BE THE FIRE KEEPER
"Hypothermia," says James Wilkerson, editor of Hypothermia, Frostbite and Other Cold Injuries (The Mountaineers, $13), "is a disorder of inadequacies—inadequate food, clothing, and smarts. You'd be surprised how many people go camping in a tank top and shorts." It's also deceiving. You can get it in temperatures as high as 65 degrees if it's wet and windy. And because hypothermia affects your ability to think clearly, it's difficult to self-diagnose. Aside from dressing properly, perhaps the best strategy for fending off hypothermia is to train with a partner who has memorized the following warning signs.
Stage one: Your coordination declines progressively. "You get the 'umbles," Wilkerson says. "You mumble, fumble, and stumble," indicating a loss of one to three degrees in core temperature. Get the victim dry, warm, and out of the wind. And be persistent: Hypothermia victims are notoriously uncooperative.
Stage two: "Uncontrollable shivering means you must do something immediately," Wilkerson says. Build a fire and apply heat (warm stones or water bottles with hot water) to the groin, head, neck, and sides of the chest. If you have a tent, put the victim inside, zip it up, and boil water to warm and humidify the air. If you have no stove or matches for a fire, force the victim to move around: Exercise generates more warmth than shivering.
Stage three: If the shivering stops and he's both increasingly disoriented and can't walk or stand without your help, severe hypothermia has set in—a dire situation indeed. At this stage, says Wilkerson, "there is no sufficient way to rewarm someone in the wilderness." Your goal should be to limit more heat loss any way you can, and get help.
Maintain a Steady Burn
Everyone knows that food becomes energy and energy generates warmth, so it must follow that when the temperature drops, we require more fuel, right? Actually, no. The weather doesn't affect your metabolism nearly as much as the intensity of your training, according to Ken Rundell, a sports physiologist who for seven years has monitored the diets of elite athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. "Summer or winter, you burn calories the same, so you need the same replacements."
Rather, the kind of training you do should determine your menu. Downhill skiing and snowboarding, which require explosive contractions, strip glycogen from muscles. Stock up on bagels or raisins—foods high in ready-to-burn carbohydrates—an hour before hopping on the lift, and supplement with sports drinks on the slopes.
For cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and subfreezing mountain biking, complex carbohydrates are key, which means your daily calories should adhere to this formula: 65 to 75 percent from carbohydrates, 15 percent from protein, and the rest from fat.
But if you want a license to pig out, try long, slow treks, such as hut-to-hut nordic skiing or, say, the Iditashoe. Taking in as much as 30 percent of your calories from fat can improve your performance. Can't find an energy bar that sins so? Load up, like Macy, on Ruffles or cashews. "They have a great calorie-to-weight ratio."
Soak Now, Pay Later
Nothing feels better after a frigid day on the trail than a long soak in the hot tub. But like many things, what feels good isn't always as it seems. If you have any muscle pulls or strains, you're doing yourself more harm. The tub's heat dilates blood vessels, increasing swelling around the injury. The swelling slows the healing process by restricting the flow of nutrition to the area, effectively increasing the amount of injured tissue. Instead of soaking, ice the tender spots and take a basic anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen. Not the stuff of sybaritic starry nights, but much more effective.
AVOID SPICY FOODS
Capsaicin, the substance in hot peppers that makes your mouth burn, has become the latest athletic wonder remedy—appearing in everything from anti-inflammatory creams and back-ache antidotes to arthritis medication and insect repellent. It's even breathed new life into an antiquated folk cure, which skiers are starting to use again: sprinkling crushed red pepper and baby powder into their socks to keep their feet warm.
"People in cold country have been using pepper powders for decades," says Varro Tyler, a leading herbalist, the author of Tyler's Honest Herbal (Haworth Press, $25), and a proponent of the fix. "It works." The capsaicin in the pepper acts as a mild irritant, creating a tingly warm sensation, and depletes skin of a neurotransmitter called substance P, which would otherwise deliver pain messages. The result: Your feet feel warmer.
Yet your toes aren't really toastier, and your body's warning system—pain—has been disconnected. That worries Norman Levine, Chief of Dermatology at University of Arizona. "It lulls you into a false sense of warmth," he says. "The sensation of being cold is your body's way of alerting you that something is wrong." Or telling you to hit the lodge for dry socks.
Illustrations: Ingo Fast; Photo: Brian Hagiwara