When thinking about the importance of this book and cold weather injuries, such as hypothermia, during snowshoeing, there are two facts for consideration:
1. Snowshoeing is a winter sport and includes snow, which means there will be cold weather.
2. Those who participate in winter sports put themselves at risk for a variety of sometimes severe cold weather injuries, including hypothermia, frostbite, and more.
(This is hard-hitting information, I know.)
For many backcountry adventurers, however, that is where the subject ends. Yes, snowshoeing involves travel through sometimes dangerous cold weather. Yes, snowshoeing in that cold could conceivably involve a trip to the emergency room or the loss of a few toes. The details? That sort of information is best left up to the first responders.
The rub, however, comes when a snowshoer is forced to step in as their own first responder. Or if they need to assist a companion when both are far from medical help. What to do then?
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Off-Trail Preparation for On-Trail Safety
Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries: Prevention, Survival, Rescue, and Treatment by Gordon G. Giesbrecht, Ph.D., and James A Wilkerson, M.D. attempts to answer the question of ‘what to do’. It includes an exhaustive but accessible look at the causes of and responses to a wide range of cold-weather injuries.
In its second edition (initially released in 1986), the text includes all sorts of tales of backcountry misadventure. For example, it discusses a skier who lay submerged for nearly an hour and a half with a core temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit before being successfully resuscitated. Also, learn about a hiker who sat for more than four hours meditating in ankle-deep snow, resulting in a relatively severe case of frostbite. These tales provide insight into the risks of cold-weather sports like snowshoeing and actions to take if experiencing injuries like hypothermia.
The book is far from a hands-on field guide. Instead of rolling out another handy laminated reference, Drs. Giesbrecht and Wilkerson have assembled a classic guidebook that is designed more for off-the-trail study than simply see-and-do.
Sure, the chapters on cold pathophysiology and mechanisms of heat loss might seem abstract. Also, they are pretty science-heavy. Just take this passage from the chapter on human thermoregulatory control: “The posterior portion of the hypothalamic thermoregulatory center controls heat retention by decreasing heat loss and increasing heat production.”
But despite the scientific terminology, this book offers a more detailed look at the human body’s response to cold than similar titles.
The authors move into more practical information once the nuts and bolts of human physiology are out of the way.
The reader will learn about dealing with cold water immersion (as both a victim and a rescuer), the treatment of frostbite, and the basics of cold weather survival.
The second edition also includes a chapter on choosing the right clothing for winter travel, a section on cold water drowning, and new medical information (new since 1986, at least) on the science of cold and cold injuries.
Readers put down Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries with a deeper understanding of the good, the bad, and the ugly of cold weather injuries.
It’s highly recommended for both recreational snowshoers as well as winter emergency response personnel.
Have you ever experienced any cold-weather injuries, such as hypothermia, while snowshoeing? Have you read this informative book? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
This article was first published on July 20, 2010. Susan Wowk recently updated it on November 8, 2021.