Too cold for skiing and snowboarding?

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Sometimes it’s too cold to go skiing or snowboarding.

That’s what the operators of the Wildcat ski area in the White Mountains of New Hampshire thought when they decided not to open Wednesday and Thursday because temperatures were in the negative double digits. Strong winds made it worse; a wind chill of 48 degrees below zero making conditions unsafe, the operators told the Associated Press. It was the second time in five years that Wildcat decided to close because of frigid temperatures.

A sign near the summit of Killington in Vermont read minus 10 degrees Thursday morning. It later warmed up to 4 degrees at the base of the mountain

Wildcat opened this morning with temperatures expected to reach a high of 10 degrees in the lower elevations of the White Mountains. Before opening this morning The Cat reported: “Our summit quad is currently on wind hold, we plan on operating all of our other lifts. Well, we’re sure you are aware it’s been cold, but temperatures are beginning to rise as we head toward the weekend and our trail and grooming count is holding strong with the cold snap … the temps will remain cold, so be sure to dress and plan appropriately for skiing and riding today.”

In 2009, Bolton Valley closed down because of extreme cold and winds. The Vermont resort’s reasoning was that if there was some kind of mechanical problem or power failure people would be stranded on the lifts, dangling in the extreme cold.

It’s rare that a ski area closes because of cold. Lifts are sometimes closed because of strong winds or mechanical problems, but shutting down the whole mountain because it’s cold is seldom seen.

Sure, ski areas will tell you it’s “cold,” but may not provide all the details of weather conditions in the mountains. The best source to find what it’s like at 4,000 feet is the National Weather Service’s Mountain Point forecast. It’s here you’ll find the true cold temperature forecast, how strong the winds are expected and whether the summit will be clear or covered with clouds. Very important details.

After skiing a few days in Vermont this week, I got a brisk refresher course on dealing with sub-zero temperatures, and yes, having fun while doing it.

I skied when temperatures were at the lowest point of the week, sometimes 30 degrees below zero in the colder valleys of Vermont at night. The lowest temperature I saw at the summits was minus 14, with a wind chill around 20 below. Those were some of the coldest temps I’ve dealt with in years.

Before heading north I had my car battery checked to make sure it had a strong charge. Since the five-year-old battery had only 20 percent juice left, I sprung for a new one. A wise move because nighttime temperatures, well below zero, would have likely sucked the remaining life in my battery.

Most skiers and snowboarders already have the clothing needed for cold temperatures, but when it’s extremely frigid (and with moderate winds), extra protection is needed. I think the guy I saw with snow-caked blue jeans would agree.

Layering is the essential key to staying warm. The first layer is long underwear, (ideally a moisture wicking synthetic fiber), a middle layer of a sweater, vest or fleece, and the outer layer of a parka and pants that are waterproof and breathable.

Best deal going: Warming up your boots for 50 cents in the lodge.

A face mask is essential on days like these. These wind- and water-resistant neoprene shells have breathing holes to allow air to pass through easily. Balaclavas cover your neck head and ears. Works well with a helmet. Most face mask tend to get damp from breathing. So it’s a good idea to dry them off with some napkins before heading back out.

Be sure to pick a face mask that pairs well with your goggles and helmet. The goal here is to leave no skin exposed. Have a friend check or go to mirror to make sure you’re covered,

A neck gaiter is also essential clothing to retain body heat where your jacket meets the neck.

On very cold days, mittens are better than gloves. Be sure to have at least a half inch of space at the end of the fingers. Some gloves and mittens have a zippered pouch where you can put a heating pack.

Pay extra attention to your feet and toes. Riding lifts on bitterly cold days can quickly make your feet cold. Spend a couple dollars for a heating pack to tuck inside your boots. In the lodge, spend 50 cents and use the boot warmers to ensure toasty feet. It’s the cheapest thing you’ll find there.

Resorts that have enclosed gondolas or trams have a big advantage over other areas. Riding chair lifts on bitterly cold days can be brutal.

Take frequent breaks not only to rest, but to check for frostbite and to make sure all no skin is exposed.

If you dress properly, you’ll be rewarded with great snow conditions and … no crowds.

This weekend temperatures are expected to rise. The pick of the weekend: Sunday, sunny skies and still warmer temperatures!

Jim Shay

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