Heading for the Mountain: Prepare Your Car’s Emergency Kit

Sure, you packed the season pass, but did you remember to bring an LED flashlight on your last skiing expedition? Even if you’re just traveling to and from base lodge, it’s smart to have an emergency flashlight and other supplies in your car. Remember, inclement weather strikes quickly in the mountains, where a sunny day can shift suddenly into whiteout conditions. Having the right survival equipment on hand could save your life. So, take heed skiers and snowboarders: stow the items we’ve listed below in your car emergency kit.

What to Include in your Car’s Emergency Kit

  • Flares, flare cones or light sticks to attract the attention of oncoming cars or rescue parties.
  • Blanket or sleeping bag.
  • Extra food and water. A three-day supply for everyone in your party is considered minimal.
  • Stove and fuel to cook food if needed. As mountaineers will tell you, hot tea and noodles are excellent in emergencies because they keep you hydrated and warm.
  • Waterproof clothing. This can be as simple as bringing a lightweight rain poncho.
  • LED flashlight, headlamp or another type of emergency flashlight.
  • First aid kit, including wet napkins, bandages, painkillers and backups of any daily medicine you will require. For instance, if you suffer from asthma, you should stow an extra inhaler or two in your car’s emergency kit.
  • Strong, waterproof boots. You don’t want to be wearing sandals while putting on chains in a blizzard.
  • Knife, for cutting food, kindling, etc.
  • Fire-making materials, such as waterproof matches and newspaper for kindling.
  • Gloves, hat, scarf and any other accessories you typically bring for outdoor activities. (You’ll have these on hand anyway for your day on the mountain.)
  • 100-hour candle. Survivalists tell us the light of a candle can make any location far less foreboding. Plus a candle will allow you to read, play games, and otherwise employ the hours of darkness.
  • Toilet paper. It should be biodegradable, ideally, so you don’t have to worry about packing it out.
  • Black garbage bag to melt snow during the day. This is the lightweight way to prepare for the possibility that you might need to melt snow for drinking water. Gather snow in the black bag during the day; the black plastic will absorb the sun’s heat and melt the water. This way, you don’t have to waste cooking fuel to melt snow, although you will still need to boil any gathered water you plan to drink. Save even more fuel by bringing water purification tablets or a water filter.
  • Sunscreen and lip balm.
  • Jumper cables, tow mechanisms and kitty litter or salt. These items will help you kick-start a dead battery and escape from snowy embankments. The salt or kitty litter may be placed under tires that are spinning in snow or ice. It’s also smart to carry a small shovel so you can dig your car out of deep snow.
  • Avalanche transceiver. If you are headed into the backcountry, you should carry an avalanche transceiver. This is a small device you can activate if you become trapped in an avalanche. Every member of your party should have a transceiver on his or her body; that way, you’ll be able to find anyone who becomes trapped. (Clearly, you should practice using a transceiver before heading on any backcountry journey.)
  • Ice scraper or snow sweep to help you defrost windows.

Once you’ve gathered all of these items, place everything that will stay in the car in a waterproof container with a tight-fitting lid. Check your emergency kit at least once a year to make sure nothing has expired.

Auto Maintenance and Preparation

Prevent emergencies from happening in the first place by practicing good automobile maintenance. First, let’s talk tires. Make sure you have an operable spare tire that you know how to use. Be familiar with the procedure for changing a tire on your car, and ensure that your jack works. Check that the spare tire is accessible, as sometimes the bolts become rusted in place. Additionally, you should carry chains or have snow tires installed on all of your vehicles. All-wheel drive is ideal for mountain transport.

Make sure you have extra engine fluids and perform a winter checkup on your car to make sure the battery, belts, hoses, lights, radiator, windshield wipers, brakes and heating/defrosting system are in good working order.

Other Preparation

Review and bring a good map. Check the weather forecast and current conditions before you leave. Program weather condition stations in your car’s radio. Bring emergency cash – $20 in change, and more in small bills.

If you are stuck waiting for roadside help on a major road, place emergency flare cones around your car to direct traffic, put on your flashers, call for help, and wait for assistance. Should you become stranded in a more remote area, do not leave your car. It is much easier for emergency workers to find a car than a wandering human being. Use your LED flashlight sparingly until help arrives; keep your emergency flashlight charged for signaling rescuers, and use your candle for ambient lighting.

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