The winter of 2014 has been an especially cold one for Vermont and skiing families have had to contend with multiple visits from the Polar Vortex. But up here in the North Country there are always days throughout the winter when the temperature dips well below freezing. What should you do if this happens during your family ski vacation?
Some people don’t like to ski when it’s cold, and I understand that. But there are advantages. For one thing, often the crowds thin out, meaning mercifully shorter lines. Snow conditions can be great on cold days if there’s been decent accumulation or a string of them in a row that’s permitted the ski resort make snow. And cold days are often bluebird days, with gorgeous clear skies and glorious views.
Here are my top tips for skiing with kids in the cold.
A great day on the slopes start with what you’re wearing. On cold days it’s especially important to dress in lots of warm layers, preferably ones that wick moisture away from the body (because you can sweat even on a cold day, and the last thing you want when it’s below zero is anything wet next to your skin).
We always start with ski socks and full body long underwear. Darn Tough gave me some complimentary socks to wear this winter and they do a really great job of keeping my feet warm and dry – plus they come in adorable patterns. On top of the long underwear go t-shirts, fleeces, ski pants, and our ski jackets.
Exposed skin is at risk of frostbite. My family always wears pulled-up neck warmers and goggles, which in combination with our helmets keep our heads, necks, and faces well covered. On really cold days, you might want to have your kids wear ski masks.
Mittens do a better job of keeping little hands warm; on really cold days stick some hand warmers inside for a extra heating power.
Stick to shorter lifts
This isn’t the time to try out the longest lifts on the mountain. The less time you spend sitting on a chairlift, the warmer you’ll stay. The more you move, the warmer you’ll be.
My family usually stops only once or twice during a day or skiing, but when it’s really cold we change this policy so that we can all stay safe. Don’t wait until you feel really cold to stop – a good rule of thumb is to go inside to warm up after every two runs. Stay inside long enough to really get warm – we usually share some hot chocolate.
You always want your kids to have regular snacks when you are skiing, but it’s even more important on really cold days.
During our frequent stops, I always make sure we all have something to eat, preferably a good mix of carbohydrates and protein (cheese and apples, peanut butter crackers, or handfuls of trail mix are all good options). And don’t forget to hydrate as well – it can be easy to forget to drink water when it’s freezing, but it’s just as important as on a hot day.
Be mindful of the snow conditions
Most mountains do a good job of grooming when it’s really cold, but it’s still important to keep your eyes out for ice. Slick trails can be hard to edge and if you’ve got speed-demon kids, it can be easy for them to get going faster than is safe. I remind my boys periodically to keep their speed under control on really cold days. I’m sure that the subsequent eye rolling helps keep them just that much warmer.
Ski during the middle of the day
We don’t try to be the first ones on the chairlift on frigid days. Morning temperatures are often among the lowest of the day. Give the sun a chance to get up into the sky and for things to warm up a little. Even a minimal change in temperature can make a difference.
It also makes sense to call it quits while there’s still some sun in the sky. Head for your favorite après-ski restaurant for a warm drink and a snack – you’ve earned some bragging rights.
Mara Gorman may live at sea level now, but she’s a native New Englander and mountain aficionado who grew up skiing in Vermont. She spends as many days each winter as she can chasing her two teen boys through glades and across mogul fields and regularly journeys far and wide to get on the slopes. Mara blogs about her family’s many travel adventures at The Mother of all Trips. She is also the author of The Family Traveler’s Handbook and an award-winning freelance writer whose work has appeared in various USA Today print publications as well as on websites such as BBC Travel. When there’s no snow, Mara and her family can be found hiking, biking and eating around the United States and Europe.