Thriving in the Deep Freeze

Winter is the season of all things cold and white: skiing, sledding, skating and sliding in all its guises. It’s also the season of endless hysteria from the news media, which has figured out that the louder the weathermen scream about snowmageddons and snowpocalypses, the more eyeballs they score. Somewhere along the line, we’ve become a region of wimps who cancel school at the first threat of a flake.

So yes, I get it…  we’ve seen a lot of snow this year.  Where I live, the accumulations are indeed higher than average, although not quite the record-setting city-stoppers that have paralyzed nearby Boston and coastal Maine.  And it’s been cold here — it was well below zero this morning when I put on my ski boots to head out for a few hours.

But as they say in Iceland, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

The right gear makes skiing comfortable, even in below 0-degree Fahrenheit temperatures.
The right gear makes skiing comfortable, even in below 0-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. And do you see how empty the parking lot is? When the temps dive into single digits or negative numbers, you’re almost guaranteed to have wide open empty slopes!

Well…. within reason.  There’s probably some type of weather that gets everybody down. We all have our sore spots. For me  21 straight days of 95 + degree temperatures on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike was nearly unbearable.  25 straight days of drizzle and fog sapped my spirits on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington one September. And I can get weary of that sort of drizzly “wintery mix” that can’t decide whether it’s ice or snow or rain and ends up being the worst of all three — wet, cold, AND slick.

But here’s the thing: While the weathermen are apoplectic and the schools are shuttered, somehow the die-hards make it to the ski areas — with big smiles on their faces.  Are they a different breed of human? Somehow impervious to the cold? Bereft of normal never function? Doubtful: They simply know what to wear.

Quite simply, the key to enjoying winter is to embrace it. And the key to embracing it is to have the right gear.

Gear List for Extreme Cold Skiing

I skied this morning in single digit temperatures with a serious windchill, and I was cozy and warm. Here’s what I wore:

Ski boots and lightweight socks. Ski boots have their own insulation, and thin socks give toes plenty of room in which to wiggle. If you get cold, wiggle your toes while on a ski lift for a few minutes (not just a few seconds). Or use chemical toe warmers, which stay activated for several hours.

Leg Layers: One layer of stretch ski leggings, and an overlayer of  insulated windproof ski pants. If you’re moving around a lot, the large muscles of your legs are doing most of the work; mine seem to stay warm.  When it’s warmer (say, over 15 degrees F) I ditch the insulated pants and wear a layer of Goretex instead.

Torso Layers: I wore four layers today: A mid-weight four-way-stretch wicking layer, an Underarmor sweatshirt, an Icewear wind-and-water-resistant lightweight softshell jacket, and a Wild Things mega-heavy-duty jacket. This is a mountaineering jacket, with a heat reflective inner lining, a thick layer of high quality down, and a Goretex outerlayer. It keeps me warm until — well, I don’t actually know, since I’ve never actually been cold while wearing it I can vouch for temps as low as -20 F.

Face: A very lightweight poly balaclava, a fleece neckwarmer, and my ski helmet. When I didn’t get everything organized just right, I had some fingers of cold poking at me between the gear gaps.  I think I’d be better off if I added with one of those face masks that covers the nose, and has little breathing holes.

Gloves: I wore old-school heavy duty insulated leather mittens — they  look a little like boxing gloves. Mittens are warmer than gloves. And if you’re still cold, add a lightweight glove liner and/or chemical hand warmers. (You can keep them in your jack pocket and just use them if needed.)

And of course, stopping in at the lodge for a few well-timed hot drinks breaks is never a bad idea!

All told, I think my outfit today would pass muster with the Taliban — not an inch of skin was exposed. But  I stayed completely warm.  So can you.