Skiing is a thrilling sport. Tall mountains, high speeds, and heart-pounding turns and jumps make each trip down the slopes an unforgettable experience. However, frostbite shouldn’t be part of the annual adrenaline rush. Whether you’re returning to the slopes or strapping on your beginner skis, it’s important to stay warm and safe while you’re out in the cold. Proper gear and smart decisions can help you avoid the extreme exposure that leads to frostbite and other dangerous conditions. By following a few basic rules, you can stay safe and warm while you make memories on the slopes this year. Make the most of your winter vacation by following this guide to preventing frostbite this ski season.
Understanding and Identifying Frostbite
When you know the signs, symptoms, and causes of frostbite, you can take the necessary measures to prevent it. There are three main stages of frostbite: frostnip, superficial frostbite, and severe frostbite.
Frostnip is the earliest stage and usually serves as an early indicator of danger. While frostnip has no lasting effects or permanent damage, it can quickly lead to later, more severe stages if you don’t address it. Symptoms of frostnip can include pale or red skin, numbness, or a light tingling feeling in the affected area.
Next is superficial frostbite, when fluids in the skin begin to freeze. Superficial frostbite also creates a red or pale look on the skin. The affected area might start to feel warm, but the skin will feel cold to the touch.
Late-stage frostbite is known as severe frostbite, which occurs when all layers of the skin have taken damage from the cold. During severe frostbite, the skin will feel numb and joints can be stiff or unable to move. Your skin might also be hard or take on a waxy appearance. Severe frostbite can also result in blackened skin, which indicates dead tissue.
Watch the Weather
A big part of preventing frostbite this ski season is simply keeping an eye on the weather and making smart decisions about when you go out. While extremely cold temperatures might mean less crowds on the slopes, they also hold a higher risk of frostbite and other winter dangers. You can develop frostbite in any below-freezing temperature, but colder temperatures will speed up the process. You should also keep in mind that temperature readings aren’t always accurate to what it will feel like when you’re outside. Windchill can drop the temperature even more, causing more severe exposure faster than a still day would. When planning your day, make sure you pay attention to windchill temperatures as well as the regular reading for the day.
Consider Your Activity Level
When you’re out skiing, your body is moving around and producing body heat. This can help you stay warm and ward off hypothermia, but it doesn’t always protect you from frostbite. In fact, soaring down the slopes can often worsen windchill, increasing your risk of getting frostbite. If you know you’re going to be dealing with fierce winds that day, make sure you cover up properly. A face mask and goggles are a key part of protecting your face from the wind. Remember that numbness is one of the symptoms of frostbite, which means you might not feel it at first. Take a break to check yourself after every trip down the mountain.
Protect Your Body
As with any cold-weather activity, it’s important to layer up before you go skiing. Make sure you and everyone you’re with has the right clothing to stay warm and dry throughout the day. A moisture-wicking base layer is crucial to help transfer moisture away from your body and provide a comfortable foundation for your other layers. This is particularly important for kids, who lose body heat faster than adults. Be sure to equip the kids with a thermal youth base layer underneath their middle and outer layers. This will help them stay warm, dry, and comfortable while they’re out having fun. On top of your base layer, you want a middle layer for insulation and an outer layer to keep out the cold, wind, and snow. Accessories are also an important part of your cold-weather gear. Sturdy boots, waterproof gloves, and thermal socks all work to protect extremities that are particularly susceptible to the cold. You can also use heat packs to keep your fingers and toes warm throughout the day.
How To Treat Frostbite
These actions can help prevent frostbite in the first place, but it’s also important to know what to do if you do get frostbite. If you spot the early signs of frostbite, quick action can prevent further damage. Follow these steps to handle the situation safely.
Get Warm, Get Dry
After spotting frostbite, the most important thing is to move somewhere warm. Get inside and change out of any wet clothes into a warm, dry outfit. If you can’t get inside quickly, help prevent further damage by wrapping the affected area to retain heat. Don’t attempt to rewarm the area until you’re out of the cold for good. If the frostbitten skin refreezes, it can worsen the tissue damage. Once you’re somewhere safe, use warm water to gently rewarm the frostbitten areas. Don’t rub the skin, use heating pads, or do anything that would irritate or put pressure on the affected skin, as frostbitten tissue is extremely fragile and can break or burn easily. Similarly, try not to walk on frostbitten feet unless it’s absolutely necessary. Putting pressure on your feet by continuing to ski or walk around can further damage the skin and tissue.
Know When To Seek Medical Attention
Frostnip and other early warning signs are usually something you can take care of for yourself. However, more severe signs of frostbite call for professional medical attention. If you notice symptoms of superficial or severe frostbite—such as pale or waxy skin or a loss of sensation—contact a doctor. You should also seek medical attention if there is an increase in pain or swelling around the frostbitten area. Severe frostbite can also lead to aches, dizziness, or fever, all of which call for professional help. If these or other unexplained symptoms occur, seek medical help as quickly as possible.
Don’t let frostbite ruin your fun this season. Stay smart and safe so that you can make your ski trip memorable for all the right reasons.