Frostnip occurs before frostbite and usually affects exposed skin. Frostnip is characterized by red skin that is tingly or numb. Frostnip is best treated by coming inside and warming up.
Frostbite is much more serious. It occurs when ice crystals form in the skin and deeper tissues. Frostbit skin is completely numb and looks white, grayish-yellow or grayish-blue and waxy. If you suspect frostbite, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Hypothermia happens when body temperature drops a few degrees below normal. The symptoms of hypothermia are shivering, having to go to the bathroom, confusion and sleepiness. As these symptoms are broad and general, the best response when skiing is to go inside and warm up. Other life-threatening symptoms include tight or stiff muscles, blurry vision and slurred speech.
Dress in the best coat, pants, mittens and baselayers you can afford. Look for well-made, sensible, no-nonsense ski clothes and always avoid cotton. Good clothing is an investment that will pay off.
On extra cold days, wear extra layers. You can layer 2-3 pairs of long underwear under your ski pants and even more on top. Since it’s important to keep your core warm, consider down vests. They are a lightweight, super-insulating layer that doesn’t add a lot of bulk. If you’re spending time outdoors, vests can be indispensable.
While we’re proponents of layering, we never layer our ski socks. One thin pair is all you should wear no matter how cold it is. Why? Because you want your boots to fit properly and if your socks are too bulky, your boots will be too tight, which can actually make your feet colder. Don’t buckle your boots tightly across the instep. There is an artery that runs across the top of your foot. If you apply to much pressure, you may reduce circulation and run the risk of extra-cold feet.
While it’s important to check the temperature, and the forecast, before heading out, please remember that cold is relative. 5F with abundant sunshine can feel warmer than 20F on a snowy day when the wind is blowing.
You don’t have to skip skiing on super-cold days, but you do have to listen to your body.