The ideal way to get started with winter hiking is to learn by hiking with experienced friends who are good teachers. For those who do not have such friends, some suggestions follow.
An alternative to knowledgeable friends is taking one of the many courses offered by outdoors clubs. A major advantage of such courses is that you get to meet many potential hiking companions among your fellow participants, and also get to know many trip leaders.
Note that some courses are offered by volunteers, and hence are usually low cost. Others are offered by the paid staff of the clubs, and are unavoidably more expensive. I list a few that I am familiar with, there are obviously many others:
- The Boston Chapter of the AMC runs an annual Winter Hiking and Backpacking Course, with five evenings of lectures in Boston and a series of optional trips. I have been associated with it for several years and so may be biased, but I think it is an outstanding course at a very low cost.
- The New Hampshire Chapter of the AMC offers two courses. The older one is the Annual Winter Workshop, offered twice each winter. It consists of a weekend spent at Cardigan Lodge, with lectures each day (including Friday evening) and hikes on Saturday and Sunday. The newer one is the Winter Hiking Series, which consists of a day of lectures and several graded hikes. Both are offered by volunteers, and hence are reasonably priced.
- The paid staff of the AMC offers several courses every winter, the exact selection varies from year to year. Check their Outdoors Adventures and Workshops page to see what is available.
- The Winter Mountaineering School has been sponsored for 50 years by the Adirondack Mountain Club. I find this course rather expensive, since it is taught by volunteers yet charges almost as much as many courses given by the AMC staff.
Books are a very poor substitute for personal instruction, but I list some books that may be helpful. The first two books are quite useful for day hikers, in spite of their titles. They both contain good discussions of winter hiking gear and of how to travel on snow or ice, and both include a discussion of back country skiing.
- Winterwise – A Backpacker's Guide by John M. Dunn, Adirondack Mountain Club, 1996.
- AMC Guide to Winter Camping by Stephen Gorman, 2nd Edition, Appalachian Mountain Club, 1999.
- Snowshoe Hikes in the White Mountains by Steven D. Smith, Bondcliff Books, 2000. This book gives some useful advice for beginning winter hikers, and describes a large number of easier hikes, including hikes to some of the easier 4,000 footers.
And finally, two books that even experienced winter peakbaggers will find invaluable:
- Don't Die on the Mountain by Dan Allen, 2nd Edition, Diapensia Press, 1998. An outstanding guide to safe hiking, with substantial emphasis on winter hiking in the northeast.
- The 4,000-Footers of the White Mountains – A Guide and History by Steven D. Smith and Mike Dickerman, Bondcliff Books, 2001. The only hiking guide that includes suggested routes to the 4,000 footers in winter.
The main AMC web site has a good section on Snow Sports, with several pages of advice on gear for winter hiking. The Hiking and Backpacking Committee of the Boston Chapter of the AMC has an excellent Hiking Resources section, with several pages discussing winter hiking gear.
An excellent but brief guide to winter hiking in New Hampshire is Considerations for Winter Hiking in New Hampshire.
I am starting to add a section on winter routes to each peaks page in which I state which routes I think are best in winter. While I have given a lot of thought to my choices I realize that this is often a judgment call, so please use yours!
The various hiking bulletin boards are an excellent resource. Most have forums where trail conditions are posted and others for general discussions.
The trail conditions forums are very useful for getting an idea about the conditions of the trails. Note that conditions can rapidly change! A trail that was well broken out last weekend is likely to be covered with deep snow on Saturday if a heavy snowfall occurred mid-week! The discussion forums are most useful for answering questions about current conditions, and to some extent questions about the "best" routes to a peak. Discussions on gear quickly get emotional, as personal preferences play a very large role in gear choices. The ones I am most familiar with are:
- Views From the Top (VFTT to many of the regulars) is an excellent site, with bulletin boards and other features. It covers the entire northeast, and in recent years seems to be becoming more New York (both Adirondacks and Catskills) than New England oriented. There still is considerable useful information for New Englanders posted there.
- The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Bulletin Boards, with a very definite New England orientation. They also have a separate gear forum. There is, of course, an immense amount of information on the main AMC web site.
- The AlpineZone bulletin boards are again heavily oriented towards New England, and in addition are much more ski and snowboard oriented than the first two.
- The Adirondack Hiking Forum is a similar forum oriented mainly, as its name indicates, to the Adirondacks.