Keeping Your Cool in the Cold

“To lesson the likelihood of Raynaud’s attacks avoid the following;  exposure to cold weather, drinking/eating caffein, touching cold objects, perspiring, cool/moist environments, and stressful thoughts or situations.”  I am a ski guide in Silverton, Colorado and that list is my job description.

I suffer from a fairly common vasospastic ailment called Raynaud’s disease and that quote from my neurologist is my life’s challenge.  This malady throws my body’s shell-core reactions into overdrive whenever I’m cold.  My capillaries spasm, cutting off blood supply to my fingers and toes.  This is both visually displeasing and functionally challenging, especially in my line of work.  I spend most of my days sweaty, stressed and cold.  If I am not holding ski poles, ice tools, or explosives, then I’m downing cups of coffee for 4:30am starts.  I work at or above 13,000 feet much of the year in wind, snow and damp cloud layers.  In a typical 12-hour day of winter work I might go inside for 10 minutes.  That number, 10, might also describe the day’s high temperature.  I’ve developed a few habits for keeping my hands and feet toasty even though the day’s elements and activities are conspiring to popsicklify me.  Here is a tip or two for happier ski touring (stay tuned for an ice climbing adjunct).

Stand In the Bathtub:  Ski boots are like thermoses; they keep warm things warm and cold things cold.  So cook up those feet before putting them in your boots and you’ll stand a better chance of having toasty toes. I stand ankle-deep in a hot bathtub before heading out on the really cold day to get the blood pumping to my tootsies. It makes a world of difference. 

Keep Your Boots in the Cab:  Cold boots stay cold.  You gotta baby those things. No matter how scrunched the seating may be on the way to your tour, never never ever ever put your boots in the trunk or the truck bed.  Keep them in your lap or at your feet.  If space is truly at a premium and the drive to the trailhead is short, just put them on your feet and get in the car!  If this isn’t an option, stick a hot water bottle into each boot for the drive. 

Stay Dry:  You have got to keep yourself dry to stay warm.  Avoid sweating by starting your tour cold (I never do this but everyone else seems to have success with it), or ditching layers the second that you feel your body starting to perspire.  You don’t even need to stop moving for temperature adjustments; 1) unzip your jacket -the gloves and hat now go in there against your chest, 2) your Buff becomes a sweatband, 3) unzip your thigh vents and your done!  You’ve changed your outfit without skipping a beat. Go New School, Ditch 

Your Poles:  The lower your hands are, the warmer they stay.  In mellow touring terrain, shorten your poles and stick them cross-ways at the small of your back.  Then just keep your hands at your sides or hook your thumbs on your pack. You can do this mid-stride.  If you really need your poles to tour (while breaking trail or in steep terrain), shorten them as much as you possibly can so your hands are nice and low and can get lots of warm blood into them. 

Chapstick, Water bottle, Sunscreen, Candy Bar and Go!  You’ve got to take short, calculated breaks on a chilly ski tour.  Have a plan of attack in mind before you even pull in for the breather.  Ditch your pack, put your puffy coat on, reach into the pocket for a snack, drink a cup of hot chai, use a facilitree, ditch your puffy and keep moving.  Breaks should last exactly as long as you stay warm from your exertion.  Once you start to cool down, it is time to hit the trail. 

Bring a Giant Thermos: I have stopped bringing water on ski tours.  I never drink it and it just makes me cold.  Instead, I pack a giant thermos of sweetened chai tea or chicken broth.  A cup of that at at every break and I’m warm, hydrated and caloried up.  Bonus tip: buy a thermos with a screw top rather than pop top.  The pop tops freeze open. 

Change Your Clothes: At the top of your tour, quickly strip down and change into a dry long underwear top and sports bra so that you get that sweaty cold fabric away from your skin. I can get cold even on a sunny 60 degree day if my next-to-skin layers are damp. 

Windmill Your Arms:   It usually takes 30 rotations in one arm and voila, warm hands!  You will lose your gloves down the slope so tighten them up or spread your fingers wide so they don’t fly off. You can also scuff your legs back and forth to force blood into those feet.  If my feet are cold, I just pump up my Hotronics (more on that later).

Install Hotronics: Counter to what that yoga  teacher may have taught you, some problems really can be solved by money.  I’ve got a set of Hotronic boot warmers in my alpine skiing boots, my AT boots and my ice climbing boots.  The heating element that goes into the insole of the boot is cheep, 20 bucks to set up each boot.  Then one set of batteries (not cheap) to rotate to whichever activity’s boot you are wearing that day. This product was sent from heaven and you should have them in your boots.