While we’ve seen a lot of (relatively) mild weather this season and the trends over the past few years have been to warmer winters, cold weather will come, like it or not. We do live in the north, after all.
So what is the dedicated skier to do?
The answer, of course, is to keep on skiing. But now, dressing properly becomes critical.
Interestingly, one of the biggest errors neophyte cold weather skiers make is overdressing. Remember that you are moving, burning up calories and generating heat. Get too hot and you sweat. Get wet and, as soon as you stop, you turn into a popsicle.
Staying dry is the number one rule of cold-weather skiing.
There are two pieces to this puzzle. First, dress in layers.
As you heat up, you can unzip something, or drop a layer, keeping your temperature just right. The ideal layering system is an inner layer of long underwear (or two if it’s really cold), a second layer to keep you warm and a top, wind-resistant, layer.
Make sure this top layer isn’t too waterproof or the moisture will stay inside and you’ll get wet. You just need to shed some wind and a bit of snow when you are out, not protect yourself against a downpour.
Second, be careful of what fabrics you choose. Cotton is a no-no. It traps moisture and guarantees a miserable experience.
Good choices for inner- and mid-layers are polypro and wool, both very popular around the ski club these days.
Most people know the adage about losing heat through your head; in cold weather a hat is essential. Make sure it covers your ears, or add earmuffs to the whole ensemble as well.
Protect your face and neck with a balaclava or a buff of some kind and you are almost set. Easily shed if you get too hot, these items make a huge difference on chilly days.
While we’re on the subject of heads, beware those dangly earrings, especially if they’re made of highly-conductive materials, such as silver.
More than one skier has ended up with frostbitten earlobes as a result of silver earrings sucking the heat out of their ears.
Hands and feet are some of the most vulnerable parts of the body when it comes to cold and frostbite.
Wool socks are the best bet to keep your feet warm. On a really cold day you can add boot covers to the mix.
Mitts are much warmer than gloves; they can be worn with glove liners if you are still chilly.
Cold snaps are not the time to push the pace. Nice-and-easy does it. Choose a nice steady pace, one you can maintain without getting overheated.
How cold is too cold to ski? I’ve seen skiers out on the trails when it’s close to minus 40C. So some, at least, aren’t deterred. This is not recommended for the neophyte though.
Younger skiers are more susceptible to cold; the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club uses a minus 20C temperature cut-off for its Jackrabbit program, representing kids nine and younger. And we don’t turn the trail lights on when it’s colder than minus 30C, although the wax room remains open for the hardy.
Comfort is very personal. You need to learn your own limitations – just make sure you stay safe.
Basic safety precautions in cold weather: make sure you don’t travel alone, know your limitations, carry a cell phone just in case, and dress for success.
See you on the trails.