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How To Throw A Lit Winter Camping Party

Author: Thomas Woodson

December 12, 2019

I’ve always found winter camping to be slightly less than fun, but necessary for certain ski trips and other mountain objectives. But throwing a kick-ass winter camping party is a great way to dial up the fun a bit and introduce friends to snowy overnights in a more forgiving setting. Plus, learning to build snow shelters is a valuable tool for emergency situations in the backcountry. If you want to put a little party into your next winter camping trip, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Think twice about the location.

When planning for the ultimate winter camping party, you’ll want to start with a location that won’t destroy team morale to access. We seek areas with the least amount of vertical gain on the approach, since we’re usually pulling sleds.

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From a safety standpoint, pick a zone away from standard routes so your snow shelters don’t become an obstacle to other backcountry users. Digging a snow cave at the base of a popular backcountry ski run isn’t smart for obvious reasons. You also need to recognize and avoid avalanche terrain when choosing your destination.

Embrace the haul.

If you follow the first tip, this is less of an issue. The classic orange sled with accessory cord and carabiners is a solid way to get your gear in. Toss everything in dry bags or a waterproof duffel and strap it down. Think about what gear you might want as soon as you get to your location (dry layers, tent, etc.), and make sure they’re easily accessible. Pack extra gloves and base layers, too, because you’ll most certainly soak the first pair during the shelter-building process.

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And make sure that sled is just as full on your ski out as it was on your way in. Pack out everything you brought in. Thoroughly check around your tent or shelter site to make sure nothing was buried under the snow.

Using BOTH a tent and a snow shelter is the way to go.

Snow caves and igloos have incredible insulating properties, so you’re likely to sleep warmer in there than a tent. What’s more fun, though, is to throw your party in the snow shelter and have your tent as an escape when you realize you’re exhausted from digging all afternoon. Once your shelter is finished, ski boots are off and the music turns up, down booties are your new best friend.

The more, the merrier.

The best tip for building a shelter is bring a lot of folks. It can take an entire afternoon to build a large enough structure for everyone to hang out in. We look for areas that have deep wind drifts that you can tunnel into. Also, wind-affected snow layers are a good thing to find for cutting blocks. Our most recent party featured a tunnel with a ladder up into an igloo built over a snowdrift, combining all the tactics.

Keep temps in mind when planning food and drink.

Dehydrated meals are pretty nice for winter camping. They’ll lighten the load of your pack and make for a great hand warmer while you wait on them to rehydrate. For drinks, keep water bottles in an insulated cover or use insulated bottles and keep them in your sleeping bag at night. Bagged wine is quite efficient to haul in. Cases of beer fit nicely in a sled, but definitely freeze if stash them in snow for too long.

Leave these items at home.

Hauling overnight gear into the backcountry and building a snow shelter will certainly soak your clothes—so you’ll need layers that dry quickly or insulate when wet. So leave the cotton at home for this trip. Also, forget about glass bottles. If you’re up for the challenge of hauling some booze into the hills, skip the breakable stuff. Not only is it heavy, but it’s very hard to clean up all the pieces if it breaks. Other than that, don’t hesitate to carry in too much stuff. It’ll only make you stronger while teaching you what you do—and don’t—need for backcountry winter camping.

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Thomas Woodson

Thomas Woodson is a van-dwelling, world-traveling photographer and cinematographer. While chasing the best seasons across the West, he likes to seek out long human-powered days with friends. Bike approaches, big climbs in ski boots and multi-sport days keep me going.