Be aware that mountain weather changes rapidly - a pleasant outing can quickly be transformed into a survival ordeal. Navigation in harsh winter conditions can be extremely difficult. It is usually better to camp and wait for clearing weather than to continue and risk becoming lost. For more information on weather, including current forecasts, go to our weather page.
Before leaving home, make sure that you're ready for driving winter roads. To see which roads are open, check the Road Status page. The park webcams can give you a good idea how conditions look. Also, the park's Twitter feed, MountRainierNPS, will give you the latest about the Longmire to Paradise Road for opening times and tire chain requirements (Twitter account not required to view).
Winter 10 Essentials
Backcountry skiers, snowshoers, and campers should be equipped to survive nights out if whiteout conditions prevent travel. Carry the Winter 10 Essentials and know how to use them:
Avalanches are most common during or immediately after a storm. Never travel or camp in an avalanche zone. Stop at the Longmire Information Center or Jackson Visitor Center for weather and avalanche hazard forecasts, maps of areas to avoid, and general avalanche information. For local avalanche forecasts and other important information, visit the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.
My name is Glenn Kessler, Supervisory Climbing Ranger at Mount Rainier.
The avalanche risk on Mount Rainier for visitors exists sort of two times- two different heights of the year. One is the winter season as we have right now where we get a fair amount of new snow on the mountain. Upper mountain, lower mountain, we just get a lot of snow. The primary avalanche season is the winter time. We tend to have storms that bring in avalanche danger and they’re direct action storms, and by that I mean when the amount of snowfall increases that’s when our avalanches generally happen. Snow time- or I should say if we have snowfall- we have a storm; as the storm starts the avalanche danger slowly rises, and then rapidly rises once we get six to eight to ten inches of snow. Often we’re stable on the lower mountain here within about 48 hours, although that’s only when the Northwest is acting like the Northwest, and it’s generally mild temperatures and deep snowpack. On the upper mountain that danger can linger for weeks. So that’s the main season, is basically December or late-November through the end of winter.
Then comes a secondary season in between when the skiers sort of take off and then our climbers come out in force and start heading out on the upper mountain. So we get a secondary season when the climbers come out and the seasons change such that the snow that’s already fallen, plus some new snow possibly, and the warm temperatures of spring-time start to melt the snow that’s on the mountain, and then we get a lot of spring avalanches which can happen directly after small storms or even larger avalanches as water percolates through that snowpack that’s been around all year long, and we can have this secondary season and have some pretty large avalanches based on that.
Today we have good weather and the only reason why the avalanche danger at this level has gone down to moderate and considerable just above here- moderate here at tree-line and considerable above- is that we’ve actually had a couple of days without snow. So, if you’ve got a big storm and that ends pretty pronto right after the large part of that snowfall and the sun comes out, we could have just a morning after a big snow storm and that’s a tough time because people know- they watch the weather, they watch the news and they know when that good weather is coming and what they don’t pay attention to is just cause you got good weather does not mean avalanche conditions aren’t bad. Looking at the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center website, making sure you are up on what’s going on. If that website is down for the year, which happens towards the April period of time, check with the Park Service and find out what’s gone on as far as the avalanche danger.
However, the avalanche centers can only basically do a forecast for about seven thousand feet or so. And here on Mount Rainier we’re already at fifty four hundred here at Paradise right now and seven thousand feet is the top of Pan Point which is not too far. Our visitors very often in the wintertime and the summertime are going well beyond seven thousand feet, so those avalanche reports have to be read and understood that they’re for a limited amount of terrain and the reports specifically say they are not valid for higher elevations on the volcanic peaks, such as Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Baker, Shuksan, etc. So you’ll have to do your own investigation once you leave that seven thousand foot level or so.
The roads on Mount Rainier are generally deemed safe when they’re open. You got to still be really careful on the roadways cause we do have some treacherous mountainous roads that there’s no way to make them completely safe from drivers that don’t adhere to speed limits, etc. But if the roads are open they’re deemed to be safe enough that avalanches should not be hitting the roads. We do very little control work but we try not to open the roads when lingering avalanche danger is there. If the avalanche danger is still there but not for large avalanches the roads may be open as long as we’ve got road crew on that can dig out whatever avalanches end up on the road. So, if you come to the park you may also find the road’s closed at times when there’s high avalanche danger because we simply can not open the roads. And that’ll often happen from about mid-winter towards ‘til the end of winter.
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Anyone familiar with mountains knows that avalanche danger is always a consideration when heading out for a snowshoe walk or ski trip. Mount Rainier is no exception. In this Ranger Brief video, Climbing Ranger Glenn Kessler discusses avalanche risk and safety on Mount Rainier.
When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A combination of cold weather, wet snow, and wind can easily rob a person of essential body heat. If left untreated, hypothermia can lead to unconsciousness and death.
Snow caves, tents, and igloos can provide shelter from the elements, but be sure your shelter has adequate ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Maintain good ventilation while cooking, as cooking in a shelter will consume oxygen rapidly. To maintain adequate ventilation during snowy, windy conditions, you will need to go outside to dig out your tent or clear igloo vents. Collapse igloos and snow caves after use.
Last updated: February 26, 2021