The first phone call I got was, well, chilling.
Parents of a U16 athlete at Northstar were looking for help from my shop, the Start Haus in Truckee: their child had chilblains and was experiencing frostbite-like symptoms.
The second also froze me in my tracks. My own daughter, racing at Spirit Mountain in Duluth, Minn., was calling to report temperatures of minus 5 — without wind — and she suspected frostbite on her big toe.
But here’s some news to warm things up. I learned to ski and race in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and so have a lifetime of battling with sub zero temps on toes. I’ve also suffered frostbite. And so I’ve acquired some valuable lessons in keeping racers’ feet toasty, or at least safe and comfortable.
1. Adjust the Shell
For maximum warmth, the foot should sit in the boot in a relaxed state, which means eliminating all of the usual hot spots where either the blood or nerve paths might get impinged. Heat punch or grind the shell to make sure that there’s enough room for all parts of the foot, including the first and fifth metatarsal heads, the instep, heel and ankle.
Pay attention to the liner, too, in order to accommodate the instep bump — it’s a critical area for circulation. A properly built, thin foot bed inside the boot will support the arch and keep the foot from expanding in length and width when loaded.
2. Wear Good, Clean Socks
Ski socks should wick moisture away from the skin and into the liner of the boot. Skip the bulky stuff and go for thin socks made from wool, polypro or other synthetics (which may be more comfortable than wool). The thinner the sock, the more breathing room you have in the boot. While a thick sock will hold moisture against the skin, a thinner sock has better capillary effect of wicking the moisture into the liner.
Compression socks are trendy for a reason: They massage the lower leg as you move, and keep the blood moving in and out of the lower leg, leading to improved circulation, blood flow and foot warmth.
Wash your socks immediately after use. Your sweat leaves behind minerals in the sock fabric that will reduce the fabric’s ability to wick the moisture away from your skin.
3. Stop Sweating So Much
If your body runs warm and your feet sweat a lot, your feet will get colder quicker with the excess moisture. Apply an antiperspirant with aluminum chloride or aluminum zirconium to warm, dry feet before you put on your socks to block your sweat ducts.
4. Splurge on the Latest Technology
For some, having happy feet means they’ll race better, which means it’s worth investing in boot heaters, heated socks and boot covers, along with spending a couple of bucks on toe warmers. Hotronic, Thermic, and Sidas all produce quality, performance-proven boot heaters. Install them carefully on low-volume race boots so that they don’t get tangled up in lace-up liners or knocked off while making contact with gates.
Heated socks now have better battery technology while the Boot Glove is a thin neoprene cover that attaches with Velcro around the lower shell of your ski boot to insulate and prevent snow build-up. Buy toe warmers in bulk, and consider a Hot Gear Bag for overnight drying to start off the day with soft, warm, and easy-to-slip-on boots.
5. Follow Common Sense
- Start out every day with your boots warm and dry.
- Cover your toe dam with duct tape to prevent fine snow crystals form getting inside your boots.
- Always buckle your boots when skiing. It’s fine to release the buckle on the lift and when resting.
- Dry your boots out every night. Check every day that there is no standing water in the shells.
- Stay hydrated, and have fuel in your tank. Small snacks or light meals while racing and training keep more blood available for your feet and hands instead of going to your stomach for digestion.
- Extra clothing layers on your body will help to keep your core temp up, which aids warmth to the extremities.
- Clean socks, every time you ski.
- Watch the weather and plan your daily strategy to get through the day. Got frostbite? Use warm water and Epsom-salt soaks to get your feet back in the game.