This post has been updated! You can find it here: When Is It Too Cold To Ski?
Hi Brave Ski Mom,
Love the website – can I ask your advice on an issue that concerns me…..what are the lowest temperatures at which it is safe to go skiing with young kids ? I have a 7, a 9 and an 11 – and we’re heading for Norway and temperatures that look likely to be of the order of -15C to -20C…but hopefully with little windchill.*
Any advice would be appreciated.
A Brave Ski Dad
* -15 C to -20 C = +5 F to -4 F.
When I received this comment last week, the first thing I thought was “Wow. That is a great question. I am so glad he asked.” The second thing I thought was “Wow. That is so cool that they are going to Norway. What a lucky ski family!”
After I put my envy aside, I got down to business and did some research both on the Internet and with a pediatrician. Here’s what I found out.
1. There Are Real Risks. Children are at a greater risk for frostbite and frostnip than adults, because they lose heat more rapidly through their skin. In addition, if kids are having fun they are often reluctant to go inside and warm up. This means that parents need to be aware of the symptoms of frostbite and frostnip and monitor their kids during winter activities.
- Signs of Frostnip and Frostbite. Frostnip occurs before frostbite and usually affects exposed skin. Look for red skin that is tingly or numb. Frostnip is best treated by coming inside and warming up. Frostbite is much more serious and is characterized by white, grayish-yellow or grayish-blue skin that looks waxy and is completely numb. Frostbite occurs when ice crystals form in the skin or deeper tissues. If you suspect frostbite, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
- Hypothermia. Hypothermia occurs when you are outside and your body temperature drops a few degrees. The signs of hypthermia are shivering, having to go to the bathroom, confusion and sleepiness. As these are very broad symptoms, the best response is to go inside and warm up if your child exhibits any of them. (You don’t want to ski with a shivering, confused, sleepy child who needs to go to the bathroom anyway.) Hypothermia can be life-threatening especially if muscles become tight or stiff, vision gets blurry or if speech becomes slurry. These symptoms require immediate emergency medical attention.
Now that I’ve scared you, rest assured that your kids can still go skiing and play outdoors even in very cold weather. Prevention of these conditions simply requires some common sense.
2. Cold is Relative. 5 F (-15 C) with a blue sky, a shining sun and no wind can feel warmer than 20 F (-7 C) on a cloudy day with a cold north wind blowing. There is no hard and fast rule, no cut-off point, that you can use to determine when it is too cold. We’ve had some wonderful ski days when the temperature hovered around 0 F (-18 C). By the same token, we’ve felt frozen on wet, grey days when it was a balmy 22 F (-6 C). If you or your child is complaining that it is too cold, it is probably too cold. Go inside!
3. Clothing Matters. My best advice for all skiing/riding families is to always buy the best coat, pants and gloves/mittens you can afford and that is designed for skiing. I’ve been using a Columbia Omni-Heat ski coat this season on the coldest days and I’m sold. Advertising hype aside, it’s a warmer coat.
For socks and long underwear, I think wool is a great choice. Icebreaker and Smartwool make baselayers that aren’t itchy, are nicely warm and don’t retain smell. But if you don’t like wool, go for the synthetic of your choice, just don’t buy cotton. Brrrr!
No matter what sort of clothing you choose, make sure it is dry. When clothing gets damp it will draw heat from the body. Go inside and get the wet stuff off.
4. Cover Up. Protect sensitive extremities such as the fingers, nose and ears. Handwarmers are cheap and they really work. A neck gaiter or face mask will help a lot. I don’t like bandanas or fleece over the face because breath moisture can condense on them and freeze. I use a polypropelene mask with air holes in the mouth area. Seirus Innovation makes a great one.
As for the head, there is only one choice: a helmet. Not only will a helmet protect your child from the cold and wind better than a hat, but it will protect your darling’s head from harm as well. You already know this, but most resorts won’t let your kids into ski school without a helmet and frown on kids sans helmets on their slopes.
Plus, helmets stay on better than a hat and they don’t itch. When the weather is warm, most helmets have vents to open to allow some cooling. When it is cold, double check these same vents to make sure they are closed.
5. No More Cold Feet. Cold feet are the skiers’ bane. But cold feet are not inevitable. For a complete guide to keeping your kids’ feet warm and making sure their boots fit, please see the Brave Ski Mom post How Do I Tell If My Kid’s Ski Boots Fit? And, More Importantly, How Do I Keep My Kid’s Feet Warm?. The quick and dirty:
- Urge your kids to wiggle their toes. Make sure they have room in the toe box and that they can feel their toes.
- Don’t buckle the instep buckle too tight. You don’t want to apply pressure to the artery than runs across the top of the foot and risk cutting off circulation. Buckling this buckle too tight will guarantee cold feet. I didn’t know this until this year. Now I barely fasten this buckle. It’s been a cold winter and my feet have been warm…and I don’t have new boots.
- No need to layer socks. One thin to medium pair of wool socks is all that you need.
6. Snacks Are Good. Kids need frequent snacks when skiing to stay warm. Fill your pockets with nuts, granola bars, fruit chews…anything portable that can easily be eaten on the chairlift and isn’t 100% sugar. Kids need sustained energy to stay warm, not a jolt! And don’t forget to make sure your kids are drinking water. A hydrated body is a warmer body. Especially if you are skiing at a higher altitude, push the water and warm liquids.
7. Common Sense. If you or your kids are skiing and you’re cold, go inside. Take hot chocolate breaks or frequent trips into the lodge to drink water. Warm up and then head back out. Take a long lunch and relax. Eat some soup. You don’t have to skip skiing on super-cold days, but you may not want to ski bell-to-bell. Listen to your body and listen to your kids. They’ll let you know when they are cold. Just don’t wait until they are miserable to respond to them.
So, Brave Ski Dad, I hope that this helps. Best wishes for a safe trip to Norway. Please send pictures! And if you discover any local Norwegian tips for staying warm, please let me know.
The Brave Ski Mom
For More Information…
For information on cold weather risks to children, your pediatrician is a great source.
Three useful online sites are KidsHealth.org, The Lucille Packard Childrens’ Hospital at Stanford and LanaKIDS.
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