Are you ready for your next snowshoe adventure? If you’ve decided to spend boring winter weekends outside of your home, then you’re probably aware of the fact that outdoor activities in mountains during winter months are a bit more demanding and challenging.

But there’s one thing you should always keep in mind, regardless of the season – the power of the sun in mountains should not be underestimated.

Contrary to what one might think, UV rays can be equally damaging in the winter as in the summer.  Actually, the sun exposure during winter, especially at high elevations, is no less harmful. Don’t get fooled by the cool air, low temperatures or clouds – learn why sun protection is so important in mountains during winter.

Why We Need UV Protection in the Winter?

Solar radiation at the Earth’s surface depends on many factors. Generally global solar radiation increases with increasing altitude above sea level. UV radiation increases an approximate 4 to 5 percent with every 300 m (1000 feet) above sea level. At the altitude of 3000 m, UV radiation exposure can be increased to 40-50 percent.

In addition, snow reflects a lot of sun rays. The amount of solar energy that is reflected by the Earth’s surface without being absorbed is called albedo. Snow has really high albedo meaning that it reflects the majority of rays – almost 80%. The albedo of the freshly fallen snow is far higher than, for instance, dirty or melting snow.

When sun rays hit the snow, they reflect under a certain angle, reaching the body parts that aren’t normally exposed to the sun.

Thus you must protect the inside of your nose, the neck area under the chin, ears, palms, eyelids etc.

Photographed by Diogo Brãndao at Leave no trace monitor Hike.

Skin Protection

When hiking, regardless of the season, always wear an adequate sunscreen to protect your skin. Here are some useful tips:

  • Use sun protection factor of at least 30. Apply 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every 2 hours.
  • Apply the sunscreen to any part exposed to the sun, including the parts that could be hit by reflected sun rays.
  • Lips are very sensitive to sun exposure, so use a lip balm with sun protection factor.
  • Use sunscreen even on cloudy days because sun rays can penetrate the clouds.
  • Reapply SPF immediately after heavy sweating.
  • Wear a protective hat to prevent a sunburn on your scalp and your ears.

Eyes Protection

UV rays can be very harmful to your eyes, causing a snow blindness – a painful and temporary loss of vision due to sunburns of the eyes’ surface (scientifically called cornea). Fortunately, this condition is completely preventable.

  • Wear sun protective sunglasses with darker lenses and 100% UV protection. These sunglasses have greater visible light filtration. It’s recommended to use a wraparound model with side blinders.
  • You can even use sports goggles – they completely block sunlight from striking your eyes from the sides. The whole area around eyes, including eyelids, is protected when wearing sports goggles.
WeHike val ferret
Photographed by Daniel Garcia Gutierrez at the Col Ferret.

Other Safety Tips and Advice

Here are some useful tips that can help you to optimize sun protection during winter hikes.

  • Wear items like ski masks. It will protect your face and skin not only from the sun but also from the wind and extremely cold air.
  • You can try to enhance the sun protection by eating the right food. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants – naturally made substances in our body that help us fight harmful free radicals. These micronutrients are capable of contributing to the prevention of UV damage.
  • Since it’s impossible for hikers to avoid sun exposure when the sun is the most intense, between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m, be very cautious and reapply sunscreen regularly.




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