December 17, 2008
Cold Storm & Tips
Well I'm shivering here in my SoCal apartment through another stormy day. These storms are COLD! Our questionably-accurate patio thermometer currently reads about 44° F (Weather.com says we're 50°). I'd guess that translates to a snow level in the 3500' range, which means lots of cold, dry powder in the local mountains and of course the Sierra beyond.
Seems like now would be a great time to talk about some cold-weather tips. Even better—our work is already done. Over at StraightChuter.com, Andrew McLean has just posted some of his favorite ideas for keeping the toes warm while backcountry skiing. So we'll just poach a little content today.
My interest in keeping toes warm is neither theoretical nor fetish based: my toes get cold easily. So, anytime someone with Antarctic skiing experience talks about strategies for keeping your feet warm and safe, I listen. I was rather shocked when I talked to Andrew last January and learned that he skis in ordinary Alpine Touring boots—even on bitter-cold expeditions.
Andrew does share an abundance of tips in the SierraDescents interview, but I now realize he was holding out on us! For a clever and top-secret addition to the cold-weather foot strategy, see his current post on the subject. Hint: it relates to his roomy boot liner fitting advice. Who knew?
I like Andrew's idea because it's something that can make a difference in even the coldest, most dangerous weather. Full disclosure: I love backcountry skiing, but there are limits to my commitment to the Art. Specifically, I'm not willing to lose fingers and toes.
Possibly the most educational cold-weather experience I've had in the backcountry was a tour I did two or three seasons ago, which I call the Tuttle Creek Shakedown. This tour was intended to be a test of winter camping techniques and gear, but a big mistake on my part led to a lot more adventure than I was anticipating.
What I remember most about that trip was the feeling of helplessness I had in the face of extreme temperatures. I've since put a lot of effort into finding ways to stay comfortable in very cold weather (such as picking up a -10° sleeping bag for mid-winter use). I'm also not opposed to just staying home until things warm up a bit.
A final note: to the best of my knowledge, all this cold snow is falling on bare ground in many places. That means we may have a potentially weak ground layer lurking about for a while, so keep a close eye on the avalanche bulletins. Don't count on conditions in the backcountry being like past seasons'—treat every year as unique.