When it comes to cold weather, Vancouverites are soft. Wusses, even.
Canadians anywhere to the east of us don’t feel an ounce of sympathy when our stress levels spike as temps dip to – 5º C, especially considering that Albertans have recently proven capable of functioning amid lows of – 45º C (which feels like about – 297º C with wind chill).
And so on those rare occasions when it’s legit cold at the peak of Whistler Blackcomb, a lot of West Coasters jam out, swapping their goggles and lift tickets for turmeric lattes and yoga classes.
But with a little planning, it’s possible to enjoy the slopes as the mercury drops to the minus teens or 20s. (WB’s weather report says it’s supposed to be chilly for a few days yet, till Valentine’s Day or so.)
A bonus of braving this Arctic outflow? Short lift lines.
So bundle up, psych yourself up, and it’s off to Yard Sale (Blackcomb) or Camel Humps (Whistler) you go with these life-saving tips.
Leave no skin exposed
Frostbite is no joke. When it’s really cold, the resort will issue a frostbite warning, making note at all lifts. Heed it!
Consider a thin toque or hood underneath your helmet.
You want to wear a balaclava or neck warmer tucked under your goggles so that your cheeks, nose, chin, jaw, and ears are all fully covered. (You don’t need to spend a bundle on neck warmers: Mark’s Work Wearhouse has microfleece ones for $14.99.)
Frostbite typically occurs in body parts farthest from the heart, including the hands, feet, nose, and ears. Here’s the physiological backstory, for those who care about such things from Health Canada: When the temperature drops below 0ºC, blood vessels near the skin constrict to protect the core body temperature. If you’re exposed to the cold for long periods of time, blood flow to those aforementioned parts will be severely restricted.
With mild frostbite (“frostnip”), the skin will appear yellowish or white. Normal colour comes back once the area is warmed up.
Severe frostbite can result in nerve damage that makes the skin turn black. People lose feeling in the affected area, and severe blisters can occur. It can get way worse if the skin is broken becomes infected, when gangrene can set in.
Address your digits
Hand and toe warmers are a total must when it’s crazy cold out. The little packets go inside your mitts/gloves and ski boots. Look for brands that are environmentally friendly such as Grabber and HeatMax, which use nontoxic and non-combustible ingredients. They won’t discolour your skin, either.
Even better is a reusable product. For your fingers, there’s the Zippo Hand Warmer, a compact stainless-steel thingy that produces radiant heat via lighter fluid, or the Celestron Thermocharge, which, if it’s not being used to power your electronics, provides heat through a lithium-ion battery.
If you’re in a position to splurge, there are even heated gloves and socks that run on rechargeable batteries.
Skip the selfie
Tempted to get that golden shot of you at the entrance to Blackcomb Glacier or in front of the Olympic Rings outside the Whistler Roundhouse? Save it for another time, when you can keep your gloves off for longer than three seconds without feeling like your fingertips are going to shatter. Not worth it.
Skip the lineups
Sign up for a group or private ski or snowboard lesson (full or half day) if for no other reason than to bypass any lines. Worth it.
Break early, break often
When it’s colder than a witch’s tit, the goal is not to get in as many runs as you can. Take a couple and then go inside to warm up. Replenish with food or drink. Repeat.
Seek out runs with gondola access
You don’t have to freeze your ass off on a chairlift all day; stick to the relative shelter of gondolas instead.
At Whistler, the Creekside Gondola has access to Blues like Kadenwood and Black Diamond Lower Dave Murray Downhill, while the Whistler Village Gondola opens up more Greens, Blues, and Black Diamonds like Unsanctioned, a gorgeous glade run.
From Whistler, take the Peak 2 Peak Gondola to Blackcomb (or vice versa). There, you can catch the New Blackcomb Gondola. The 10-person gondola--which, having just opened this season, replacing the Wizard and Solar chairlifts, is the jewel of Vail Resort’s $66 million enhancement--leads to trails for all levels as well as the kid-centred Magic Castle and terrain parks for tricksters.
Once the gondola doors shut, you can bitch about the weather while protected from the cold and wind, all huddled up with other hardy souls--hardy, at least, by Vancouver standards.