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Happy New Year! Tips for Skiing in the COLD!

Hey Folks!  

I hope all of you partied hard last night, but not so hard that you weren't able to ski today!  I went out for a nice 1:45 with a balmy temperature of -2 or so. It wasn't as bad as my ski on Monday.  I never got the temperature (sometimes it's cold enough where you don't even want to know), but after skiing for 1:15 I came into the warm-up hut with an ice cream headache.  When you get an ice cream headache just from being's cold.

Anyway, I thought I'd throw together a list of things you can do to make your cold whether skiing a little more enjoyable.

  • Understand that it's going to be slow!  You just don't get fast glide when it's below zero.  Don't go out there with your GPS and hammer like a maniac to keep up your usual average pace.  Just get your hours in and get out of there so you can thaw out.
  • Put Dermatone or Vaseline on every bit of exposed skin: You'll probably be going a little slower than usual because it's so darn slow, but you can still get a face full of wind on some of the downhills.  You don't want to get frostbite out there, and the Dermatone or Vaseline provides a protective layer for your skin.  You should really have a tin of this stuff in your gear bag so you're never caught short without it.
  • Ski classical technique rather than skate technique:  Classical technique allows you to stay warmer for several reasons.  First of all, you're rolling up on your toes, so you actually are moving your feet (as opposed to skate technique where your feet are in rigid soles).  Just as clenching and unclenching your hands drives blood into the fingers and keeps them warmer, flexing your feet keeps your toes warmer.  Also, with classical technique your kind of huddled with your legs together (as opposed to wide with skate) which keeps you warmer, and your poles are shorter so your hands stay lower.  I've been told that if you keep your hands below your heart the blood circulates easier so your hands stay warmer.  Classic keeps you warmer (you can do a skate loop after you've warmed up doing classic).
  • Wear toe warmers:  You can by a box of toe warmers for just a couple bucks and they're a great addition to your ski equipment bag.  Just throw a dozen in there so you always have them ready.  Actually, buy 3 or 5 dozen and leave boxes of them in your car, in your ski bag, and in the pockets of all your ski clothing.  They work!  I always bring a couple extra packets of toe or hand warmers with me during races just in case something happens and I get cold.  I've never had to use them, but it helps mentally to know you can stick a toe warmer to your belly if you start to get cold 25 k into a marathon race.
  • Bring an insulated thermos rather than a water bottle: You're water bottle will be frozen in two seconds and you still need to drink.  Those belt thermoses (like the one featured in the above photo) has a very wide screw top lid that doesn't freeze up as easily as a water bottle.  Also, it's insulated (and there's a pocket at the top to place things like toe warmers).
  • Use your overmitts and overboots:  I'll assume that you have good base layers (smartwool long underwear, etc.), but many people don't pitch in for the overmitts and overboots.  Get them!  
  • Ski in your Warm-up Jacket (and pants):  Normally the warm-up jacket is too warm for real skiing, but in cold weather you're going to be going a little slower and the jacket is just the ticket.
  • Ski semi-hard for the first 15 minutes, but ease off when you warm up:  You don't want to start sweating profusely because that's what makes you cold.  Just get the engine running then back it of and get your hours in.  Plus, it's been said you can damage your lungs breathing hard (like race pace hard) in sub zero conditions, so keep that in mind.
  • Wear a mask, balaclava, buff or whatever you like:  It's amazing how much warmer your overall body temperature is when you cover up your neck.  Remember, any place that skin is exposed is like leaving a window open in your house.  The heat FLEES!
  • You might not want to use sunglasses: This one is more a matter of personal preference, but when I pull my balaclava over my nose it fogs up my sunglasses almost instantly.  I'd prefer to be able to see, so I usually ski in the super cold without sunglasses.  You might be able to ski in expensive goggles or something, however, and that would probably keep you warmer as well.
  • Do shorter loops and stay close to your car: It's actually a little dangerous when it's -10 or whatever...not super dangerous, but use a bit of caution.  Don't start saying things like, "my training journal calls for a 5 hour ski today."  You're better off skiing as long as you can manage and then getting out of there.  The cold deserves a fair amount of respect.
  • Consider your cold weather ski a victory!  Hey, don't get down on yourself if you don't go as fast or as far as you think you're capable when it's ten below.  The cold changes your ability to perform, so be aware of that when you're evaluating yourself.  I think that anyone that goes out in that weather deserves a pat on the back because it's a heck of a lot easier to take one look at the temperature and just roll over and go back to sleep.  Good work getting out there!
That's pretty much it.  If any of you have other tips that I've forgotten, please post them in the comments below!  It's great to start 2014 off with a ski, and I'm looking forward to seeing all of you at the races and events that are coming up!  Get 'em waxed!  Ski season is here!

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