New York officials are warning peope who venture into the Catskills’ backcountry that current conditions are “harsh” and can create dangerous situations for unprepared visitors.

Recent snow, ice, and cold weather have created challenging conditions for winter outdoor recreation in the Catskill backcountry, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced yesterday.

Visitors should be prepared with proper clothing and equipment for snow, ice, and cold to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter experience.

“Now that the colder weather has arrived in the Catskills, visitors can take advantage of all the winter recreation opportunities in the park,” Commissioner Seggos said. “However, harsh weather can create dangerous situations to visitors that are unprepared. DEC advises visitors exploring the backcountry to properly prepare for winter recreation and encourages the use of traction devices and snowshoes to navigate trails where appropriate.”

Snow depths currently range from three to four inches across the central and western portion of the Catskills. At higher elevations and mountain summits, snow depths range from six to 10 inches. Visitors should expect ice on trails, exposed outlooks and mountain summits. The National Weather Service NERFC Snow Page provides detailed maps depicting current snow depths and forecasts.

Due to variable winter conditions such as ice and snow, visitors should be cautious of weighted down and fallen trees. Down trees can obscure trail markers and make trails more difficult to locate.

For backcountry travel, DEC recommends micro-spikes and snowshoes for use as the winter progresses. Traction devices should always be carried on all hikes for use on icy portions of the trail including summits and other exposed areas.

All seasonal access roads are closed to motor vehicle traffic. These roads will reopen after the spring mud season upon completion of maintenance and repair work. Seasonal access roads designated as snowmobile trails will be opened to snowmobile traffic as snow depths allow.

Many snowmobile trails remain closed despite recent snowfall. Additional snow is needed to provide a good base for snowmobile travel. Visitors should check with local snowmobile clubs to determine the status and condition of specific trails or view the New York State Snowmobile Association Interactive Trail Map.

Ice is forming on ponds, lakes, slow moving streams, and backwaters of rivers. Ice is not safe to walk or stand on at this time. Although ice has snow on the surface, it does not mean the ice is thick enough to hold the weight of a person. Ice will remain unsafe until temperatures fall below freezing for a significant, continuous period. For more information about ice safety, go to DEC’s website.

To ensure a safe backcountry experience, visitors should also follow these additional safety guidelines:

  • Be aware of weather conditions. Check the weather before heading into the backcountry. If the weather is poor, postpone your visit. If the weather worsens during your visit, head out of the woods immediately.
  • Dress properly. Wear layers of wool, fleece, and other materials that wick moisture. Avoid cotton. Wear a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outerwear, gaiters, and insulated winter boots.
  • Carry a day pack with the following contents: traction devices, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, map and compass, first-aid kit, flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, packable insulated pad, stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blanket.
  • Eat, drink, and rest often. Being tired, hungry, or dehydrated makes visitors more susceptible to hypothermia.
  • Know the terrain and your physical capabilities. It takes more time and energy to travel through snow. Plan trips accordingly.
  • Avoid traveling alone. The risks of injury, hypothermia, and getting lost are much higher this time of year. Always inform someone of your intended route and return time.
  • Call the DEC Forest Ranger Emergency Dispatch at 518-408-5850 to report lost or injured people or other backcountry emergencies.