I’ve always liked winter for its lessons in being human. But surviving being caught in the backcountry by a raging blizzard is where the lessons really count in what could be a life and death battle. 

Nobody plans on being surprised in the mountains by a blizzard. But, if they walk away from one, I believe they will forever be better human beings for the experience. 

So, let’s say that you and, very likely, a group of others are in the backcountry miles from any shelter or the roadhead. In a matter of hours, your group is engulfed in blinding snowfall and falling temperatures. 

The first physiological reaction you will have to face is fight or flight. This is not the kind of fight or flight that instantaneously goes one way or the other, as when suddenly confronted by a mountain lion. But, it is just as real and possibly debilitating. Clearly there is a line of demarcation where your best bet is to make a run for it. You must make a quick decision. If you decide to stay and fight, then fight it is. Bring it on! If you decide to make a run for it, then run for your life. 

Probably the next human reaction you will experience is the blame game and the old, “shoulda, coulda, woulda.” You should’ve checked the weather reports. If I would have known, I would have brought… We could have turned back sooner. None of that matters. Survival will depend on the group working together in the here and now without wasting energy blaming anyone. Survival will depend on your ability to work with who and what you have—not what you wish you had. 

Then comes what I love. Winter is what it is, pure and simple! Accept that you are not special. There is no place for this isn’t fair or even I’m disabled, I’m a minority, I’m a woman, I’m old, or I’m anything. Mother Nature will unleash upon you whatever she wants. The blizzard could get a lot worse and you will not be able to change that. 

Accepting that you are not in control of the weather, that no one is to blame, and that you will move forward with what you have is a very ethereal place to be… almost joyful. 

Now you will need to focus and prioritize like your life depends on it. If there is a leader in the group who can do that better than anyone else, then follow that leader. This is no time for scatter-brained indecision. Shelter is your highest priority… a tent, snow cave, tree well or igloo. Nothing else will have mattered if you die from hypothermia. 

At some point, when survival seems a possibilty, you will face the natural human emotion that whatever is going on now will go on forever. You won’t be able to change that emotion, but allow the logical side of your brain to remind you that the storm will end, the wind will stop, the sun will come out. 

When the sun comes out and you have survived, these lessons will remain with you for the rest of your life.