Skiing: Fighting the frost in Canada

`Wrapping up warm' took on new meaning for Nicola Barranger when she set off down the slopes of the Canadian Rockies at Banff.

The Airtours brochure is upbeat about skiing in North America: "Thermals and layers of clothing are a must, as life on the mountains can become extremely cold - but then again", it chirrups cheerfully, "that's why the skiing terrain is so thrilling and why the season lasts for a good six months of the year!"

If the Canadians say it is cold, it's really cold. When you wake up on the first morning of a ski holiday to a "high" of -30C, you need to speak Polar Bear to convey just how cold that feels. The English language just does not have the vocabulary.

Of course it is freezing. That happened 30 degrees ago. Even the chicken safely in the freezer at home is 12 degrees warmer. However, in the Rockies the air is very dry, so it feels almost bearable.

We had come to the smart Canadian resort of Banff to ski, and that was precisely what we intended to do. There was no option but to acclimatise as quickly as possible - and here speaks a softie who has been known to wear Damart in April.

First of all, listen to the locals. They should dispel all those old myths such as "long johns are for cissies". In weather like this you are talking double layers of everything, even if that gives you more than a passing resemblance to the Michelin man.

As a naive Brit stepping out for her initial experience of arctic conditions, my first mistake was to forget to cover every area of exposed skin. Suddenly my face began tightening up, and the inside of my nose felt decidedly prickly. As I blinked, I felt the hoar-frost forming on my eyelashes. A beard may protect a man's face, but can appear quite revolting to fellow skiers when frost and icicles form below the nose: very Ranulph Fiennes. Some skiers wear black face masks, straight from the set of The Man in the Iron Mask. However, once you have got over a mild attack of claustrophobia, they are highly effective. I preferred to see how many scarves I could wrap over my face and into my goggles.

Disposable hand-warmers are worth their weight in lift passes. Available in almost all ski shops, these are small sachets that magically give off heat for about seven hours - more than enough for a day's skiing. I was amazed to see a number of skiers coming in from the cold and pulling off their gloves, obviously in absolute agony as they puffed on to their fingers. It seems that not every skier knows that mittens offer far more protection from the cold than gloves, which isolate the fingers; whatever warmth remains in each finger cannot be passed on to the next.

At a time when celebrities are perishing on the slopes of the Rockies at a frightening rate, it is worth remembering that in these conditions frostbite is a real problem. One person in our group suffered frostbite after he lost feeling in his big toe, and was more interested in exploring the back bowls than in remembering to wiggle his toes every so often. What he did not realise was how dangerous frostbite can be.

The Canadians preach "buddy skiing". It is best, they say, to ski in twos. That way each skier can look out for signs of facial "frost nip" in the other. Patches of skin go pale and waxy in appearance - a sort of deathly white, since dying is precisely what is in danger of happening to the tissue. This, the first sign of frostbite, often appears on exposed areas such as ears, nose, chin and cheeks. In severe cases, unless you warm up the affected area, gangrene can set in.

One of the many joys of skiing is the thrill of flying down pisted slopes. No such thrill in these conditions, as even a slight wind chill becomes extremely painful. However, we found that doing the odd black run at least kept the heart pumping, the blood circulating and the toes warm(ish). Bear in mind, however, that you may not be properly warmed up - which in itself can be dangerous.

Curiously, the lure of a warm mountain lodge with excellent hot chocolate proved irresistible after only two or three runs. After all, we remembered, we were on a holiday, not an endurance test.

The favourable exchange rate against the Canadian dollar has again meant that British bookings are up on last year. If you are unlucky enough to catch a "cold snap", do not despair, as these temperatures are uncommon for more than a few days. In the meantime, accept the challenge. You will enjoy perfect snow on deserted pistes, and a warm welcome from all the lift attendants.

However, skiing is not all downhill. Skiing cross-country is a superb and underrated alternative. Even in the most severe temperatures, you are guaranteed to keep warm. Do not be put off by moaners who suggest that it is too much like hard work. Cross-country skiing is a secret well kept by those wanting to escape the crowds and hi-tech of downhill. You will be pleasantly warm and alone on the trail, and in Canadian parks you may be rewarded by the sight of plenty of wildlife, including elk, moose and maybe the odd porcupine. When your eyelashes start to freeze up, you can clear them by squeezing your eyes tight shut, allowing the warmth of your face to melt the frost. You may seem to age about 50 years as your eyebrows whiten, but it makes for a great photo.

Skating and snowshoeing are also excellent "keep warm" activities. And if all that seems too much like an endurance test, then think of all the money you will save on the lift passes.

Afterwards, go and indulge in the nearest hot tub, and line up a few hot chocolates laced with rum. As the Canadians say, "Keep warm."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...

AER Teachers: PPA TEACHER/MENTOR

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...

AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOL

£27000 - £40000 per annum: AER Teachers: YEAR 3 TEACHER - PREPARATORY SCHOOLA ...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones