FEBRUARY 6, 2014
BY: STEVE HARTMAN
In this skis.com podcast, Steve discusses skiing and snowboarding in the freezing cold. His guests share stories and tips for staying warm if you opt to hit the mountain in the middle of a Polar Vortex. What should you wear? How can you stay warm?
IAN: It was probably about 4 or 5 years ago I went out to Killington, Vermont, so out on the east coast. It was probably 0 degrees with a wind chill of about -15 so it was pretty cold and this is before I had all the proper, I would say, clothing but, you know, it's one of those things that you start off cold and bitter but as soon as you get to the top of that summit and you start riding, you completely forget about the fact that, you know, your fingers are cold and you're out there just enjoying the elements and being out there and essentially just having fun.
STEVE: No doubt about it, it's been a record-breaking cold winter. We're talking daytime temperatures reaching only 2 or 3 degrees here in Michigan thanks to a weather phenomenon called the Polar Vortex. In fact, it's been so cold that ski areas have actually shut down operation for the safety of their customers. On top of that, January has been one of the snowiest months in history here in Michigan.
Welcome to the Summit Sports Podcast for skis.com and snowboards.com. I'm Steve. I'm the host and if you decide to brave the frigid temperature, this podcast is going to give you some tips on how to enjoy the day. That was Ian at the beginning. He works here at Summit Sports and, like many of us here, we love to ski and snowboard and will gladly head to the slopes regardless of the weather conditions.
Head-to-toe, I talked with Steve, our Ski –E-O and Ski Buyer here at skis.com about how to dress when your desire for skiing and snowboarding outweighs the brutal weather conditions.
STEVE K.: Actually I'm a pretty big baby when it comes to the cold. I get cold really easy. It can even be 25 degrees and I get cold so I've got lots of little tricks and little gadgets to help me keep warm so you want to, kind of, start from the top and go down?
STEVE: Yeah, let's go top down.
STEVE K.: So, many of people don't realize but helmets are much warmer than hats so if you currently wear a hat and if you switch to a helmet, I think you'll find it being much warmer. In addition to that, balaclavas, which is sort of like a neck warmer that goes all the way over the head and leaves just open enough space for your mouth and your goggles come in all different weights and they are great...I have a lightweight one and a heavy weight one and I buy my helmet so I can fit the balaclava under it and so that keeps my face pretty warm. In terms of your main body, obviously a good warm insulated jacket is the best. Down is the warmest although most people don't like to ski in down because it tends to be very bulky so my trick is to use an insulator under my jacket. So insulators are typically used under shells. A lot of people will buy a technical shell that has no insulation and then buy an insulator which is basically the insulation which you typically get in a jacket in a sort of a vest or zip-up jacket form. I will wear my insulator under my insulated jacket for extra warmth as well as putting on heavier midlayers so I have a thin and a thick long underwear. I'll wear my thick, obviously. And I have a thin or a thick midlayer so I'll wear the thicker one. As it gets colder I'll continue to thicken up each layer and then instead of wearing a sweater or fleece, I'll wear the insulator which is the warmest piece. Pants can come in as just shells or insulated so I'll wear my insulated pants and then I have two thicknesses of long underwear, a thin and a thick. There have actually been days I've skied in 20 below where I've actually put on the thin and the thick and then my pants as the warmest possible combination.
JENNA: I've actually had a couple different times when I've been out when it's been that cold. Last year I was at Beaver Creek as well as Rob and it was, I think it was a solid -20 but I also when I was a kid, at our local mountain, we'd pretty much buy passes ahead of time and you had a set amount of passes that you had to use before the end of the year so you didn't have much of choice. We were just so excited to get out that, you know, I was at our local mountain and it was a solid sheet of ice and I think -10 and we were just happy to be out, you know, just happy to get out there.
STEVE: And socks, the best, warmest, cotton socks, right?
STEVE K.: Ah, no. Never wear cotton. Cotton will make your feet cold because they hold moisture, Steve, as you know.
STEVE K: They need to be wool socks, they need to wick, and actually thinner socks are actually better than thick socks. Thick socks tend to, you would think that they would keep your feet warmer but actually they reduce the ability for your boots to fit properly and just create a lot more air space so a thin sock…but I do have 2 real tricks for the hands, we didn't talk about gloves, and the feet. Obviously good gloves. A Gore-Tex glove for your hand is going to be super war but I actually cheat and I have a pair of electric gloves. Typically, in the old days, I used to stick a handwarmer in my glove but nowadays they sell electric gloves which are extremely popular nowadays. We can't actually keep them in stock and although they're expensive, having warm hands and feet is worth the price of any amount of money when you think about how much money you spend to go skiing so electric gloves are awesome and I have electric warmers in my ski boots which I've had for years and those things are awesome as well.
