To enjoy outdoor winter adventures without incident, preparedness is key
Tips for how to safely enjoy Colorado’s winter wonderland
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
From dangerous roads to winter sports injuries to high-altitude breathing issues to exposure to the cold — wintertime in Colorado isn’t for the faint of heart.
With a snowy start to the winter season, Coloradans are already in the thick of playing outside. But failing to properly plan for various outdoor adventures could lead to avoidable sickness or injury.
Here is helpful advice from Dr. Shannon Garton, Family Medicine Physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Edwards Medical Offices, regarding many issues we can face in the high country if we’re not careful.
High mountain air
Our air at high altitude is thin and dry. When the air is cold, it becomes even drier. This can induce symptoms of asthma and coughing, especially in people who may have underlying asthma, COPD or bronchitis.
You can help to avoid this by covering your nose and mouth with a scarf when going out in the cold, and also avoid exercising outdoors in severe cold weather. If you have a known history of asthma, it is important to carry your inhaler with you in cold weather.
Winter sports etiquette and safety
Common winter sports injuries include sprains, strains, dislocations, and fractures. Many of these injuries happen at the end of the day, when people overexert themselves to finish that one last run before the day’s end.
A majority of these injuries can easily be prevented if participants prepare for their sport by keeping in good physical condition, staying alert, and stopping when they are tired or in pain. It is best to not participate alone in a winter sport.
Common winter sports injuries
It is important to keep in shape and condition muscles before participating in winter activities. Injuries may be prevented by warming up thoroughly before playing or participating. Cold muscles, tendons, and ligaments are vulnerable to injury.
Be sure to know and abide by all rules of the sport in which you are participating. It is helpful to take a lesson (or several) from a qualified instructor, especially in sports like skiing and snowboarding. Learning how to fall correctly and safely can reduce the risk of injury. It is very important to pay attention to other people on the ski hill and to watch for warning signs or markers of hazards. Paying attention includes making sure that you are able to hear other skiers or snowboarders while on the hill. Listening to loud music which blocks your ability to hear puts yourself and others at risk on the mountain. Avoid participating in sports when you are in pain or exhausted.
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. First your skin becomes very cold and red, then numb, hard and pale.
Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Exposed skin in cold, windy weather is most vulnerable to frostbite. But frostbite can occur on skin covered by gloves or other clothing.
Frostnip is a milder form of cold injury that doesn’t cause permanent skin damage. When there are cold snaps of weather or prolonged exposure to cold weather, frostnip and frostbite can be common. It is important to pay attention to warnings about upcoming storms and severe drops in temperature and be prepared. Wear several layers of light, loose and water- and wind-resistant clothing for warmth and protection. Layering allows you to accommodate your body’s constantly changing temperature. Wear proper footwear that provides warmth and dryness. Wear a hat or headband that fully covers your ears. Consider wearing mittens rather than gloves. Wear socks and sock liners that fit well, wick moisture and provide insulation. You might also try hand and foot warmers. Be sure the foot warmers don’t make your boots too tight, restricting blood flow.
Be prepared with proper clothing and gear
Plan to protect yourself. When traveling in cold weather, carry emergency supplies and warm clothing in case you become stranded. If you’ll be in remote territory, tell others your route and expected return date. Seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you, or anyone with you, is experiencing hypothermia or frostbite.
It is important to avoid wearing clothing that isn’t suitable for the conditions you’re in — for example, it doesn’t protect against cold, windy or wet weather or it’s too tight. It is important to not stay out in the cold and wind too long. Risk increases as air temperature falls below 5 F (minus 15 C), even with low wind speeds. In wind chill of minus 16.6 F (minus 27 C), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes. Touching materials such as ice, cold packs or frozen metal. You can treat frostnip with first-aid measures, including rewarming the affected skin. There are some other factors which can also increase risk of frostbite.