Protect yourself from frostbite

On your trip to the slopes for some much needed excitement and adventure, you awake to find fresh powder. Lots of it, too. You begin to head for the runs and realize that in your excitement, you’ve forgotten your gloves. No matter, you think, I have to get out there! A few hours later, your hands begin to blister and get numb. What do you do?

This is a common situation and one that I have seen happen all too much. The condition is frostbite and it can not only slow down your trip, but can cost you your extremities!

This is a condition where the tissues of the body, generally the fingers and toes, begin to actually freeze. This can cause massive damage to the tissue and sever cases, beside being very painful, can require amputation of necrotic (dead) tissue.

There are two conditions to know, frost nip and frostbite. Frostbite is the worst and most severe form, characterized by destroyed tissue and numbness. Blister formation and muscles damage are also common. Frost nip is less severe and does not destroy the tissues.

Treatment for all forms, both frostbite and nip, center around re-warming the effected areas. Remember to treat the person for hypothermia, as well as frost bite. Protect them from the cold environment, remove wet or constricting clothing and keep them warm. Try not to re-warm the extremity with a campfire or tailpipe exhaust, as this may cause burns to the already damaged area. Warm water, 40 C/104 F is the ticket. Immerse the area into the water and have the person try to gently move their fingers or toes. Keep them well hydrated and avoid tobacco and alcohol, which inhibits good circulation. Resist the temptation to break the blisters and do not massage the area, both can damage the already injured skin. Ibuprofen may work well, initially, for pain control, but stronger stuff may be needed. Padding the areas between fingers and toes, with cotton, also helps.

Nobody sets out with a goal to get frostbite. To prevent this, keep your body core and your extremities warm. Stay well hydrated and avoid tight or constricting clothing. Mittens work better than gloves, for cold weather hand protection. Also, on longer trips, avoid over-washing the hands and feet, as this removes the skin’ naturally protective oils.

Keeping your body warm and healthy is the secret to having a good cold weather trip. Remember, bring spares of gloves and warm socks, and try not to get so excited about your trip that your forget them in the hotel.