“With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully.” Dylan Thomas, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”
In “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Dylan Thomas described the postmen of his boyhood winters as having “…sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses,” and “…spread, frozen feet.” Half a century later, during the epic polar vortex of 2013, many of us “tingled down the tea-tray-slithered run in ice-bound boots” — or running shoes — as well. And how our eyes did sprinkle and our rose button-noses run!
Get out your busbies and balaclavas, kids, because we are staring down the “wind-cherried” snout of another winter that will again challenge even the most intrepid outdoor enthusiasts among us. Unlike the Welsh postmen, however, we have GoreTex and YakTrax in our arsenals.
Let’s start with a most basic and important tip: winter sports are all about safety.
Be seen! Contrary to popular belief, I am not a spokesperson for the reflective clothing industry but we’ve all seen — often in the nick of time — the nearly invisible pre-dawn runner wearing a dark track suit. With darkness descending earlier, this is a concern for winter evening runners as well. Highly reflective outerwear is trending this year allowing us to be fashionably visible from tip to toe. If a shiny, new running jacket is not in the budget, reflective vests are attractively priced and can be used year round.
Keep warm (but not too warm…) Layer, layer, layer and save the cotton for après sport. Depending on the activity, temperature and wind chill, a moisture-wicking base, followed by a middle layer like fleece or wool and a top layer that’s lightweight, wind and waterproof will allow you to shed layers as you warm up. Take a tip from Olympian Jeff Galloway and remove the top layer before you start to sweat. You’re more likely to develop hypothermia when it’s 40 degrees and you’re damp than at 25 degrees and dry.
And for goodness sake, listen to your mother and put on a hat. She was right, as always — 70 percent of the body’s heat can be lost through an uncovered head. A balaclava or ski mask, which leaves little skin exposed, may work well for some activities but can impair vision by fogging up glasses. You’ll need those shades to protect eyes and the sensitive skin around them from the sun’s glare off the snow so you can clearly see terrain.
Shield your skin from the elements. Some runners apply petroleum jelly to exposed skin as protection against windburn but don’t forget to slather on a moisturizing sunscreen and lip balm, too. In the winter, ultraviolet light is 90 percent as strong as it is in the summer. Also, if you’re skiing, higher altitude means higher UV intensities than at sea level. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of the UV light from the sun, meaning you are often hit by the same rays twice.
Protect your skin when you come in out of the cold, too. Experts advise against taking that hot shower you’ve been dreaming of since mile five. A short, warm shower and lots of moisturizer will soothe skin and help prevent “winter itch.” While you’re busy moisturizing the outside, remember to hydrate from the inside as well. Winter hydration needs are similar to summer whether you are exercising outdoors or indoors.
Outdoor winter sports like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding can be a welcome break from the normal exercise routine and are a great opportunity to get the whole family outside and active. But keep it safe and know when to say when. And let’s consider bringing back the most “Useful Present” in Dylan Thomas’ poem: the little crocheted nosebag.
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Photo by Flickr user Leif and Evonne