SURVIVING BELOW ZERO AND COLD WINTER WEATHER: PLANNING OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES, SKIING AND SCHOOL-CLOSING SNOW DAYS
Are your kids home from school for winter weather school closures and now you’re looking to make plans to entertain them on a cold, snowy, or a cold and snowy day? Many cities have a variety of outdoor winter activities to enjoy and keep your family busy if you’re willing to make a plan and venture out into the cold.
WEATHER FORECAST: BITTER COLD GRIPPING THE NATION
As the bitter cold grips many parts of the nation each January and February, figuring out how to participate in outdoor activities from snowshoeing to skiing with young children while remaining safe and warm can create a challenge for parents, especially when the temperature drops below zero.
The challenges can be met with some simple tactics and good decisions that allow you and your family to get out there to enjoy wintertime activities; even making family bonding memories on the slopes.
Living in Minnesota makes snow days and skiing a reality for my family, but the brutal cold conditions need to be resolved with a cold-day plan.
Our travel plans for a family ski trip to Lutsen Mountain along Lake Superior in northern Minnesota happened to fall during Minnesota’s, subzero, January weather. Having a plan in place to combat the winter conditions was needed if we were going to enjoy spending time on the slopes over spending time sitting indoors.
View looking down from the gondola at Lutsen Mountain Ski Resort; beautiful views.
REMEMBER: YOUNG CHILDREN DON’T TEMPERATURE REGULATE AS EFFECTIVELY AS ADULTS
Young children don’t have the same abilities as an adult body to regulate temperature which must be considered when planning outdoor wintertime activities.
Additionally, young children often have less body fat to aid in keeping warm or even warming back up once they’ve had exposure to cold environments. Caution needs to be taken by parents and caregivers to keep children warm and safe in cold weather, or low windchills, because avoidance by remaining indoors for many months won’t put you at exposure risks but it will make you and your family stir crazy!
WINTER RESISTANT: BELOW ZERO WEATHER CONDITIONS FOR A FAMILY SKI TRIP
Living in Minnesota and enjoying wintertime outdoor activities is a must for my family, but not being a native of Minnesota, I sometimes find when the temperature outside drops to the negative side of zero I pretty much only want to plan for indoor activities with my family; mainly staying inside next to a fire. That’s not our reality since long, cold and very cold winters, last for months in this northern region and there’s no complaining as Minnesotans consider themselves strong and apparently winter-resistant.
Minnesota has many wintertime activities to choose from including dog sledding, snowshoeing and winter carnivals. For anyone traveling into Minneapolis/St. Paul looking for winter adventures click the link above for some family-friendly activity ideas at the end of the post.
I had to reach into my bag of survival knowledge to make our ski trip successful as sitting by the fire during cold winter days isn’t in my families repertoire. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to just sit-it-out and miss all the wintertime activities that Lutsen Mountain offers guests.
LUTSEN MOUNTAIN SKI RESORT, MINNESOTA
Lutsen Mountain offers slope-side views of Lake Superior as it’s situated in the Sawtooth Mountains that line Lake Superior’s north shore. Lutsen Mountain is one of the northernmost ski resorts in the US and boasts having the longest vertical drop in the Midwest.
Lutsen Mountain is also the largest ski resort in the Midwest and has three open ski hills with a variety of terrain and trails; several challenging slopes and many intermediate runs. The resort has a fair share of natural snow and some lake effect snow, plus snowmaking capability.
From the Twin Cities, Lutsen Mountain is just under a four-hour drive directly north. Along the journey you’ll pass through Duluth, Minnesota, and start along Highway 61 North. There are several indoor stops that can be made along the way including Glensheen mansion in Duluth, maritime and train museums, art galleries and an aquarium.
Split Rock Lighthouse can be seen just before entering Silver Bay and beautiful Lake Superior views line the trip along the highway. You’ll travel through the town of Gooseberry Falls, which, always reminds me of “The Bullwinkle Show”and Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, a town inspired from the “Icebox of the Nation” aka: International Falls, Minnesota.
If you’re looking for scenic winter views than the trip up the North Shore of Minnesota, along with the views at Lutsen Mountain Resort, will be well-worth your time, cost and effort. Photographers will find endless inspiration and beauty to capture.
SKIING IN MINNESOTA’S COLDEST WEATHER?
Yes, I made a plan to travel even further north than the Twin Cities, Minnesota, in January, to travel to even colder temps where the expected daytime highs were plummeting to around -18F degrees with a hopeful warmup to 17F degrees and snow by the end of the trip.
The first day was just too cold with windchills too extreme to even contemplate skiing with young children, but the resort wasn’t closed and there were a few skiers on the slopes; they were the heartiest of Minnesotans, you betcha.
The irony of spending money for a fun, family vacation that includes the words “winter,” “subzero,” and “survival” doesn’t escape me, but I’m now a Minnesotan-of-sorts and this is the climate for which I live and must get-to-know the inner Antarctic penguin side of my personality that’s still in moderate protest of living in a subzero climate as it spent many early years growing up on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Have you seen a Hawaiian penguin?
SUBZERO AND LOW TEMPERATURE SKI PLANS
First, I made a quick visit to Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul, Minnesota, to purchase heavier base layers (long underwear) along with toe and hand warming packets to add to our mittens and ski boots.
Second plan: Proper layering techniques.
Once we made it up to Lutsen it was quickly apparent that the windchill would be adding to the struggles to keep warm during our ski holiday.
We spent our first day off the slopes and ventured down to the lake for a short time. Lake Superior had a mist hovering over the top that I’ve never had the good fortune to experience before and it was breathtaking both from the cold and the beauty.
