The Outsider: Don’t say it’s too cold to ski

Once or twice every winter, a strong arctic front sweeps down from the north and catches Whistler by surprise.

Skiing in -17 C? Business as usual for Canadians skiing in the East, so why does a cold snap send Whistlerites into the lodge for coffee and hot chocolate every second lap?

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I realize I’m making a generalization here; I’m sure there are plenty of resilient skiers and riders who don’t go running scared at the sight of wind chill.

But I’ve heard the phrase “too cold to ski” one too many times to not bring it up.

I’ve never skied at any of the Quebec or Vermont resorts, but I have seen their weather reports. When you grow up skiing in the mid -20s, winter in Whistler can feel like a snowy springtime. But even some of these cold-forged skiers from Ontario and Quebec have lost their steel, choosing to wait out the chill and return to the mountain when its back to its usual single digit negatives.

It’s not necessarily all our own fault, either. Some of us don’t own the apparel needed to combat such temperatures. Over the many very cold days I’ve skied in Whistler, I’ve picked up a few bits of gear and knowledge on how to keep skiing, not retreating.

High tech underpants. Not just your long johns your mom bought you when you got on the plane to Whistler, but what you wear under those. It’s worth having one set of merino briefs in the drawer for those frosty mornings.

One-piece base layer. These have made a comeback in recent years. While they may be more hassle for going to the washroom, the heat retention of a one-piece base layer is a lot higher than wearing tops and bottoms.

Mitts. Skiers and riders that feel the cold on milder days probably have a set of these already. The loss of dexterity is a small price to pay to keep the feeling in your fingers. If you can’t stand mitts for whatever reason, three-finger gloves give you the warmth of mitts and the convenience of an index finger pincer to buckle boots and adjust bindings.

Down. Quality down isn’t cheap (nor should it be for the sake of the waterfowl that provide it), but nothing insulates quite as well. I find down too hot and not particularly breathable on regular winter days underneath a shell jacket, but when the wind is cutting through everything else, you’ll appreciate the investment.

Hike for turns. Chairlift rides are the coldest part of the day. Hiking for a lap in Flute Bowl, climbing the Chimney or even a quick sprint up Spanky’s Ladder will give your body a much-needed warm up.

Remember cold extremities come from a cold core. Keep your torso shielded and the toes and fingers should be in a better place to handle extreme temperatures.

Enjoy the cold weather skiing this week.

Vince Shuley blames his frigid fingers on poor circulation. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email or Twitter @vinceshuley.

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