stuck vehicle, especially if you go for a sunrise hike or your adventure takes longer than expected. Therefore, a flashlight (preferably a headlight) with extra, fresh batteries is a must-have. It’s even better to carry two, that way your fishing or hiking partner can better help you out of the snowy situation.

There are a few other small tips that can better prepare you for the unexpected. When you’re parking in fresh snow, pull a little forward and back from where you’re going to stop. That way you’ll create a set of wheel tracks you can drive in to generate some momentum when it’s time to leave. Also, back into your parking space when possible, and point your tires straight forward in-line with your vehicle. This not only allows you to pull directly out of your parking space with a good view of oncoming cars and pedestrians, but it also allows access to your engine for jump starting a dead battery. With that in mind, always carry jumper cables in your vehicle. Additionally, it’s a good idea to invest in a jump starter battery pack and make sure it’s fully charged. Most models also have ports to charge your cellphone and other devices.

This list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive, and it’s best to do your own research about other considerations. Specifically, look into the components of a preparedness kit for longer emergencies, with items such as food, water, extra clothes, a sleeping bag and so forth.

Lastly, check out ausableriver.org, for some helpful blogs about winter driving, ice safety, and how else to prepare for your next winter adventure.

(Tyler Merriam is the Donor Outreach Associate for the Ausable River Association, based in Wilmington.)