SUBZERO SKI DAY GEAR
We put on our base layer and topped them with a lighter, looser, pair of long underwear which allows a layer of warmth to be trapped.
The layering process continued as we layered a cotton long-sleeved shirt over the two base layers, then a sweater, Turtle Fur neck rolls, our ski pants and jackets, balaclavas, wool ski socks with feet warmers tucked into our arches and Kombi mittens with Gortex; mittens work better than gloves to keep hands warm in the coldest of environments.
Scroll below to read “Tips and Tricks” for detailed instruction on the various techniques I use to keep my family warm on the slopes.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR KEEPING WARM ON THE SLOPES
- Base layers of long underwear are a must and combining base layers is an excellent option for extreme winter conditions.
- Base layers are sold in a variety of warmth levels from light to heaviest. In extreme winter conditions it’s best to use a heavy “warmest” layer against the skin and build out using the next layer as a “light weight” and “loose” level layer. The heat from your body will be trapped between the two layers and help to keep you warm.
- Select ski gear for the conditions as they are sold with temperature ratings. As a family, we invest in a set that offers the highest degree of warmth and also a light level for early winter and early spring skiing: We add, or remove, base layers as needed dependent on the conditions.
- HotHands can be used creatively for subzero and extreme winter weather or used as suggested.
- Creative options for HotHands packets to keep your FEET warm: The hand packets fit nicely under your socks in the arch of your foot (unless you have flat arches). Stand up and move it around until it’s comfortable and then you’ll have warm feet in your ski boots or outdoor winter gear.*
- Creative HotHands hand packets to keep your LEGS warm. Most men’s ski pants or outer layers have an inner leg zipper to help you cool down easily. When it’s really cold out that pouch is an excellent space to zip in HotHands which will help to keep your legs warm. Women’s ski pants don’t always offer the inner thigh zipper so you can place a warming packet just above the back of your knee joint under your base layer.*
- Creative HotHands hand packets to keep your UPPER BODY warm. If your ski jacket has the under arm zipper for cooling simply zip in a warming packet. You can also place the warming packet over the first base layer in the lower ac space of your arm. (That’s the spot at the elbow crease).
- * Warning*: Don’t use the warming packets directly on the skin of very young children as for some it will be too hot and cause burns. My eleven year old has no problem with the warming packets directly on his skin but my six year old needs a layer between the pouches and her skin.
- Mittens over gloves for warmer hands.
- Wool ski socks are an excellent option and if there’s a chance of sweating or getting wet then wool is always the way to go, but some people keep warmer with synthetics. Don’t be afraid to give the synthetic options a try as they might be a warmer option for you. Pack your wool socks in case you need a swap out. Easy rule: Sweaty feet; wool socks. Dry feet; synthetics might be warmer. (Unless you’re hiking then you always want wool.)
- Wear a high-collar sweater or zip-up over your base layers and under your ski jacket or coat. The full-zip is easier to get off kids when you take a warming break.
- Use an extra layer at the neck with a neck roll. Again, neck rolls are sold as heavy fleece or light synthetics.
- Balaclava NOT Baklava: My children never pronounce it correctly and people around us think they’re talking about needing a Greek dessert. You might need that too for carb energy to keep warm.
- Balaclava: You need one of these for subzero skiing or low windchills because it protects your face, including your nose, from the conditions. I can’t say it will keep you warm, but it will protect your skin and keep you warmer than going without.
- Balaclava with attached skull-cap style headwear for under your helmet.
- Helmets are not intended to be used with a hat. Skip the hat under your helmet and make sure it’s fitted correctly. Helmets should rest at the proper space above the eyebrow and should only be able to shift modestly side to side or back and forth. Most helmets will offer venting and when it’s extremely cold you can use the thin layer skull-cap to help keep your ears and head warmer if not attached to your neck roll, or Greek-style dessert.
Finding a balance between your layers and ability to move comfortably is a challenge and it might have you feeling like your layered to the size of Big Foot.
We found our success. We were packed-in our ski gear and still able to move around for our first day on the slopes.
Honestly, the worst of the process is having to move fairly quickly to get everything on and out the door before you overheat and begin to sweat. In this situation, sweating would not help the process of staying warm while skiing in subzero or extremely cold weather.
Tip for parents: Have your layers stacked in layer-order for your kids to help the process move along at a tolerable pace. I also crack a window or a door to keep the room cooler.
Our plan for the slopes was simple: We’d stop at the upper or lower chalet, or ski back to the condo to warm up whenever needed.
Tip for parents: Sometimes kids can’t tell you if they’re getting too cold so it’s better to just plan to make the stops after every one, or two, trips down depending on where you’re skiing and the length of the run.
For our ski adventure it turned out that the appropriate layers and skiwear was sufficient to handle about four hours on the slopes before a warming stop. When we stopped for a break we shed our layers and were still warm underneath.
Surprisingly, we actually felt warm and stayed warm while skiing in some pretty extreme conditions and enjoyed a ski trip where we had the resort almost to ourselves. There were no lift lines and we didn’t have to worry about “bombers” which as a mother of two young skiers keeps me on alert as I follow behind my children on the slopes to provide cover like a hawk.
The snow report was accurate and we had a bit warmer weather and quite a bit of snowfall for two of the days. Proper planning and layering techniques allowed for us to make a lot of runs on fresh snow during some very cold weather. The ski trip was extremely enjoyable and goes on the books as a success.
Are you ready for your outdoor wintertime adventures?
Running water along Moose Return trail: I suggest avoiding this trail unless you’re looking for some great photos ops and a long-trek of practicing your Herringbone technique.
Happy wintertime adventuring to all the brave adventurers and thank you for visiting Chasing Rockwell.