Winter Outdoor Guide
OK, the holidays are over. Time to ditch the ugly Christmas sweaters and don a styling parka and enjoy the beautiful (and at times chilly) Great Outdoors. We can’t all be glacier climbers, but our Winter Outdoor Guide should provide some insight on outdoor winter pastimes that aren’t so treacherous yet just as exhilarating.
Dogs in the Winter
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean that you and your dog can’t enjoy the winter season. When all of your friends have bailed on your winter adventure, rest assured that Fido will still want to come along. Jason Lake, owner and head trainer of Prodogz Dog Training, is well aware of this fact.
“Anything that gets your dog out and exercising, whether it be winter or summer, your dog is going to truly enjoy it. Most dogs don’t actually mind snow; most of the time it’s the human counterpart that prevents winter activities.”
Granted, some dogs thrive more than others. “Dogs like Burmese Mountain dogs, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Alaskan Malamute and Anatolian Shepherds usually can handle the colder weather unlike the great Dane, Greyhound or the Whippet due to coat type and length. Dogs usually with longer hair also often have hair on the bottom of their feet between their toes which adds a layer of protection well walking on cold hard surfaces.”
Lake recommends that owners of short-coated dogs should perhaps buy their canine counterparts specially made coats that help keep their dogs warm.
“There are also specially made shoes and boots that can help protect dog’s feet when on long hikes or when walking on rough terrain. Generally, dogs do not like things on their feet so when trying to utilize shoes for your dogs it can take some time for the dog to get use to them before utilizing them on the hikes. It is also important to carry water for your dog even though it may be chilly outside.”
Not every dog owner is a winter-sport enthusiast, but for those who are, your dog will more than likely be thrilled to accompany you as you snowshoe up a mountain. Or, for those interested in a more Norwegian flavor, there is always Skijoring, a combination of cross-country skiing and dog sledding.
“The dog is outfitted with a dog sledding harness,” Lake says, “which is attached by rope or towline to a skijoring harness worn by the human which allows the dog to hold its owner on skis.”
But it’s not always necessary to venture off into the great unknown to give the dog some exercise.
“I personally like to bring my dog for a walk up Roxanne in Medford. It’s a well maintained road to the top of the mountain along with ample parking at the bottom. Besides a beautiful view it also provides rest areas for both the dog and their handler. If your dog is as crazy as mine for chasing balls, then a simple game of tossing a snowball can provide hours of entertainment for both the dog and its owner.”
Backcountry at Crater Lake
“I think what makes Crater Lake so unique for backcountry skiing is the varied terrain that the amazing landscape offers,” says Eric Peterson, an educator and wilderness guide with twenty-seven years of backcountry skiing experience in Oregon.
“A skier can choose from kicking and gliding on cross-country skis, or one could head out for the steeps on alpine touring or telemark gear. Another reason that makes Crater Lake so special is the caldera itself. On a day with clear skies, one can ski with a view into the caldera and surrounding peaks, which is awe-inspiring.”
If you are not familiar with the area, Peterson highly recommends checking in with the Park Rangers who have maps and can help people orient themselves with the skiing terrain.
“There is some avalanche terrain in the park, and people should know where it is and what the current avalanche danger is, as well as what the forecast is and how it will affect snow stability. If cross-country skiing, the Rim Road is a great choice and it can be accessed either from the Rim Village – West Rim Road – or from Park Headquarters – East Rim Road. One thing backcountry skiers should be aware of is that it is illegal to ski into the caldera, and it is also very dangerous due to the terrain being avalanche prone. It is also extremely difficult for the rescuers to aid and recover a skier needing help down in the caldera.”
Though the Park Service does not provide skiing guides, they do have a volunteer Ski Patrol on weekends and during the holidays that can offer condition tips and advice on where to ski.
“Before heading out in the backcountry, one should have some basic knowledge and training in snow safety and survival, as well as knowing how to use a map and compass. Knowing some wilderness first aid and snow safety and rescue is also a wise choice.”
“I’ve skied in the Park as early as October, and as late as May. One thing to consider in the springtime is the Park will be actively removing snow on the Rim Road, which usually starts on the Westside and North Entrance, and then finishing with the East Rim Road. The Park also has a very informative website that updates the snow and weather conditions, as well as road closures and snow removal progress.”
David Jordan fell in love with snowmobiling as a teenager and never looked back. Now a family man, Jordan has become the President of the Rogue Snowmobiles of Southern Oregon, one of the biggest snowmobiling clubs in the state of Oregon with an average membership of over 200 family memberships each season.
“Snowmobiles allow a person to get to places no one else gets to see in the winter months. As a rider you can enjoy the 1000’s of miles of groomed trails we have here in Southern Oregon.”
Jordan says that snowmobiles are required to have an up-to-date license and registration just like every car on the road. The price for a 2 year registration is only $10 so it’s very inexpensive to get one. Every rider is also required to have a current driver’s license or snowmobile license which you can get for free through the snowmobile club.
