Blog deadbeat that I am...it’s been awhile-sorry. Yesterday’s hi temp hit a not so balmy -27C (-15F). Tough to get motivated to train in that. But I had a change of mind that made getting out exciting. I decided to make a challenge out of the weather. "Could I bring all my cold weather outdoor training experience together to master even this unbelievable chill and have a comfortable, safe experience?" Old man winter threw down the gauntlet, now it was up to me to see if I was up to the task.
I have been having a hard time getting out for my long skis and couldn’t neglect yet another one, so a minimum 3 hour ski was the plan. I decided to go up Healy creek as the parking would be Sunshine DH area and in case I couldn’t restart my car I wouldn’t be stranded in K country without cell service.
Venturing out into the backcountry totally alone in those temps you don’t want to make any mistakes. I decided to go around the backside to Sunshine ski area, a trip I’d once gotten counfused in a white out and had to turn back arriving 4 hours late in total darkness (returning to an extremely panicked wife). This time as I hit the cliff band...the only avi hazard in the tour, I made the choice to turn back as the conditions seemed a bit "slabby". With a partner it wouldn’t have been any big deal, but alone I needed to be ultra safe.
So, how did I do in the cold? Primo!! I was totally comfortable and safe the entire time. Here’s some of my tricks:
-recently I purchased foot insole heater packs. You know, those chemical things that give off heat. These new models look just like an insole you’d put into a shoe. My feet were totally toasty
-I put 2 heat packs in my pockets in case my hands needed them later, which they did. The heater packs take ab out ½ hour to really get going, so if you only break them out when you’re cold they don’t help you for quite awhile. I got ‘em going on the drive over.
-polar fleece 200. I made myself a jacket of this stuff a couple years ago. It’s wonderful in cold -20C and below. I only wear one thin base layer underneath. The 200 has an incredible wicking ability. You finish your workout and the outside is coated in sweat frost, but inside you’re dry. The only drawback is it’s really permeable to wind. So when I was in the woods, no problem, but when I hit the alpine I put my new RAB team jacket on over the pf200. Our Canadian team jacket is super duper light, but I only needed it to stop windflow in.
-no skin can be exposed in these temps, so I typically wear my favourite mask...a cotton ski mask with a mouth hole. Breathing the cold air isn’t that big of a deal as air warms up tremendously fast and before it hits your lungs it’s at a safe temp. having the breathing hole helps to keep all that breath condensation from totally icing up your mask.
-over my mask I wore my fur bomber hat. With a warm head your body stays warmer longer.
-ski goggles. Though I didn’t use them too much on this trip, they can be really important. I’ve seen a couple of my friends frostbite their eyes during xc races. It’s not a pretty site. You basically go blind for a bit and for a week or two have "dog vision" only seeing in black & white. Crazy...isn’t it? Not something to mess around with.
One of the keys to comfort is temp regulation. If you dress too warmly, then overheating sweat becomes an issue. If you slow down and are totally wet, you’re in for a big problem. Hitting the right layers and skiing at the right exertion level are really important. Later in my ski, as I slowed down a bit and the terrain was more downhill, my hands and feet started getting cold. Popping my heat buzzing heater packs into the hands totally did the trick and for my feet I loosened up my boots for better circulation and consciously worked my legs a bit more to generate heat and get the blood moving.
Well there you have it...a couple of my tricks for staying warm and comfy in real cold. I guess you could just cancel your workout and stay on the couch, but it’s more fun to see if you’re up for the challenge!