By Wild Bill Kelso, PSIA Certified Instructor
Skiing and boarding in Colorado can be cold, very cold. Being cold will take the fun out of skiing and boarding, and could ruin your day. However, plenty of people go out and enjoy the snow on the coldest of days. Some knowledge and preparation will go a long way.
First something you already know. Check the weather report on the mountain to know what to wear and what to bring. The mountain’s website will give you the temperature and wind and sun on the mountain rather than down in the town.
Next some biomechanics. Your ticker first pumps your blood (and heat) to your head and core body to keep them warm for self-preservation. As it gets cold, the heart will cut off circulation to the extremities to protect the head and body core. That’s why the fingers and toes get cold first. Lesson learned: keep your head warm with a helmet, hat, and face coverage.
Once you get cold on the hill, it is nearly impossible to warm up outside. Go into the lodge and use the hand dryers to warm your gloves or boots as necessary. Don’t start off the day at the bottom being cold; you will never warm up. If you are cold at the start, go inside and warm up. Watch your ski partners, especially kids because they may get cold before you notice.
Cold Weather Gear
A neck gaiter (neck warmer) is essential gear for skiing. The big thick Turtle Fur are warmer than the thin bandanas. There are other options like Balaclavas and face masks. Millennials like thin colorful neck/head warmers called Buffs. Carry one of these every day since wind and weather in Colorado can change in an instance. Don’t be fooled by early morning calm. Lip protection and snow tan lotion should be worn on cold days to protect the skin.
A helmet can generally keep your head warm but a beanie or skull cap underneath the helmet will keep you even warmer. Many helmets have cooling vents that should be closed in the cold. The hoodie from your parka can go up to cut wind. The new style over-the-helmet hood hats like Burton Burke and Cora look really warm.
Leather gloves are generally warmer than fabric gloves. If your fingers tend to get cold, mittens are a good choice, but work against your finger agility and pole action. If you tend to get cold, hot hands (chemical warmers) are cheap and last six hours. High end gloves have pocket to secure them. They are placed on the top of your hand where the arteries are to circulate the heat (not on the palm of your hand). Many people like thin glove liners that go inside your ski gloves.
Boots should be snug but not buckled not too tight. Many people buckle their boots too tight which strangles your circulation at the boot cuff cutting off the blood flow to the feet. On the way to the slopes, keep your boots in the cab of your car preferably under the heater vent in the front passenger (not in the trunk or pickup bed). Don’t leave them outside overnight but better near the fireplace (not too close because they will melt the plastic). Boot heaters (battery operated boot attachments) are effective and can be purchased and installed in a ski shop.
Here’s some of the obvious: The early morning is much colder and Colorado warms up a lot in the middle of the day. The top of the mountain is windier and colder than the lower mountain. Ski the lower mountain on the leeward (less windy) side. Take the gondola or yo-yo the gondola to stay warm in the cabin on the way up. Skiing slower is not as cold as high speeds.
In extreme cold with wind, watch for frostbite on exposed nose and cheeks. You won’t feel it yourself, so you need your buddy to occasionally inspect the tip of your nose and cheeks looking for bright white spots. They look weird on your face. Cover up and go inside immediately. Warm up slowly using your hand or body warmth.
When all else fails, take breaks inside and have a hot chocolate!