“When buying a new Snowmobile people need to think about what kind of riding they want to do,” he says. “Trail sleds are for people that wish to just stay on groomed trails and enjoy the scenery. Mountain sleds are for people that wish to go anywhere. Getting in to snowmobiling can range anywhere from $3500 for a used sled and trailer or $13,000 for a brand new mountain sled.”
However, Jordan says that if someone wishes to get into the sport without buying a sled first they can simply go to Diamond Lake Resort and rent them. “I recommend this to all new people as an inexpensive way to try out the sport and get a true feeling for it.” He mentions that Diamond Lake has over 200 miles or so of groomed trails and overnight accommodations that allow you to ride right from your room.
Another good spot is 1000 Springs at mile marker 63 on Highway 62. “It offers a warming shelter open to the public which makes for a great gathering place to get out of the weather. There are over 130 miles of groomed trail there, too.”
Jordan is definitely a fan of off-trail riding, as well. “From the top of Mt. Bailey at Diamond lake you can see all the way to Mt. Hood and Mt. Shasta. Diamond Lake also has a trail that takes you to Crater Lake which in the winter is a special place!”
Lastly, Jordan stresses the importance of safety. “Be prepared to have survival gear and maps or GPS. Let people know exactly where you are going. Dress for what weather can hit you, not necessarily the weather you have at the start of riding. Never ride alone and never drink and ride. Know your limits and the limits of your sled.”
While many people enjoy spending a night camping under the stars, few are as eager to do so when the ground is covered in snow, though for some, that can be part of the allure. “Getting away from the crowds is one of the reasons I enjoy winter camping,” says Erik Sol, a teacher in the Outdoor Adventure Leadership Degree Program for Southern Oregon University.
“The quietness can be awesome. No rustling of leaves, no bugs buzzing, and your friend’s face will be so cold he can’t tell the joke you’ve already heard a hundred times. On top of that, wildlife sightings can be amazing. Tracks become more apparent and seeing a unique set of tracks can set the imagination running. Many animals don’t blend in as well with a snowy background so seeing them becomes easier.”
Erik Sol is familiar with the wilderness and has years and years of guiding experience. As a Wisconsin native, he says that winter survival was inherent to existence there.
“Anyone can enjoy winter camping with the right knowledge and equipment.” He stresses the importance of synthetic, wool, and/or down clothing. “The term ‘cotton kills’ was born from winter camping. Managing body temperature and moisture levels is critical for comfort and survival. Making sure you have layers and the ability to insulate with high volume articles from light weight base layers to puffy down jackets is critical.” He mentions the importance of a four season tent, a high loft sleeping bag, and a closed-cell foam pad next to the snow and an open cell pad on top of that to keep insulated from the snow.
At night temperatures can drop well before freezing and it’s important to plan ahead. “Fill a Nalgene bottle with hot water and put it in your sleeping bag before bed. It’s like putting money in the bank, and your water bottle won’t be a frozen brick in the morning.”
In Southern Oregon, there is no lack for winter adventure. When asked where to go, Erik Sol smiles and lists the classic destinations that would normally be packed in the summertime. “Crater Lake, Mount McLaughlin, Mount Shasta, Siskiyou Mountains (particularly near Mt. Ashland-McDonald Peak) – these are all great.”
Solitude, wildlife, stargazing – all are incredible benefits to winter camping. Sol believes that, “The self-efficacy you can develop from winter camping can be life changing. ‘I can do this’ may become your new mantra. The tasks and challenges winter camping presents can be empowering and can transfer over into everyday life. Lastly, once your adventure is complete your warm home, a hot toddy, and bed will have never felt so good.”
Winter is a beautiful time to be in the Rogue Valley as well as an awesome opportunity to practice your photography skills. Whether your ambitions are to get published in National Geographic or gather a few more likes on your Instagram feed, a few simple tips will take your photography from amateur to amazing.
“A lot of times, the lighting during the winter can be flat and results in images that don’t have very much depth,” says Nate Wilson, a professional photographer based in the Rogue Valley. “To avoid that, try to find something interesting in the foreground when you’re composing a shot or look around for other ways to draw the eyes to your focal point of your image. One benefit to the flat light though, is that some forest scenes that would contain too much contrasting light in other seasons are much easier to capture in overcast days.”
The winter also presents more obvious challenges for the photographer. “Cold weather saps the life out of batteries, so you’ll want to bring extra and keep them warm against your body if you plan on being out for very long. On the flip side of that, keep the camera cold and outside of your jacket to avoid condensation. Snow on the ground and other winter scenes can be difficult for a camera’s meter to process correctly, and often means taking a few test shots to get the right exposure. If all your snow shots are looking blue, try adjusting the camera’s white balance to an overcast/cloudy setting.”
Wilson also suggests a polarizing filter for bringing out deep blues in the sky on clear days. “This can make for great contrasts when there is snow on the ground.”
“I really enjoy driving along and exploring the Rogue River between the Hog Creek and Grave Creek boat ramps outside of Merlin. If you’re looking for snow though, the Natural Bridge Viewpoint on the Upper Rogue of Highway 62 is a great spot to check out too. For the more committed, there are ranger-led snowshoe hikes around Crater Lake as well.”