Don’t Wear Cotton – Cotton is not a great insulator to start with, but once it gets wet; it is worse than having nothing. It takes longer to dry than any other common fabric and it is loses virtually all of it’s functionality when it gets wet. The market has invented a wide range of outdoor clothing fabrics that do an excellent job of dealing with moisture while retaining their ability to keep you warm.
Wool and Gortex are your friend – You could probably survive just by using a combination of these 2 fabrics. Wool is a great fabric to bring into the backcountry because it still retains much its functionality after it gets wet. Gortex is famous for its ability to perform while repelling water.
Plan On Spending The Night – Always carry a layer with you that will allow you to survive a night in the mountains when you are going into the backcountry. This doesn’t mean to carry a stove every time that you go backcountry skiing, just be sure that you can keep yourself alive if something unfortunate happens.
Wear Layers and Don’t Sweat – Sweat can ruin your day. If you are far away from any dry clothing, it can force you to change all of your plans in order to avoid hypothermia. Even if you are using good fabrics; when the layer of clothing next to your skin gets wet, it is going to be cold when you stop moving around. Another advantage of having good fabrics is that they will dry quickly as well as retain some of their heat retention ability. If you are wearing multiple layers of clothing, you can add them or take them off as you start to get warm or cold. This will allow you to exhaust yourself physically without having to worry about sweating too much.
Bring a Cold Weather Survival Kit – For a backcountry skiing day-trip; a basic survival kit is usually sufficient. Sometimes this just means bringing a plastic bag with a lighter inside of it. What you add beyond that is up to you and should be based on the situation you are going into. You should be routinely carrying many things related to your survival that aren’t part of any “kit”.
Beware of the Snow Overhead at Night – When you decide that its time to build a fire for the evening you should take notice of the snow on the tree branches above you. The heat from your fire can melt this snow and force it to fall; extinguishing your fire. It’s not a bad idea to throw a large stick around to knock this snow down before you start building a fire.
Loosen Your Ski Boots – If you find yourself lost and trekking through the woods you should unbuckle your ski boots. This will help to aid circulation and keep your feet from becoming frostbitten.
Cold Weather Myths
90% of your body heat does not leave through your head. If you don’t believe me; put on a really warm hat and then run around naked in the snow for a while.
Eating Snow Dehydrates You – A common myth states that the energy that it takes for your body to the melt snow in your mouth or stomach is great enough to negate any hydration effect. This is a myth, however drinking warm fluids can help to conserve energy.
Cold Weather Facts
Not all water freezes at 32 degrees. Salt (like sea water) and other minerals can change the freezing temperature of water.
Every 1,000 feet of vertical rise causes about a 4-6 deg. fahrenheit change in temperature. This will vary depending upon the moisture in the atmosphere and other conditions.
If you stab a man in the dead of winter, steam will rise from his body. I have never tried this, but I once heard Ed O’Neill say that this was true.