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How to Survive a Whiteout


When the weather takes a turn for the worst and a whiteout occurs your visibility is reduced to zero. But would you be able to navigate back to safety?

A whiteout takes place when a snow storm blows up with little or no warning at all. Visibility is greatly reduced to a few feet and the ability to lose oneself is significantly high.

With no visible markers around to guide you as you become fenced in a thick blinding whiteness it is easy to panic and become disoriented.

Be Prepared

flickr/Kim G. Skytte
flickr/Kim G. Skytte

Before heading out, check the weather forecast and determine if there are any escape routes off the hill. Have your equipment organized and wear the right equipment such as a waterproof jacket with a hood and face protection, warm gloves and goggles.

Always carry emergency supplies too even if it’s for a short hike. These will make a big difference to you when the weather takes a turn for the worst. Have your map prefolded to show the area you will be in and put it in a good quality map case. Attach your map and compass to you, so they are on hand when you need them.

Don’t Race Ahead

When your line of vision reduces it is tempting to speed up and hope for the best, but using what little visibility there is to try and find your way will often get you into trouble and make things worse.

Before running off in the direction you think you need to take, stop and establish where it is you are. Have a plan of action in place and establish a route that is safe for you to undertake. If there are features such as ridges, use these to break up your route into manageable legs.

However, if you are already lost it is best to backtrack to retrace your route, aiming for a feature that will help you to relocate yourself on your map, so that you can begin using your basic navigational skills.

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The terrain you travel over is something you need to think about. Try and see if there are any major features that you can spot and mark these off on your map. Even though you might not see any change in the angle of a slope you will feel it and these should be marked off on the map too. This will give you an indication as to where you are and will help you to avoid any hazards such as avalanche prone slopes.

Which Way?


During a whiteout it’s important to be accurate as to where you’re going. Take an approximate bearing on your map and then decide whether or not it matches as to where you are. If you are with others, check with them to see what they think or if you are by yourself rely on your own navigation skills.

Another way to determine a straight line is to have someone walk out in front of you to the limit of visibility, providing them with signals so that they stay on the direction they need to travel in. Then walk toward them so that you can leapfrog them and they can give you signals so you stay on track too. However, by doing this it’s easy to drift, especially if there are strong winds, so make sure that you always pass them on the same side. Every now and then turn 180 degrees so that you can take back bearings just to check you’re on track.

By staying mindful of what you need to do in a whiteout this will give you a greater chance of removing yourself from a bad situation.

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How to Survive a Whiteout