A Skier's Guide to Preventing Frostbite

People skiing at Teton Village Ski Resort.
Getty Images/Richard Cummins

So, you're on a ski vacation and the weather is bitter cold. Most people are hunkered down in the lodge by the fire, but you want to take advantage of the lack of lift lines and powdery snow conditions. You may be worried about getting frostbite on a day when the temperatures have dipped into the single digits, but with a few preventative measures—like wearing suitable layers, covering exposed skin, and monitoring your time spent outdoors—you can protect yourself as you swish down the slopes.

Infants, elderly people, diabetics who suffer from poor circulation, and those with a low percentage of body fat are particularly at risk for contracting frostbite in cold temperatures. For these individuals, it's best to stay inside until weather conditions improve.

Weather Conditions

With temperatures ranging from 14 to 17 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 to -8 degrees Celsius), the risk of frostbite is fairly low. But if it gets any colder, especially if the temperature drops below 0 F (-17 C), the risk becomes considerably higher.

For example, temperatures around -18 F (-27 C), without windchill, can lead to frostbite on any exposed skin within thirty minutes. And if it plummets to -40 F (-40 C), you'll only have 10 minutes before the cold damages any exposed skin. However, these temperatures are extremes and most places outside of the arctic tundra will not experience sub-zero temperatures like these. Still, if the weather is looking dire, wait until it warms up and grab a seat by the fire.


Obviously, the colder the weather, the greater the likelihood of contracting frostbite. But you can't entirely rely on the mercury reading, because your standard thermometer won't pick up windchill levels. If you're skiing or snowboarding in a strong wind, windchill will only amplify the coldness. It's a huge contributor to the risk of frostbite.

Winter weather reports often include temperatures with and without the windchill factor. For example, it might be 14 F (-9 C) outside, but if it's windy enough, it could feel more like -4 F (-20 C). You should always use the windchill temperature as your point of reference when factoring in frostbite potential.

Activity Level

Ice skating and skiing get your blood pumping, which heats up your body much more than if you were standing around waiting for the bus. In fact, according to sports medicine doctors, someone running outside in cold temperatures should feel about 20 degrees warmer than a person who's standing still. However, even though your body feels warmer on the inside, that doesn't mean your skin is protected.

Windchill effects can be more intense when you're moving fast—like when you're careening down the mountain on skis. Use a face mask and goggles to protect any exposed skin, especially when you're sweating underneath your jacket.

Preventative Clothing and Accessories

Dressing appropriately for cold weather limits your risk of contracting frostbite. When temperatures drop below the teens, make sure to wear insulating layers under your ski pants and jacket. Keeping your body's core warm is the first step in preventing frostbite.

Make sure to cover any exposed skin while skiing or snowboarding, too, no matter what the temperatures are. A neck gaiter or face mask will not only protect you from the cold, but it will also prevent sunburn. Yes, it's possible to get frostbite and sunburn at the same time! Goggles, a helmet, and a hat can also be used to cover exposed skin on your head and face area. Add insulated gloves and boots, and maybe some disposable and hand- and foot-warmers for another layer of protection and warmth while skiing in frigid temperatures.

Signs of Frostbite and Considerations

You can limit the risk of frostbite by researching the weather and windchill factors before you go, and then dressing appropriately and limiting exposure. However, that's not always foolproof. If you experience cold skin and numbness, with a prickling feeling, or if you notice a red, white, blue, or grayish tint to your skin, go inside and warm up. Anyone who blisters upon warming, experiences pain or swelling of the affected area, or spikes a fever should seek medical help immediately.

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