Save Your Skin | The Dangers Of Hypothermia & Frostbite
It's been a chilly start to the season in beautiful British Columbia. The dangers of over-exposure are real and life-threatening when exploring the mountains with your snowboard. The effects can catch you unaware and set in extremely quickly, even if the sun is shining. By being able to recognise the signs of cold exposure, hypothermia and frostbite you can prevent permeant skin damage and even save your own life or someone else’s.
Watch and Ride Tip: To stay safe and enjoy your day, always hit the slopes prepared with extra layers and dressed appropriately for the conditions. Check the weather before you leave to avoid getting caught out by an unexpected snowstorm or cold front!
Cold Environment Exposure: Hypothermia & Frostbite
Frostbite occurs when your skin freezes and loses blood circulation. Exposed skin (nose / cheeks) and your extremities (fingers / toes) are the most susceptible to frostbite in a cold environment. It can be extremely painful and even leave permanent damage. Your flesh doesn’t even need to be in direct exposure to the elements for frostbite to set in. Chairlifts are a high risk and hazardous especially on cold, damp days where there is a wind chill factor. With frostbite, the danger lies in not being able to feel it occurring. Before you realise it is often too late!
Tingling/numbness or the skin going white are usually the first signs. If the area is numb, the skin might feel waxy / firm to touch. If you don’t remove yourself from the exposure your skin will begin to die and turn black leaving irreparable damage to the tissue and nerves. Amputation may even be required if the case is bad enough. When riding with your friends always keep an eye on each other's exposed skin. You can’t see your own face and once you have frostbite the skins already numb. You may not even realise you have it.
Tips For Treatment & Prevention While Snowboarding
- Regularly head for warmth and shelter. Take short breaks indoors to avoid overexposure before its too late.
- If your hands have symptoms, bring warmth to the skin by placing them between your thighs or under your armpits.
- If you suspect frostbite in your feet stop snowboarding as soon as possible. Continued activity can increase the damage to the nerves and tissue.
- If an area on your face is affected hold your warm hands lightly on the spot.
- Never aggressively rub or massage the affected area.
- Avoid using hot water or objects directly on the flesh. With the area being numb its easy to burn yourself.
HypothermiaHypothermia sets in when you lose body heat and your core temperature gets too low. You can still be susceptible to hypothermia when it is above freezing. The early sign you are at risk is continuous / uncontrollable shivering. There are many stages of hypothermia and if the symptoms progress, it leads to:
- lack of dexterity
- memory loss
- difficulty in speaking
- confusion and even death.
Seek shelter and remove yourself or anyone in your group from the cold as soon as there is an onset of symptoms.
Tips For Treatment & Prevention
- Head for shelter and get out the cold. Wrap up in a blanket to try and get warm.
- Take off any wet and damp items as soon as possible. Dry yourself and replace your clothing.
- Consume hot drinks like a soup, tea or coffee.
- Steer clear of alcohol as it can drop your temperature. Makes you unaware of how cold you actually are.
- If there is a high wind chill factor and you can’t make it to shelter, shield yourself behind a tree or natural feature.
- Skin on Skin contact with another person inside a sleeping bag or under a blanket can provide vital heat to alleviate suffering.
Keep an emergency shelter in your winter jacket to help prevent hypothermia.
To be most effective, the emergency shelter should be used while you still have body heat to reflect back and create the insulated effect. If able, do a few jumping jackets to warm up.
Insulate yourself with dry branches, a backpack etc. from the ground if sitting or lying down. Conserve heat as much as possible, it is much harder to gain back, then it is to keep it.