Winter Wilderness Travel: Minimizing Impact on the Environment

Even when the landscape is covered in snow, there are a few easy principles you can follow to minimize your impact on the environment.

Snow Camping
Even though the nights are cold and long, try to resist the urge to have a campfire. During winter, when all downed wood is buried under the snow and the only available fuel is tree branches, fires are a bad idea. As a “warm glow” alternative, bring plenty of fuel for your stove and try candle lanterns.
Upon leaving camp, dismantle your snow shelter and fluff up the white stuff so that visitors coming after you can enjoy a natural setting.

Winter Waste Disposal
The best option for waste disposal in snow-covered environs is to pack it out; burying your poop in the snow is often ineffective, because it may stay frozen until spring and then reappear in full form. When you pee, be sure to do it away from ski trails, and cover up the yellow snow so others do not have to look at it.

Watching Out for Wildlife
In snowy climates, winter is the toughest time of year for mammals that do not hibernate. As food becomes more difficult to find, the animals have less energy, and they must conserve every last ounce to help them find their next meal. When a deer or elk, for example, sees a skier approaching, its natural instinct is to flee, which elevates its heart rate and uses up valuable energy reserves. For a healthy animal during a normal winter, this may not cause serious problems, but if the winter is particularly harsh and the snow is deep, the added stress of humans can be fatal.
When traveling through the backcountry, never approach wildlife, and try to stick to established ski trails so that human activity is contained in a specific area. Although there is plenty of research confirming that humans stress wildlife in winter, no set distance has been established as a adequate buffer zone between you and the animal; several hundred yards should be enough. Also, take extra care to avoid locating your camp where there is animal sign (which is easy to see in the snow) that indicates you are in a spot where wildlife feed, water, or sleep.

--Adapted from Leave No Trace: A Guide to the New Wilderness Ethic, 2nd Edition by Annette McGivney (The Mountaineers Books , $11.95 paperback)