As a Ski Patroller, I’ve become an expert at staying warm in the winter. I’ve also seen what happens if you don’t dress for the weather. (It’s not pretty.)
Cold, snow, rain, spring-time. I ski in all conditions and for hours at a time so it’s important for me to dress appropriately throughout the day. Here are a few basic tips to stay warm while on the slopes.
First and foremost, find out what the weather forecast is for where you are going, on the exact days that you’ll be there. For example, if you’re planning on skiing in Whistler, check the weather for Whistler, not Vancouver. The temperature, wind and sun forecast will enable you to plan your basic clothing. Keep in mind: in some ski areas, the weather at top of the peak can be very different from down in the village and valley.
Anybody who likes the outdoors knows the importance of layering. However, the difference with skiing and boarding is that there are potential swings in weather conditions.
The other day, I was at my hill at 8:30 AM with a -18C (-0.4F) temperature and wind chill of -28C (-18.4F). That was cold. How did I dress? Wicking long johns with snow pants on my lower half and 4 layers up top: wicking long sleeve undershirt, cotton t-shirt, ski sweater and my ski jacket. On my head and my hands, I wore wicking gloves, face bandana, goggles and helmet. No skin was exposed. It only warmed up to -13c so everything stayed as is.
What Not to Wear
Wearing the wrong type of clothes can result in a not-so-happy ending to your ski day. For example, wearing cotton socks (instead of ski socks) can lead to blisters and a lot of agitated red skin. Also, you will freeze if a cotton shirt is your base layer. Beginner skiers, who don’t know better, tend to wear a lot of the “not-to-wear” stuff: wool mitts, blue jeans, scarfs, no hat/helmet, etc.
So what happens if you are not warm and not covered up?
In the extreme cold, frostbite is guaranteed if you are not completely covered. Frostbite usually has a slow onset. The person is unaware until they start experiencing a loss of sensation. The skin initially reddens and then blanches and becomes white. As freezing progresses, the skin becomes firm, white and looks waxy. The tissue underneath is resilient and soft. The damaged area can be treated immediately by using body heat, covering the frost-bitten area with a warm hand or having the person place injured fingers in their armpits. Frost-nipped toes can be treated by placing them on the abdomen of a friend under the clothing. Be prepared for some swelling of the injured part.
Deep frostbite is much more serious. You can’t feel the frozen area; skin surface is white, hard and the tissue underneath is hard. You might need to get to a medical aid facility to have the area treated.
Hypothermia can also happen if you’re not dressed appropriately. With the initial signs of heat loss, the extremities become very cold while the body attempts to maintain its core temperature. Cold hands and feet, numbness and then loss of sensation to touch or pain ensues. The body’s other response to cold exposure is to increase heat production by shivering. With the early stages of hypothermia, your body tries to increase activity to warm up and shivering becomes more intense, skin starts to become cold and pale, muscles become tense, the ability to perform complex tasks is diminished, and fatigue and signs of weakness appear. Hypothermia will continue through mild, moderate, severe and critical stages if not stopped. If you are with someone who appears to be hypothermic or if you are becoming hypothermic, take steps to reduce heat loss immediately and seek first aid assistance.
Use Your Common Sense
Staying warm really comes down to common sense. Keep moving, take breaks and eat and drink something (your body stays warmer with fuel intake). If anything gets wet, dry it or change it. Dress for the weather, keep covered up as needed, have fun and enjoy the winter!