Sip your way to better -- and warmer -- skiing.
It's mid-afternoon and you're cold: Your lips are blue, and you vaguely remember having feeling in your fingers sometime around lunch. You hop around in the lift line trying to thaw your frozen feet. You ski, you get colder, you fall, you feel lousy. The last thing on your mind is a cold drink of water -- a hot toddy perhaps, but that's not for several hours yet.
"Skiers are often not aware that dehydration can have an impact on their overall well-being," says Ed Burke, director of the Exercise Science Program at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. You may not be conscious of it when the thermometer is stuck around 12 degrees, but your body is constantly losing water via sweat and breath, especially in dry, cold, high-altitude air, says Burke.
Dehydration can affect your skiing performance through fatigue and reduced motor function. But the most unpleasant result of dehydration, at least for skiers, may be one you hadn't thought of: cold. "If you get dehydrated," Burke explains, "your body wants to conserve fluid for its core. This leads to vasoconstriction -- less blood flow to your extremities -- and you start to feel colder." Ultimately, this can lead to hypothermia and frostbite.
A 1998 study conducted by Burke for the American College of Sports Medicine monitored skiers and compared a well-hydrated group (using back-mounted hydration packs) with a "no-water" group. The results showed how dehydration can dramatically affect your ski day. Based on the study, here's the sequence of events that can unfold if you don't hydrate between first chair and hot toddies.
9 a.m.-12 p.m.: Your energy is high and you start to work up a sweat in your cozy layers. Your blood volume (which is impacted by water loss) is still good at this point, so your extremities and core temperature remain toasty. However, you may lose as much as a full liter of water during this time.
12 p.m.-2 p.m.: You're starting to feel it now. Your blood volume is dropping, and you're perspiring less. But your clothes are wet from the morning's sweat, so you're expending extra energy to stay warm. Your body starts conserving plasma to maintain key bodily functions in your core, so less blood is available for your extremities, which start to cool down.
2 p.m.-4 p.m.: Blood fuels muscular activity in your limbs, so now your lowered blood volume is really starting to affect your skiing. In the bumps, you flail. You've basically stopped sweating, but because your clothes are soaked, they're conducting the cold. Your body is working hard just to stay warm -- let alone ski.
After 4 p.m.: Your hands and feet are freezing now, and your ability to generate body heat has virtually vanished. Since you can't warm your extremities, you are at an increased risk of frostbite. Stay out much longer, and you may become disoriented and show other early signs of hypothermia. You're having difficulty controlling your skis. The lodge seems miles away.
--Don't rely on thirst as your guide. Drink water steadily over the course of the day.
--Drink 12 cups of water a day -- more if you're skiing hard.
--Consider a back-mounted hydration system, like a CamelBak.