Well, okay. Not as cold as the Northeast but for those of us in Arizona, it can feel cold in the balmy months we call “winter”. One of the benefits of living in Arizona is that we do have warmer winters yet, in a short drive or plane flight, we can also have access to skiing and snowboarding.
Typically, Arizonan’s are not used to the cold weather. So off we go to romp in the snow and we can end up completely unprepared to handle the physical and physiological demands cold weather sports bring. Our kids may be use to the running sports of summer and fall, but sports that take place in the winter offer new variables for our bodies. Variables that, left unchecked, can at the very least cause an unpleasant down-hill experience and, at the most, result in injury.
Having a great winter sport experience is actually pretty simple if you apply these 3 basic practices:
Drink – up
Often overlooked in chilly weather, hydration is a key to winter wellness. During the warm season, we are diligent about getting enough water. We carry water bottles around and stress frequent drinks. This is easy when the heat is telling us that we need to drink, not so when it is cold. It is very easy to become dehydrated when the temperatures drop. We do not think we are sweating because of the cold but there is still evaporation that occurs. Also, we lose water with increased urination. This is an effect caused by the blood being routed to the core to preserve warmth instead of the periphery to dissipate the heat. We also lose water as we breathe. When you see your breath in cold weather, that is the water vapor freezing as it leaves your body. Before heading out to the cold weather cities, make sure that you are keeping up with the hydration strategies you did when the weather was hot. Drink at least 20 ounces of water before activity and hydrate at regular intervals. You can keep a camel-back or water bottle inside your jacket (to keep it from freezing). If you find you are working really hard, take time to take in an electrolyte-type of sports drink as well.
What you wear is as important for fun in winter sports as anything. There is simply no replacement for good, wicking and warming layers, appropriate socks, gloves and head gear. When layering, think of a base layer that will wick moisture from your skin so the sweat doesn’t cause you to get chilled. Polypropylene, silk, polyester, Thermax, Thinsulate, and wool are all good choices. Avoid cotton because it traps moisture, so it stays wet and draws heat from you. Base layers come in various weights (lightweight, midweight and heavyweight). Select a weight based upon the outside temperature and your activity level. The lighter weight is better at wicking, the heavyweight has more insulation. Mid layers provide warmth and insulation. This layer should be a bit more lose yet still fitted to aid in the wicking. Your outer layer should be able to block wind and wetness yet allow for moisture to escape.
Finally, wear a hat, mittens or gloves, socks and shoes or boots that match your activity and weather conditions. To cool yourself if you overheat, you can often just remove your hat or gloves. Keep in mind that wind blocking fabric is also important for hats and gloves.
Skiing and snowboarding require different skills than flat land sports. If you and your kids are recreational two-plank or knuckle-draggers, just a little alternative training can go a long way to shred-it down the mountain. Balance, core and leg strength need to be strong enough to maintain the proper positions down the runs. Abdominal, back, upper thigh and buttocks muscles must be trained so that they have the endurance to complete turns, control speed and stop effectively. In addition to this, most sports involve a stable foot being planted on a flat, non slippery surface. With skiing and snow boarding this is different. The surface is inclined and definitely slippery. Sport conditioning specialists use devices like exercise balls, BOSU platforms, and slide boards to simulate the demands placed on the body during skiing and boarding. We may only participate in these sports a few times each year, but the consequences of not being prepared can mean injury that keeps you from favorite activities year round.
One of the best things about living in Arizona is the fact that we have access to all types of out door sports. We can be playing soccer one day and hitting the slopes the next. We just need to keep in mind that, in order to enjoy this lifestyle, we need to be diligent about how we prepare bodies.