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The Relocation Readiness Program at Army Community Service offers an informative winter preparation class to get Fort Drum community members ready for a safe and fun season in the North Country. Many of the attendees are newcomers, and the class dispels some of the myths of Fort Drum winters and offers practical advice on winterizing the home and vehicle, and it shares information about recreational opportunities in the area. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

Community members learn tips for a safe, fun winter at Fort Drum


Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs


Most of the community members who entered the classroom at Army Community Service on Oct. 10 had never experienced snowfall before, and being new to Fort Drum, they had questions about winter in the North Country.

The Winter Preparation Class, hosted by the Readiness Relocation Program, provided all of the answers.

The two-hour session covered everything from winterizing vehicles and homes to dressing for the weather and preventing cold-weather injuries. While half of the topics focused on ways to stay safe, the rest highlighted ways to have fun this winter.  Snowboard.jpg

Dan Johnson, a Readiness Relocation representative, was stationed at Fort Drum in 2003 and has worked on post ever since. He brought a wealth of insight and personal experience to the class that alleviated many of the concerns the newcomers had about the season ahead.

Johnson said that many cold-weather injuries can be prevented by wearing the right clothing, and in layers as appropriate to the activity. He said that quality boots and coats don’t have to cost a small fortune if you dismiss designer labels and focus on what matters most – protection from the elements. This is obvious to many parents whose children outgrow clothing rapidly, Johnson said.

He suggested a stop at the Fort Drum Thrift Shop, and many newcomers have already taken advantage of this on-post facility. Stephanie Wolf, Thrift Shop manager, said that children’s coats and snow pants were stocked about a month ago and sold out quickly.

“It was kind of surprising to us how fast the coats went because sometimes it is hit-and-miss with those items,” she said. “But we got a lot of people who had moved here from Hawaii and from the South who heard about the winters here, so they started getting a little anxious about getting the things they will need. We had so many requests that we just started putting it out, and it was gone in two days.”

There is still a good selection of children’s boots, mittens and hats, as well as adult winter wear. Wolfe said that staff will be bringing out other items next week, such as shovels, skis and sleds.

“We’ve been getting a lot of new people coming in, and we always tell them to check back because we are constantly putting out new things,” Wolfe said. “We have so many winter accessories, and we keep filling that daily because it keeps flying off the shelves.”

The Thrift Shop is located in Bldg. 1454 on Fourth Street Middle, off of Ontario Street. It is open from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and the first Saturday of every month. For more information, call (315) 772-7189.

Johnson said that a lot of people are surprised to learn that dehydration is more likely to happen in the winter than in warmer months.

“No one wants to drink cold water in the winter. You want the hot cocoa, the hot coffee or the hot tea,” Johnson said. “But that caffeine will dehydrate you, so you still need to drink water.”

He recommended keeping a pair of sunglasses in the car and wearing them during outdoor activities to prevent snow blindness. Johnson experienced it once, and said it felt like a bucket of sand was poured into his eyes.

He also said it is a good time to start assembling a winter safety kit for the vehicle. This should include such items as:

  • Snow brush with scraper

  • Flashlight with batteries

  • Sack of sand or kitty litter

  • Reflective safety vest

  • Blanket, mittens, socks and hat

  • Jumper cables

  • Hazard triangle

  • First aid kit

  • Small shovel

When it comes to driving in inclement weather, Johnson said the best advice is to drive slower and plan accordingly for longer commutes.

“Triple your following distance and triple your driving time,” he said. “If I have to be somewhere and it takes 30 minutes in the summer, I’ll give myself an hour and 15 minutes in the winter. Don’t panic; you will be fine if you just drive slower.”

Other safe driving tips include:

  • Stay in plowed lanes

  • Steer in the same direction of the skid

  • Use gentle pressure on brakes

 Johnson suggests getting all-weather windshield wipers that won’t freeze to the surface as easily as normal ones.

“Also, try to keep your gas tank at least half full at all times,” he said. “If traffic comes to a stop, you’ll still have enough to get where you need to go. If you go in a ditch, you’ll have plenty of gas to keep yourself warm until someone arrives to assist you.”

He added that when sitting inside a vehicle, roll down a window to allow enough air inside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

For people concerned about driving in the winter, Johnson said they can visit the 511NY website to learn about any hazardous road conditions or bad weather on their route. Also, people can check the Fort Drum website,, to learn about road conditions on post and work delays. Community members also can get the information by calling (315) 772-DRUM (3786).

Paola Ames arrived at Fort Drum in June from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with her husband and two children. Ames said that she attended the class to clear up some of the myths she heard about the post and to find out if she really needed the vehicle work and snow removal equipment that people were telling her to purchase.

“I’ve never dealt with any snow before, so I was feeling a little overwhelmed,” she said. “I heard that Fort Drum was out in the middle of nowhere, that it has the worst kind of cold – colder here than in Alaska.”

She said that she felt much better after having her questions answered. As a former Soldier, Ames is familiar with the term “recreate in place.” But instead of spending the winter indoors, Ames said that she will try some of the activities Johnson suggested. Ice skating sounds fun to her, and she said her kids would enjoy snow tubing.

“Please get outside and enjoy it,” Johnson said. “But be safe about it. Take lessons if you don’t know how to do something.”

Johnson said that Thompson Park in Watertown is a good locale for snow tubing. Dry Hill Ski Area, also in Watertown, offers skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing for the entire family, and offers free lift tickets for Soldiers and their Families from noon to 5 p.m. every Friday.

He recommended visiting the Outdoor Recreation facility on post to learn more about activities, trips and events, or to rent winter activity gear, which is a good option before purchasing it.

“I’m glad that he mentioned all those activities because I was honestly thinking I was going to be like that character in ‘The Shining’ and go stir crazy,” Ames said. “I thought I might be locked inside all winter.”

Ames said that she was surprised to learn about “peephole drivers” who scrape just enough ice off their windshield to see the road. Johnson said that gate guards will pull those vehicles over and have the driver clear the entire windshield.

“It is a safety hazard,” he said. “You might think you can see through that ice, but you can’t. Just take the time to remove the ice from the entire windshield.”

Ames also wasn’t aware of the state law that requires the removal of snow from the hood of a vehicle to prevent it from spilling onto roadways.

Community members can learn more by attending the next class from 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 24 at ACS. Classes will also be available Nov. 14 and 28. Johnson said that if community members have additional questions about winter at Fort Drum, they can contact him at (315) 772 6553.

To register for the next class, visit or call (315) 772-7902.

The Fort Drum Command Safety Office offers a winter driving course and a snow thrower operation course for Soldiers, Family Members, and Department of the Army civilians. Classes begin Oct. 16 and continue into December. For more information, call (315) 772-5352.

In addition, the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Auto Skills Center provides a vehicle winterization class at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday, starting Oct. 25.