Skiing is a winter sport and some days are just going to be cold.
Since chilly, mid-winter days can be some of the best ski days, you don’t want to skip them. And you won’t have to as long as you’re well prepared.
How Cold Is Too Cold For Skiing?
Aside from discomfort, extreme cold can cause serious conditions like frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia. While there are common sense ways to protect yourself and your children from the cold (which we’ll cover below), here’s a quick rundown on the warning signs you should be looking for when skiing in frigid temperatures.
Frostnip and Frostbite
Frostnip occurs before frostbite and usually affects exposed skin. Children are more vulnerable than adults, because they tend to lose heat more rapidly through their skin. Plus, if they’re having fun they may not realize they’re cold until they’re REALLY COLD! This means parents need to pay close attention to their children’s comfort.
Frostnip is characterized by red skin that is tingly or numb. Frostnip is best treated by coming inside and warming up (hot chocolate helps, too).
Frostbite is much more serious. It occurs when ice crystals form in the skin and deeper tissues. Frostbit skin is completely numb and looks white, grayish-yellow or grayish-blue and waxy.
If you suspect frostbite, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Hypothermia happens when body temperature drops a few degrees below normal. The symptoms of hypothermia are shivering, having to go to the bathroom, confusion and sleepiness. As these symptoms are broad and general, the best response when skiing with kids is to go inside and warm up if your child exhibits any of them (and really, who wants to ski with a sleepy, shivering, confused child who needs to go to the bathroom anyway?).
Other life-threatening symptoms include tight or stiff muscles, blurry vision and slurred speech. If any of these symptoms occur, seek immediate emergency care.
Stay Safe in the Cold
Tip One: Dress Smart
Dress yourself and your child in the best coat, pants, mittens and baselayers you can afford. This doesn’t mean you have to buy expensive brand names. Look for well-made, sensible, no-nonsense ski clothes and always avoid cotton. Good clothing is an investment that will pay off.
Next on extra cold days, wear extra layers. I’ve been known to layer 2-3 pairs of long underwear under my ski pants and even more on top. Since it’s important to keep your core warm, consider down vests. They are a lightweight, super-insulating layer that doesn’t add a lot of bulk. If you’re spending time outdoors, vests can be indispensable.
While we’re proponents of layering, we never layer our ski socks. One thin pair is all you should wear no matter how cold it is. Why? Because you want your boots to fit properly and if your socks are too bulky, your boots will be too tight, which can actually make your feet colder.
And speaking of feet, don’t buckle your boots tightly across the instep. There is an artery that runs across the top of your foot. If you apply to much pressure, you may reduce circulation and run the risk of extra-cold feet. For more tips on keeping your feet warm (and making sure your ski boots fit), go here.
Other cold-fighting items? Lightweight, insulating beanies that fit under your helmet, balaclavas or Buffs and face masks. We think mittens are superior to gloves and on super cold days we add liners and disposable hand warmers.
For the top of your head (no surprise here), we’re all about helmets. Not only are helmets warmer than a beanie (make sure all vents are closed!), but they are not itchy and they protect your head from some injuries. Add even more warmth by pulling up your hood. Most ski coat hoods fit over helmets and will keep you extra warm.
Finally, stay dry. Damp, wet clothing draws heat from the body. Bring extra socks, mittens and long underwear. Switch out the wet for dry mid-day. And at the end of the ski day, make sure you dry your boots thoroughly.
Tip Two: Fuel Up
Hungry, dehydrated skiers are cold skiers. This means it’s important on any ski day to eat snacks and drink water. Take frequent breaks to warm up and refuel. Fill your pockets with energy-rich goodies like nuts, granola bars and dried fruit. Drink something every time you go inside. Pushing fluids is especially important at higher altitudes.
Tip Three: Use Common Sense
While it’s important to check the temperature, and the forecast, before heading out, please remember that cold is relative. 5 F (-15 C) with abundant sunshine can feel warmer than 20 F (-7 C) on a snowy day when the wind is blowing. Thus, there is no hard and fast rule, no temperature cut-off point, that will definitively tell you if it’s too cold to ski.
Instead, go inside when you feel cold. Take a break. Eat some soup. Sit by the fire and relax. Add another layer.
You don’t have to skip skiing on super-cold days, but you do have to listen to your body and listen to your kids.
They’ll let you know when it’s too cold for skiing.
More Information on Cold Weather Risks to Children
Check with your pediatrician. He or she is a great resource.
For more detailed information on treating frostbite check out these links at KidsHealth.org and The Lucille Packard Childrens’ Hospital at Stanford.
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