Athletes undaunted by Vail Valley cold |

Athletes undaunted by Vail Valley cold

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyKerry White puts on her studded running shoes for her lunch time run in the snow Wednesday around Eagle-Vail.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” In sub-zero weather most people might be thinking twice about hitting the slopes, but for Eagle-Vail resident Josiah Middaugh it might be a good day for a run or maybe even a spin on his road bike.

“It’s never really too cold to go out. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad dressing,” he said.

Middaugh is among the valley residents who are undaunted by cold weather exercise ” the Xterra triathlon national champion runs, snowshoes, bikes and Nordic skis throughout the winter, in any temperature.

The coldest workout he has done was a very frigid run from Intermountain to the Vail Cascade.

“It was about 20 below. I didn’t know it was that cold until afterwards. I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said.

And while he doesn’t ski down the slopes very much, he sure likes running up them. Wearing crampons, he runs up slopes like Arrowhead and takes chairlift down.

“Going up the mountain there are definitely skiers who have some comments or give me looks,” he said. “They don’t understand, but I don’t expect them to.”

There is no reason the weather should stop people from exercising outside, as long as they have the right equipment and clothes, said Vail resident Kerry White, an ultra-endurance athlete who rode in Race Across America.

She and her husband, Stephen, regularly ski four- to five-hour backcountry tours, Nordic-ski race, run and bike commute in the winter temperatures.

They wear Icebugs, or running shoes with built in studs, to run in the snow and ice, and studded mountain bike tires keep them upright during the occasional bike commute to work, the Whites said.

As far as keeping warm, Kerry White said proper layering is key.

On long, cold backcountry tours, she wears long underwear, windproof pants, a fleece, a windbreaker and a jacket, and she also carries an extra hat, gloves, windproof shell and down jacket with her.

She does have a limit, she admits. She usually won’t go out if it is under -20 degrees.

“I’ve probably been out in negative 15 degrees. That’s when the hairs in your nostrils freeze and your eyelashes freeze,” she said. “Beyond that, it’s not even fun or worth it.”

But is exercising in extreme cold safe?

Yes, as long as people take some safety precautions and dress right, said John Cole, director of strength and conditioning for Ski and Snowboard Club Vail.

A very cold day will not stop alpine or Nordic practice, he said, although they might cut the workout short or take warming breaks.

The International Federation of Skiing’s rule is that a race cannot start if it is below (-4 degrees Fahrenheit), said Dan Weiland, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail’s Nordic director.

“In December we actually had to hold a race start for a little while until the sun came out and it warmed up a bit,” he said.

Frostbite on exposed skin is one of the top concerns for cold exercising, especially with alpine skiers, Cole said.

His skiers do facial exercises ” puffing up their cheeks and making faces to makes blood flow to the face, he said.

Feet and hands can get very cold in sports like skiing and biking. Heating packs can help, and for alpine skiers, boot heaters ” small disks that fit under the foot ” keep the feet warm, he said.

The risks are different for aerobic exercise like Nordic skiing, biking an running, Cole said.

“Nordic athletes are different because they’re using all their body and don’t have as much downtime, so they don’t have the same issues,” he said.

Breathing in very cold, dry air can cause “lung burn,” a condition that causes a burning sensation in the throat and a cough after exercise.

“You can’t perform as well cardiovascularly, and it’s hard to get a full breath in,” said Cole.

People with asthma can also be more susceptible to having an attack when exercising on very cold days, said Weiland, but usually both lung burn and asthma can be avoided if you breath through a neck gator or balaclava.

“And obviously the harder you go, the more susceptible you are,” he said.

Exercising in the cold also takes more energy, so people need eat enough and stay hydrated, Cole said.

“It just takes more energy to keep the body warm and functioning like it’s supposed to. You’re going to need more nutrients. Also, most people don’t really want to drink water when it’s cold but you need more than you would on a normal day,” he said.

He recommends snacks like granola bars or trail mix, and if skiing the whole day, eating 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day.

“People will come in (from the slopes) and have a huge lunch. Then they go back out and they can’t understand why they’re so cold. It’s because most of the body’s energy stores are working on trying to digest a large meal instead of keeping the extremities (hands and feet) warm,” he said.

Still, why do it?

Well, it sure beats the gym, said Kerry White.

“I have an inside job, so I want to be outside,” she said. “It’s just way more fun and you get a lot more out of your training.”

“You get bored inside,” agreed Stephen White. “I’ve run on a treadmill or rode my bike on a trainer before, but I try to avoid it.”

Middaugh said he wants to take advantage of Vail’s outdoor activities and natural beauty.

“You just lose motivation if you never get outdoors. It’s a lot easier mentally (than training inside,” he said. “Plus, it’s kind of exhilarating being in the elements. It toughens you up.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or

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