6 Tips on Staying Warm During Cold Weather Sports from an Olympic Athletic Trainer

USAHS MHS in Athletic Training faculty member

By Greg Heuer, MS, ATC, head freestyle athletic trainer for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association during the Sochi Olympics and contributing faculty member in the Master of Health Science in Athletic Training program

Whether you are an elite athlete, weekend warrior, or someone cheering them on, you’ll have more fun and perform better by following a few cold-weather tips on how to stay warm in winter.

How to Stay Warm During Cold Weather Sports

  1. Don’t just check the temperature. Check the humidity. Humidity plays a huge role in how the temperature feels during cold weather training. When it’s humid, the cold is bone chilling. I’ve been warmer in a dry -20 degrees than I was in a balmy 20 degrees. Make sure you consider both temperature and humidity when you prepare for outdoor activity in the winter.
  2. Stay warm by layering clothing properly. Moisture is the biggest enemy in winter sports. Your base layer of cold weather clothing needs to wick perspiration. Look for something microfiber, polyester, or a fine merino wool that isn’t scratchy. Not cotton, which will retain water and cling to your body. Your second layer needs to be thermal to hold in the heat your body is generating. Finally, your outer layer should block the wind. A good cold weather jacket should block the wind without adding unnecessary bulk.
  3. Don’t wear too much right away. If you start with too many layers of cold weather gear or clothes that are too warm, you’ll overheat and sweat. Then you’ll take off a layer to cool down, but you’ll be wet underneath, which means you’ll get cold in a hurry. Once you’re cold and wet, it’s hard to get warm again. Start with fewer layers and pack extra winter clothes so you can add more if you’re still cold once you get your blood flowing.
  4. Beware of bulk. If your cold weather gear is too bulky, they will slow you down and create pressure points that can cut off circulation. Something I tell people all the time is not to double up on socks. Your shoes or boots will be too tight, you’ll get blisters, and you’ll constrict the blood flow that keeps your feet warm. It’s much better to wear a moisture-wicking wool sock than two layers of cotton socks.
  5. Find something to stand on. If you will be standing outside as an athlete or spectator, one of the best things you can do is find something to put between your feet and the snow or frozen ground—even if you are wearing boots with thick soles. The more insulation you can put between your feet and the cold ground, the warmer you’ll stay. When I am standing at a ski competition for hours on end, I bring carpet scraps or cardboard to stand on because it is significantly warmer than standing on snow.
  6. Choose the right eyewear. Polarized lenses may look cool, but when you are wearing them, you can’t see subtle changes in snowy terrain or the glare off a patch of ice. I also see a lot of injuries in cloudy, low-light conditions. Yellow, pink, or clear lenses might not always be in fashion, but you have to be able to see what’s coming at you. You don’t want to slip on the ice as a jogger or a skier going 70 MPH down a mountain.

No matter what the temperature (or humidity), winter is a great time for enjoying sports. Just make sure you take proper precautions, so you can focus your mental and physiological energy on performance instead of wasting it shivering and thinking about how to get warm.

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