Tips for surviving brutal conditions on the slopes
There’s a saying among skiers and snowboarders: “The worst days are the best days.”
Sure, we all dream of those days when it snows all night and the sun comes out for first chair, revealing a world blanketed in a sea of untouched goodness, warming our toes and souls. But most of the time, chasing powder means skiing in falling snow, brutal winds, poor visibility and bone-chilling cold. And even the sunny days can be brutal; at 10,000 feet above sea level, the sun can provide precious little warmth in the dead of winter.
When the skiing is great, who wants to retreat to the lodge after just three runs to warm toes or defog goggles? With a little preparation and the right gear, you can withstand any condition and still be ripping fresh lines when others have adjourned to the warmth of the bar.
Here are some tips for surviving the most brutal winter days on the slopes.
Layers, layers, layers: Start with a base layer like Under Armour or some other synthetic fabric to keep moisture off your skin. Wool makes a good middle layer, and you’ll want a water and wind-resistant outer shell. It doesn’t have to be a huge bulky jacket, which might actually make you sweat more, especially when you to into the overheated lodge for a break or if you’re hiking to get after the powder. After your body layers, always have a face mask and warm hat to go under your helmet; if it’s too warm, fine, put them in your pocket, but it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have.
Take care of your toes: The number one complaint among skiers and snowboarders on frigid days is cold toes. And for good reason. They’re the farthest body part from your core and they spend the day either in snow or in the cold air on the chair lift. Always wear thin wool socks – not thick – and start with warm ski boots (that means don’t leave them in the trunk of the car all night!) For many skiers that’s enough for a day, but if you’re the type of person who gets cold toes all winter, they’ll probably get cold skiing too. Consider buying an electric boot heater system like Hotronics if you ski a lot, or disposable peel-off toe warmers if you don’t. You’ll be surprised what a difference a little artificial warmth can make.
Swap your goggle lenses: Many ski goggles these days come with interchangeable lenses, one of the great skiing innovations of recent memory. If it’s snowing hard and doesn’t look to stop, put in your soft light lenses, instead of those tinted to block the sun. It will make all the difference when you find yourself skiing in a cloud or sideways snow and can’t see the bumps.
Cat crap: And speaking of goggles, fogged-up goggles are one of the most common reasons skiers have to adjourn for lunch at 11:15 in the morning. It’s caused when warm air from your breath and perspiration meets the frigid air outside the goggles. Not tucking your scarf or face mask into the bottom of the goggles can help, as well as splurging for more breathable goggles, but one sure-fire solution is Cat Crap. Not, not actual cat droppings, but an anti-fog gel you can buy in any sporting goods store or at the gear shop on the mountain. Wipe some in with a soft cloth and say “goodbye” to fog.
Stay hydrated: This is good advice for any sport, especially in the thin air of the Rocky Mountains. It’s doubly important for skiers and snowboarders, who with all those layers might not realize just how much they’re sweating and exerting. You can carry a tiny water bottle in your pocket, but who wants to fall on that? Try a hydration backpack with an insulated water hose. Blow air into the line after each drink to clear water and help prevent it from freezing. And don’t eat snow, yellow or otherwise, to quench your thirst. It’ll just make you colder.
Bring an extra hat, gloves and mask: If it’s really dumping out there, your gloves are bound to be the first thing that gets wet. Your face mask won’t be far behind, becoming stiff and frozen with the heavy breathing that comes with skiing. And your hat under your helmet will become thick with sweat. You can hit the “reset” button on your day by swapping out all these for dry replacements during the lunch break.
Don’t ski in jeans: Seriously, don’t. Denim is one of the least water-resistant fabrics known to mankind. Once wet, it stays wet and freezes and is useless as an outer layer. Don’t be that guy.
Take a break: If you’ve been charging hard all morning and can’t feel your toes or see out of your frozen goggles, know when to say “when.” Hit a warming hut or a lodge, take your boots off and rub them and let your goggles air dry. Eat something or have a hot beverage. In 20 minutes you’ll feel human again. After all, if it’s one of those “worst days” that are the best, there will be plenty of fresh powder waiting for you.There’s no shame in that.