Expert advice for fighting that frozen-fish-stick feeling you get from cold feet.
Combine subzero temps with hard, plastic boots, and what do you get? Cold feet. And it's not just a comfort issue. "When you're skiing with rock-hard blocks in your boots, you don't have the control over your skis that you have with warm feet," says Hobbs Allison, a boot guru from Surefoot in Mammoth and Squaw.
So in the interest of better skiing everywhere (and cozy toes for all), we called on the experts for advice. From ski-movie stars to big-mountain competitors, these people spend more time in ski boots-out in the cold-than desk jockeys spend pushing paper.
Extremely Canadian ski instructress Wendy Brookbank's secret: socks. "The number-one thing I do is wear my regular cotton socks to the hill, then change into my ski socks just before I put on my boots," Brookbank says. "That way, I start with dry socks. It's key." She also recommends wearing really thin socks, "so you have room to wriggle your toes." If your boots fit properly, wearing thick, chunky socks or two pairs of socks can make your feet colder. In fact, check your boot's fit with a professional boot fitter. "A too-snug boot can cut off circulation," explains Allison, "and with a boot that's too big, you tend to crank down the buckles, which also can cut off circulation." On cold days, poor circulation translates into frigid feet.
Red Bull Snowthrill champion Chris Davenport suffers from chronic cold feet thanks to repeated incidents of frostbite. He uses electric boot heaters. "I wouldn't ski without them. They're great for heli-skiing or the backcountry and powder days (when you don't want to go into the lodge)," says Davenport. He also recommends staying well hydrated. Dehydration can contribute to cold feet, as well as to frostbite and hypothermia.
"When I'm hanging around on a photo shoot," says ski model and skiercross world champion Megan Brown, "I'll pop out of my bindings and jump around, make little hops, and swing my feet around to get the blood flowing." On cold chair rides, she curls and uncurls her toes to keep them warm.
Brant Moles, who stars in Steve Winter's Ski Movie and TGR's Further, suggests a full-body attack. When you get cold, blood flow to the appendages decreases, making your feet cold. "You want to keep your core warm," says Moles. "I wear lots of layers and a helmet, which keeps my head warm." Moles also uses a boot dryer every night. "Starting out the day with dry boots is critical," he says. "Wet boots mean cold feet."
If you don't have a dryer, try this trick from freeskier Alison Gannett, who runs the Camp Bette women's clinic at Red Mountain. Every night, she pulls out her liners and props them up (upside down) between the wall and a chair, above a heat source. She also pulls out her footbeds and stacks them on the liners. This technique keeps the boot's vital parts from melting on a too-hot heater.
If all else fails, say our experts, a steamy cup of hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire always works.
Fact: Each human foot contains 250,000 sweat glands and can produce up to a pint of sweat per day.