Jack Frost Nipping At Your Wingman

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Gary Cole
  • 4th Air Force
It seems like just yesterday we were complaining about the heat, and here we are now, complaining about the cold. Have you ever noticed the disparity in our temperature comfort ranges between work and play? At work, it's about five degrees. When the office temperature drops below 71 degrees, we're scrambling for our space heaters. If it rises above 76 degrees, we're calling CE to fix the air conditioning. Off-duty though, it's a completely different story! At 20 degrees, we're out in shirt sleeves throwing footballs around, and at 110 degrees, we're packing our golf bags up and down rolling fairways, complaining about how hot it was in the office that day. Strange, huh? 

That's what I'd like to talk about -- the tendency to disregard temperatures and outside dangers in our quest for adventure in the winter wonderland. I want to offer some safety tips to help you enjoy your winter recreation even more, by identifying and eliminating some hazards. I spend my winters hunkered down in my living room watching football games, and then at some point after the Pro Bowl, I peek out through the curtains to see if it's safe to step outside. But I know many of you yearn for that first frost, when you can start dreaming of the ski runs, or that first hike through waist-high snow, or that first jump across the ravine on your new snowmobile. The hair on the back of my neck is already starting to rise! 

Before you bolt out the door like your hair's on fire, you need to think about some things. Use those same thought patterns that keep our planes in the air. Don't worry; it won't take long. You'll be back to the pursuit of thrills in no time. 

In the early planning stages of your winter recreation, try to think of everything that can ruin your day -- things that can hurt you, your family, or your wingman, if you're not prepared. Don't hold back. Get others involved in listing potential dangers. Aside from the obvious threats, such as cold weather and driving on ice and snow, other hazards get overlooked, such as equipment problems, inexperience, behavior and alcohol abuse, to name a few. You don't have to stop with things that can hurt and maim you. Consider lost wallets, stolen valuables, reservation problems, or unwanted relatives tagging along. 

Before you have a panic attack and cancel your plans, take a deep breath. Planning a safe adventure takes just minutes. I know time can run out for coherent thought as the weekend approaches, so try to concentrate on the most dangerous things first and then work your way down the list, exploring some of the ways you can eliminate the danger, or at least lessen the potential for injury or death. 

For example, statistics say you'll knock the wood panels off the family sedan in a traffic accident long before you even get to the recreation site, so let's start with winter driving. The tendency is to jump in your ride with a G-force grin on the day of the trip and mash down on the gas pedal until you screech to a halt at your destination. Hold up though; let's put an eyeball on your vehicle. Days before the trip, check your tires for good tread and air pressure, brakes, lights, windshield wipers and signals. Peek under the hood and check fluid levels, hoses/belts and the battery. Take the time to look now; it's a long walk from the middle of nowhere. 

Pack some emergency supplies, even if your son has to hold the box on his lap all the way there. Not a bad idea really; he'll be less likely to fight with his sister! Bring along a first-aid kit, matches, candles, tools, jumper cables, tow rope, flashlight, blankets, extra clothing, some nonperishable food and water. With all that stuff, you might even want to leave one of the kids home. 

OK, you're ready to go, but remember you're now in the most dangerous phase of your adventure: winter driving. Slow going is the name of that tune; it's not a race. Travel well below posted speed limits and avoid sudden movements in steering, braking or accelerating on icy roads. You know that threefoot following distance your daughter uses on the freeway? Multiply that by about 200 for winter conditions. If you happen to start sliding, remember to steer into the skid. The hardest part: maintaining your composure. Don't press the brakes too hard, or you'll lose the ability to steer the car. You might as well wave your hands out the window, because they're not doing any good on the steering wheel when your brakes are locked up. You've seen those cars on the evening news, sliding on ice with the front wheels frozen sideways while they hurl into the wrecked cars? All they have to do is let off the brakes and they can steer right around the mess. Yes, maybe not at the speed of light, but they'll be safe ... and I hope they'll learn a lesson once they start breathing again. 

Let's look at your list again. Next up is outdoor winter activities. Whether you're skiing, hiking, snowmobiling or whatever, you can count on temperatures being cold and weather changing quickly. You've already told friends and family where you'll be, and you've already checked weather reports to ensure there are no nightmare storms bearing down on you, right? Pause for effect. Good. You'll want to dress in layers to meet changes in weather and physical exertion. That emergency kit you packed for the car? Yup, that will go with you into the boonies. Take it out of the kid's lap first or it will be extra heavy. You can trim it down too, depending on means of travel and projected event, but as a minimum, take a knife, matches, a compass or GPS, and some food and water. Try to avoid overexertion, because sweating can be deadly if you start morphing into a Popsicle.