Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cool advice — Dropping temperatures don’t have to mean dropping activities

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Baby, it’s cold outside. But that’s no reason to stay inside.

Thermometers on the central Kenai Peninsula have registered single and negative digits since last week. But just because the temperature drops off, doesn’t mean outside activity has to.

“We live in Alaska, you know? If you’re gonna live up here, you gotta stay outside. Otherwise, you might as well move out,” said Justin Moore, of Soldotna.

Moore puts studded tires on his bike and rides in the winter. He used to be an avid snowboarder and lately he’s predominantly a cross-country skier. He did the Gatineau Loppet ski marathon in Canada last year, and is training for the 50-kilometer classic ski Jizerská padesátka marathon in the Czech Republic and the 60-K freestyle Dolomitenlauf ski marathon in Austria in January.

He said he tries to get outside and do something every day, no matter what the weather on the peninsula brings.

“It’s better than Fairbanks. I talked to guys up there and they’re skiing in 40 below zero. It’s been 20 below every day, so we have it easy down here,” he said.

The key is to carry plenty of water to combat dehydration and dress in layers for extra warmth to match the temperature — but not too many layers. Overheating leads to sweating, which makes clothes damp and even colder.

“I’m usually overdressed, which is not good,” he said. “I always worry about falling on the outside loop or a moose catching you and you’re stuck, so I end up wearing too many layers and paying the price, I think.”

Moore said the coldest conditions he’s been out in is biking at minus 35 degrees, which was more like minus 50 with the wind chill.

“I survived, barely. It was a difficult ride. No gears would change,” he said.

On Sunday, Moore was freestyle skiing around Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School in comparably balmy 4-degree weather. Skyview cross-country ski coach Kent Peterson and Skyview skiing alum Tommy Honer, now a freshman at University of Alaska Anchorage, were also out circling the trails.

Peterson said the ski team isn’t allowed out at minus 10 or colder, but the weather doesn’t keep him inside when he’s skiing on his own. He’s skied at minus 18 before.

“The nice thing is when it’s cold it’s really pretty out,” Peterson said. “… It’s kind of cool, you’re outside doing something when everyone else is inside hiding.”

The flip side is if he got hurt, there’d be no one around to help. That’s why it’s a good idea to ski with a friend. Two people can also check each other for the telltale white patches of beginning frostbite on faces, where it’s difficult to feel it happening. Dressing in layers was the skiers’ main advice, including wind briefs for guys and different thicknesses of underlayers depending on the weather. As a general rule, synthetic materials are better for active pursuits, since cotton gets soggy with sweat and loses its insulating abilities.

“They say cotton is really bad, but I still wear cotton socks,” Peterson said.
“You just said your feet were cold,” Honer pointed out.

For heads and faces, warm hats, headbands, neck and face gaiters and balaclavas are options, especially if an outdoor enthusiast doesn’t have nature’s insulator.

“I never wear that stuff when I go out and ski when it’s really cold. Facial hair helps,” Peterson said.

Keeping skin covered is important to protect against frostbite, especially in windy conditions. Skiers sometimes smear petroleum jelly on earlobes, cheeks and noses, or cover them with tape. Glasses or goggles keep eyes from getting cold in the wind, and there are products — like the oh-so-appealingly named Cat Crap — that can be smeared on glasses to keep them from fogging up.

“The best way to get warm is just go outside and do your activity,” Honer said.
Once someone gets going in an activity outside, keep going.

“The most important thing is to not stop,” Peterson said. “If you stop, you get cold, or get sweaty and then get cold.”

When someone is attached to a team of dogs, stopping can sometimes be a challenge. For mushers, it’s important to bring warm, trusted gear.

“The first thing you need is appropriate gear,” said Ashley Irmen, with the Peninsula Sled Dog Racing Association. “With any cold-weather situation you need to be well-equipped and have your gear tested and not just go out in 30 below with something you’ve never tried before and go, ‘Hey, this doesn’t work, I’m cold.’”

Irmen, of Sterling, has been mushing for four years now, after an acquaintance got her hooked on it. She’s been out in 30 below to 35 below zero before. She prefers dressing in a wool base layer, since wool insulates even when wet, and a synthetic or down parka. She brings extra gear in case of emergencies, and checks the weather before she leaves.

“Make sure you have what’s appropriate and know how long you’re going to be out and what weather you are going to face and plan for it,” she said.

That advice holds true for any outdoor winter activity. For snowmachining, there’s one important addition:

“If you’re going to go out on a machine, make sure the machine is in good shape,” said Nolan Compton, of Soldotna, with the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers. “Make sure everything’s in good condition and just be prepared if you are going to go out in cold temperatures, it’s always good to not go out alone.”

Specially designed snowmachining parkas and gear mitigate wind chill, are durable and breathable with zippers to control body temperature, and they’re padded in case you’re riding rough, Compton said.

Having a properly fitted helmet also is key. Anything below minus 10 can be difficult for snowmachiners because it’s tough to keep helmet visors from fogging up. Compton has been out in minus 30 on a search and rescue team around Eureka and said the lack of visibility and fogging issues make the ride uncomfortable.

But as long as gear holds up and safety precautions are met, cold is no reason to limit activity.

“I’d rather it was cold than warm any day,” Irmen said. “You live in Alaska. You’re cold nine months of the year. You better figure it out if you’re going to do outside stuff, you know?”

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