STEVE: I have Rob here, our accessories buyer and so he's going to know a thing or two about staying warm when it is extremely cold like it has been this winter. So, Rob, what would you recommend as like an absolute necessity when it's about 0 degrees outside?
ROB: So, the easiest solution when it's really cold outside is just as simple as handwarmers or toe warmers. A couple bucks, break it open, it heats up, keep your hands and toes warm for, I mean, up to 10 hours. Pretty easy solution. It's nice especially when you're just hanging out, you know, going down to a football game or the Christmas parade or something like that. Just a real easy way to keep your hands and toes warm.
STEVE: When I've used them before I would use them for a little bit. I'd shove them into my boot and they seemed to work for just a little bit but then they would stop working. Is there a way to keep them working?
ROB: Not necessarily, I mean, that's kind of the downside with them being a pretty cheap solution; it's real hit and miss. It's good and bad. It's good when it's cold but not freezing cold. When it's real frigid out, they're not the greatest solution to help keep you warm.
STEVE: Okay. What products would you recommend to help you stay warm when it gets freezing?
ROB: The biggest thing, especially for your feet, are boot heaters – electronic battery packs that will hook up to a heating element that you'll keep underneath your footbed. You can use them in your ski boots or snowboard boots but you can also just them in your winter boots or a pair of shoes. It's a trim-to-fit system so you can fit it to whatever shoe you're wearing and they last, on the highest setting they'll last a couple hours. If your feet get really, really cold and you need them really, really hot, they're not going to last for a long time, maybe an hour or 2, but on the lowest setting, it can last over 10hours so something you can keep on your feet all day long no matter what you're doing.
STEVE: Have you skied when it's been this cold before?
ROB: I have. It's tough when it's this cold out. The wind will get you more than the cold because you're moving around, the blood's flowing a little bit. Helps keep you somewhat warm. Last year, 2013, I was out at Beaver Creek and it was, the highs were in the negatives, I mean absolutely brutally cold and, you know, the key for me there was, on the chairlift, trying to keep myself as bundled up as much as possible. Keep my whole face tucked in my jacket and keeping the wind off me there. You know, for me, it was just taking breaks – undo my boots and sit by the fire real quick, you know, get the blood back into my extremities and take a break every few hours and heat back and get right back to it even if its just like they were really just 10 minute breaks.
STEVE: What most people don't realize is it's not so much skiing when it's cold and windy, it's riding on a chairlift when it's cold and windy.
ROB: Yeah. When you're just sitting there, that's the worst part. When you're moving and you're riding and you're skiing, that's easy. Your blood's flowing, you're feeling good but you all of a sudden you take that break to take that chairlift ride up and you're just sitting there and there's nothing you can do about it, that where you really start to realize how cold you are.
STEVE: Yep. As we conclude the podcast, we wanted to give you a few more tips when it comes to skiing in the freezing cold.
STEVE K.: Obviously take frequent breaks. Once you start to get cold, it's important to start heading in. You don't have frostbite, make sure you don't have exposed skin but also be aware when you go out not just the temperature but whether it's sunny or cloudy and what the wind is. The wind is actually a bigger problem. You know a ten degree day in the sun is pretty tolerable but a 10 degree day with 20 mph winds can be almost unbearable so try to really be aware of the wind conditions and whether it's cloudy or sunny. Also, be aware of where on the mountain you're skiing. If you're skiing in the trees it's typically going to be warmer because there isn't any wind. Usually the bottom of the hill, if it's a large ski resort will be warmer than the top, but there are things called inversions where sometimes the top will be warmer or even times when the top is in the sun and the bottom is in the clouds.
STEVE: Right, and it's worth checking out different parts of the mountain because one side may be where the wind is, one side where it may not, right?
STEVE K.: Absolutely. Depending on where the wind is blowing there will be typically areas that are more subjected to the wind and other areas that are more sheltered from the wind. You know, the trick is to just take constant breaks. Typically we would ski in those conditions for about an hour, hour-and-a-half and then go in and warm up so it's more of an in-out, in-out, in-out. The only other thing is, especially if you're with young kids, be really, really careful to not keep them out for very long because they can cold without you realizing and then get frostbite which can create some permanent damage and permanent sensitivity to the cold.
STEVE: Anything else?
STEVE K.: And lots of hot chocolate.
STEVE: Well, of course, for both adults and kids.
STEVE K.: Absolutely.
STEVE: As for me, I've skied when the temperature was 0 degrees and the wind chill was 27 below. I was quite young, probably 10 or 11 and I remember the wind coming from the base of the hill and it felt like I was pushed back up the hill. My dad and I took a lot of hot chocolate breaks that day.
This concludes the Summit Sports Podcast for skis.com and snowboards.com. I'd like to thank Jenna, Ian, Rob and Steve for coming on and sharing their stories and tips for staying warm when skiing or snowboarding in the frigid temperatures. Thanks for listening.