SNOWMASS VILLAGE --We are into our coldest period of the season, and along with other high-altitude hazards, cold adds one more element visitors and locals need to be aware of. Frostbite can result in severe consequences, so prevention is important. When planning outdoor activities, check weather forecasts frequently and heed warnings about cold temperatures and possible storms that put you in dangerous conditions. Avoid risky situations that might be beyond your experience level. Consult someone you know locally about the weather, terrain, avalanche danger, and other conditions that might interfere with your vacation.
To prevent or reduce your risk of frostbite, dress properly in cold temperatures. This includes protecting your hands, feet, nose and ears. Bundle in warm, layered and loose-fitting clothes, a helmet and neck gator, warm socks made for skiing, and mittens (not gloves), and make sure children are properly bundled. Go indoors periodically to warm up. Wet clothing or damp skin can increase your risk of frostbite.
When arriving in a cold climate from a warmer one, give your body time to adjust before spending extended periods outside. Avoid drinking alcohol before or during exposure to cold weather, because alcohol might keep you from realizing that your body is becoming too cold. Avoid smoking cigarettes, which can negatively affect your circulation and increase your risk of frostbite. Skiers should be aware at the first sign of redness, blueness or whiteness, or pain in your skin, which might indicate that you are becoming too cold. Get out of the cold, warm up and protect the exposed skin.
Other potentially dangerous factors frequently overlooked by snow sport enthusiasts that travel west to high altitude for a little winter fun are altitude sickness, dehydration and sun exposure, which can develop into a life-threatening situation if not regarded with caution.
Guests from sea level make a rapid ascent to elevations over 8,000 feet in a short amount of time, which comes with possible consequences. A half-day of skiing, an evening of fine dining and wine puts a wrap on your first day at altitude. The next morning you feel terrible. It's probably not a hangover. It's more likely Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Altitude sickness is wrongly interpreted many times by the guest as another illness.
Every season, thousands of skiers experience altitude sickness at some level. Sometime or another each of us that travel to altitude will most likely be touched by symptoms of this dangerous illness. AMS doesn't discriminate by age, gender or physical health. For most people it's a nonissue at elevations below 9,000 feet. There are, however, a few things that you can do to help reduce the risk and adjust your body to the higher elevations of Colorado's high country.
Staying hydrated plays a paramount role in prevention. Experts recommend that travelers and locals alike drink one-half their body weight daily while limiting caffeine and alcohol consumption to reduce the risk of dehydration. Drinking alcohol can slow breathing, making it even harder for the lungs to get enough oxygen.
When symptoms persist after 48 hours, a trip to the doctor is essential. Education and acclimation is the best way to avoid altitude sickness. Take it easy for the first 24 hours and drink lots of water, not only when you first arrive but for the entire trip.
The second issue, which can be directly associated with AMS and that many recreational and professional skiers overlook, is hydration. Skiing is a strenuous activity, and those who fail to drink the proper amount of fluids can become dehydrated and fatigued. Drinking alcohol is not a substitute for drinking water and, in fact, for every drink of caffeine or alcohol you must increase your water consumption by 25 percent or more to stay hydrated.
Guard against sun damage. Sun is beneficial, helping to produce vitamin D that helps the body maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorous in the blood. Unfortunately for all the good, the sun and its light can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time to the human skin and eyes. Winter
doesn't signal a break from sun exposure, especially for those that participate in snow sports. Ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds and overcast skies and reflect off snow. Noontime rays are always the strongest, no matter what time of year. So even in the dead of winter, make a healthy habit of using sunscreen on your exposed areas.
Armed with a bit more information about these hazards and how to cope with them, you can hit the slopes with less apprehension. Following a few simple precautions and respecting Mother Nature, you can keep them from ruining your vacation. Shop small, see you next run.
Don Jewkes is a 36-year certified PSIA-RM level 3 Teaching Professional and local resident.