Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Surviving Skating when you Live on Hoth

It's cold everywhere in the US these days. My Southern relations are posting dire, panicked photos of 3" of snow on the ground and calling themselves struck with Cabin Fever. This makes me laugh. They are also posting images of their phones telling them that it is ten degrees, or five degrees, or something, and this also makes me laugh.

Where I live in the northern US, we have a pretty persistent snow on the ground about a foot deep in spots. But the snow isn't bothering me because the roads and sidewalks are mostly clear. The real issue for us right now is the cold. We had what is hopefully our last truly cold day yesterday, with a wind chill of twenty below. Earlier in the season we got down to thirty below in the wind, and daytime highs of -10F.  Last year was worse. The cold snap lasted about a month, with multiple days below zero, wind chills of fifty below and it went on for so long that water mains 3 feet (1 meter) below the ground froze solid. Our rink also operates as a warming shelter, and we had some interesting folks in the lobby for awhile. The only benefit to this was that I couldn’t keep weight on and was enjoying avocados four times a week with no repercussions.

Skating in this kind of weather does happen, and the maintenance crews at the rink say that "The Die Hards will always come." Well, I'm a Die Hard, and I always show up for my early morning skate. I won't get to Adult Nationals by snuggling under my covers and whining that it's cold, so off I go.

When you step inside the Rink Door, the cold hits you bodily, freezing up all your joints. If your coach is with you, he's got on snow pants and a parka and a hat and thick gloves, but you've got to have a dancer's line somewhere, so no snow pants for you. The ice is really hard, you can see your breath in the rink, your MP3 player freezes up after about 30 minutes and you have to give it a little handwarmer cozy (not joking) and the north garage door has a layer of frost on the inside. But it's skateable, and you can do it without mugging your coach for his snow pants and parka.

Layer up.

T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, cotton fleece and a windbreaker on top. Skating tights, base layer and leggings on the bottom. You can always remove a layer when you get warm. Two pairs of gloves, legwarmers, ear warmer... the list goes on... Some skaters are swearing by The Puffy Vest. I have a Puffy Vest and I get mixed results. It usually only works down to a certain degree and then I'm wishing for sleeves again. Skirts are out until we get above 30 outside. Cotton is your absolute best friend.

Tissues, lots of them

Runners may lose vital fluids through sweat, but skaters lose them through copious mucous production. Spinning with a runny nose is less than glamorous, nor are spirals with a string of snot dangling down. Figures are near impossible when you're being distracted by the fluids on your face. I keep a pack in my pocket as well as a few on the boards. I did make a little tissue pack that fits in my skating binder so I'm not traipsing a box all over. Still, getting snot on your gloves is inevitable, so keep multiple pairs and wash weekly.

Warm beverages

Warm Lemon water in a thermos is wonderful stuff.

Accept the cold

You will never be at an optimal temperature. Ever. You'll heat up with the exercise and immediately freeze when you stop. Embrace it. You are hardcore. You are badass. Wind chill? You *are* wind chill.

Bring Dry Clothes

If you've skated hard, you've worked up a sweat, and sometimes I've found I've soaked through all my layers. This is a serious problem if it's below zero outside. You simply can't go out in wet clothes. So I had to start bringing a dry t-shirt, fleece and gloves to go home in. When I toss my wet clothes in the backseat of the car, they're usually frosty and crispy by the time I get home.

Coconut Oil

I gave up on Lotions long ago, and now just use straight up organic coconut oil on my hands. I still have to use a file on my callouses, but the oil really helps prevent the cracking and bleeding. On really dry days, I use some on my face before bedtime. I know it sounds weird, but I’m a believer.

So there you have it. It can be done, but most of it is just acceptance. It's winter, therefore it will be cold. Pretty soon it will be summer and we'll all be complaining that the ice is slow because it's frosted over and the boards will be soaked in condensation. At least we're not skating outside like the early skaters had to do, right?


  1. I liked to keep a heat gun in my bag and heat up my boots before I wore them.

    However, don't do this in a closed room. Depending on your boots, it can get really really smelly. I never noticed this until one of the pairs guys borrowed my heat gun in the coaching room. Oh god!

  2. I use commercial heel crack therapy on my feet. Not just the heels. I'm talking about the stuff you buy in the drug store that looks like wax. Works really good.

    I have an amazing down vest that goes below my hips. OMG. I'm so toasty. I swear when that thing wears out I'll make another one.

    Also, I find that a little skull cap helps keep me warm when it's below zero outside (an my rink never turns on the heater).