Get Out | In Tents Winter: The Winter Camping Handbook accentuates the positive side of snowy getaways. 

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Invite friends and family to go camping in July, and they can’t wait to get out of work and hit the trails. Invite them in January and the drop-off in acceptances looks similar to the NASDAQ in recent months—even considering some of the amazing winter sights and experiences that are available in Utah. n

And who can blame them? It’s cold in them thar hills, not to mention the potential joys of hypothermia, frostbite and snow blindness. Even animals with thick fur coats are smart enough to hide away and sleep during the dark months.

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While all of that makes sense, Stephen Gorman presents another way of looking at all that white stuff in The Winter Camping Handbook. “One of the big differences between winter and summer camping is that in winter the backcountry expands. The crowds of summer are gone. … A popular summer hiking area reverts to a near wilderness when the snow falls. … It’s as if the winter, wilderness is larger, more remote, more pristine.” It’s also easier to get around on skis, sleds or snowshoes on ground completely covered with snow and ice rather than getting bogged down in grass, weeds, bushes and dirt that get in the way in the summer.

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Add it all up, and suddenly getting outdoors in the cold backcountry can be viewed as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience. It’s a whole new way of looking at the Utah winter. Gorman argues that people can “adapt to life in the North, wintering successfully when they adjust to the season, rather than fight it. Those who refuse … face chronic discontent when the snow flies and the temperature drops.”

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The psychology of getting rid of that winter discontent is just one of the services provided by Gorman’s book. Besides getting those of us who would rather hibernate excited about heading out into the cold, he’s also written a book with plenty of advice—both practical and technical—that will help us when we decide to get off the couch.

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Gorman’s advice ranges from the obvious but nevertheless important reminders needed in any responsible guidebook to the more obscure. For example, he spends three solid pages on sleeping bags alone, covering everything from the one pint of insensible perspiration that leaves the body during sleep each night and can become ice in the bag, to the fill, shape, size and temperature ratings. He makes all that technical talk easier to digest by providing an example of how a famous dog-sled adventurer dealt with 50 pounds of ice accumulating on his sleeping bag during an eight-week expedition.

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Gorman uses such case studies of famed winter explorers throughout the book to entertain, inspire and, most importantly, warn. Even experts, if they enter the winter wilderness without proper planning, precaution and humility, quickly can find themselves in desperate circumstances.

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While the equipment checklists and discussions on the merits of burning butane vs. propane in a stove and advice on what kind of tent to pack are helpful, Gorman hasn’t forgotten that what makes a trip enjoyable—not to mention survivable—is the group dynamics of those who hit the long stretches of snow together. “Unquestionably, picking your teammates is the most important pre-trip decision,” Gorman cautions. “The wilderness has a way of bringing out a person’s true character. If someone is selfish, moody or short-tempered, the stresses of a camping trip will spotlight these flaws.”

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Any successful wilderness experience is a combination of technical skill and knowledge balanced with human emotion, and Gorman has wisely found room for both sides of the equation in his book. Put them together in the right way on a winter weekend in Utah, and “Returning to winter, even for a few days, allows us to renew our relationship with the land and with ourselves. …We can rediscover the fulfillment of coming home again.” 
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For more information on winter camping places in Utah, check the following Websites:
nUtah.com/camping/winter.htm
nUtahWild.com/activities/winter
nNPS.gov
nplia.org

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The Winter Camping Handbook: Wilderness Travel & Adventure in the Cold-Weather Months
nBy Stephen Gorman, The Countryman Press, 224 pages, $16.95, Paperback

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