It’s a beautiful winter day. The fresh fallen snow blankets the fields and embraces the trees. The sun is shining and the snow is glistening. You look at the thermometer, -1F and the wind is blowing about 5-10 mph. Should you go outside?
Extreme cold and wind… keep yourself safe and warm!
Why would anyone want to go out into this cold winter environment? Well, for starters, the winter landscape can be stunningly beautiful, peaceful, less crowded, and exhilarating. With the right clothing and mindset, you can safely enjoy this winter wonderland.
In the world of cold injuries, the big two are hypothermia and frostbite:
Hypothermia: The lowering of the body’s core temperature. Brain and muscular function become impaired.
Frostbite: Localized freezing of tissue caused by below freezing temperature.
Prevention is the best medicine, so how do we keep ourselves protected when going outside in this deep freeze?
First, let’s look at our clothes. Synthetic, silk, performance fabrics and wool are the best choices. Leave the cotton shirts for those hot summer days.
Base Layer: A good base layer keeps you dry by drawing moisture away from your ski. This process is called wicking. Perspiration is transferred from your body to the outer layer of the fabric where it can quickly evaporate to keep you dry. The base layer is worn next to the skin. It should fit snug to retain the warmth generated from your body. I prefer silk although you will pay a premium price.
Mid-Layer or Insulating Layer: Traps your body heat, acting as an insulator. Generally made out of a heavier fabric such as polar fleece or wool. Polartec, Thermax, Microfleece are a few of the brands available. In extreme cold I may wear two insulating layers. A light fleece followed by a heavier fleece, softshell or wool sweater.
Outer Layer: Waterproof and windproof layer. Keeps you dry and protected from the convective heat loss of the wind. You can spend a small fortune on Gore-Tex jackets, but this may not be necessary. Your winter parka or even rain jacket can act as your outer layer. Fabrics that offer some breathability work best.
- Avoid alcohol – If you are over 21 and want to have a drink wait until AFTER you come inside.
- Stay well hydrated – Bring a thermos with hot chocolate or tea.
- Eat lots of carbs – Fuel the fire.
- Know your limits – If it is your first time snowshoeing or skiing start with an easy objective. Perhaps a short jaunt at you local State Park or in the woods behind your house. Don’t start out hiking that 4000′ mountain you’ve always dreamed about doing in the winter.
- Control sweating – If you are partaking in aerobic activity such as cross country skiing or snowshoeing start out slightly cold. You will warm up quickly and you want to prevent sweating.
- Have a plan – Bring emergency gear and know how to use it.
- Keep an eye others – You may become hypothermic without knowing. Know the signs, symptoms and treatment.
- Keep hands and feet warm & dry – Liner gloves and socks will add insulation and act as a wicking layer if you sweat. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Having some hand warmers with you is a good idea, they have been a lifesaver for me.
- Proper fitting boots – Boots that are to tight will restrict air flow and movement. This increases the change of frostbite.
- Keep your head covered. In extreme cold windy conditions you may need to wear a balaclava under your hat as well as ski goggles.
Winter is my favorite season. I love the crisp air, the early morning and late afternoon light as it dances off the trees and reflects the ice. The stars in the night sky are brighter and awe inspiring. A full moon snowshoe or ski in winter is magical. The light reflecting off the snow crystals sparkle creating long shadows. I feel more alive in winter. My senses are on alert. The world slows down. For wildlife it is all about survival. No frills, just hard core living from day to day.