by Brian Gregg
Brian is a 2014 Olympian, races for Team Gregg/Madshus and resides in Minneapolis, MN.
There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment. Subzero temperatures can be enough to keep you indoors on a brisk Winter day, but perhaps you have been planning all week for a weekend ski trip, or you have been training for weeks for a particular race. I have found that with the right equipment you can have a great day of skiing even on the coldest of days. I adhere to the FIS minimum temperature cut off of -4F for racing, but will ski in any temperature. Here are some tips to be able to enjoy even the chilliest of days.
Our feet can swell in the cold and you don’t want any constriction of circulation. If you live in a super cold climate you may want to consider getting boots that fit a bit large. One trick for the random frigid day is to simply remove the insoles from your boots. I choose a medium thick pair of merino wool socks. If you choose too thick of a sock you risk not having enough volume in your boot and reducing circulation. Make sure your socks are clean as that will mean the fibers can insulate and wick moisture best. I have found that my feet tend to sweat more in fully synthetic socks and when the sweat freezes it is bad news. If space allows in your boots I am also a big fan of chemical toe warmers. Be sure to activate the warmers with plenty of time before you head outdoors. Another product to consider is over boots which zip over your regular ski boots. I recommend sizing these slightly larger than your boots so that they aren’t too difficult to take on or off. With warm feet you will have better balance and a better experience skiing.
The simple answer to warm hands is to wear thick gloves. Mittens and split finger ‘lobster mitts’ can be good options. The challenge with this is that it can often become tricky to grip your pole or even fit your hand into your pole strap. Personally I prefer to wear my regular gloves and to add an Overmitt. The Overmitt is added after you put your poles on and goes over your pole strap so that you still have the normal feel of your grip. Many cold days I start skiing using this setup until my hands are toasty warm. Then, the overmitts can be quickly removed and tossed to the side or stuffed in a jacket even without taking your poles off. Chemical hand warmers can also work well and I usually store them activated in my gloves on my way to the ski trail so that they heat the gloves up. I position the hand warmers on the backs of my hand so that they don’t affect the grip and feel of the pole handle.
WARM UPPER BODY
A long sleeved base layer is a must on cold days. On windy days I sometimes opt for one that has built in wind stopper on the front. For additional heat I may add a vest either under or over my regular training jacket. On extremely cold days I will often start my ski with a down jacket over everything. With so many layers it can be a good idea to bring a small backpack to be able to stash clothes if you get too warm. It is important to not get to the point where you are sweating because that will make you really cold when the sweat freezes.
WARM LOWER BODY
A must for men in cold weather is a pair of wind briefs. These are special underwear with a layer of wind stopper on the front. It may not be a bad idea to double down with a full length base layer that also has wind stopper in the front although usually a full length base layer or pair of tights followed by a pair of ski pants will do the trick.
Balaclavas are great in cold weather, and so are buffs. I like to use both or two buffs so that I can have one that covers the part of my ears that my hat may miss and one that sits around my neck. You may also breathe through the buff to warm the air a bit before it hits your lungs. Another helpful product is the AirTrim face mask which has various sized filters for different skiing intensities and is designed to fit comfortably. The idea here is that the air heats up as it passes through the filter.
I prefer to have as little exposed skin to the elements as possible. I will put tape on my skin to protect it from the elements. You may cut KT tape to fit, or for a simpler option use AntiFreeze face tape which is pre-cut. Another option for exposed skin is to apply a balm such as Dermatone or WarmSkin. For eye protection I find that most sunglasses fog and freeze, I have had the best luck with shields on cold days.
SKATE OR CLASSIC
Cold temperatures make for some very sharp snow crystals which aren’t the easiest to glide on. This is a great time to classic ski as it can be very easy to get a lot of kick. Ski in the track behind someone else as the person in front will help warm up the snow for the skier in back. Make sure your skis are prepared ahead of time so that you aren’t out in the cold applying wax or indoors at the lodge sweating with all of your cold weather clothes on. If you are waiting on a friend consider skiing out and come back to meet them so that your body doesn’t cool down.
DRINK AND EAT
When you can see your breath in cold weather you are actually seeing the moisture from your breath freezing. Remember to stay well hydrated, insulated drink belts may be your best bet, but sometimes even they freeze. Consider a good insulated container such as a Hydroflask filled with hot tea, chocolate, coffee of sports drink. Your body will be using energy to stay warm so make sure it has plenty of it. Keep your snacks warm in a pocket as they are likely to freeze themselves which can make them difficult to consume.
The key to enjoying skiing in the extreme cold is to have the proper equipment for you. You may need more or less than a friend. Take note of the air temperature, humidity and wind chill during cold days and what you are wearing. I make a little chart for myself so that I know the layers that I am most likely going to want to wear so that I can enjoy a cold day on the ski trail.
Brian Gregg’s Personal Equipment Guide for Various Temperatures