Health & Fitness

Snow's a go

When temperatures drop, the easiest thing to do is sink into the couch. Pick up the remote. Cover up with a blanket.

Do that, though, and you'll miss out on a scenic time of year, especially when it snows. Plus, you'd be surprised how quickly winter activities warm both the body and spirit.

"Snow turns all of us into little kids," the late, great Yosemite ski legend Nic Fiore once said.

But before deciding what to do or where to go, the first step to any successful winter outing is adopting a different mind-set to how you dress and how you drive.

When you're thinking of traveling to your favorite winter destination to celebrate the arrival of the fresh white stuff, make sure you are properly prepared. Have tire chains in your vehicle, know how to put them on before having to do it for the first time in the middle of the blizzard, and try to keep a full tank of gas.

The best way to keep warm during any cold-weather activity is by dressing in layers. Why? Because of insulation, which works by trapping tiny air pockets that retain heat, wrapping your body in a bubble of warmth.

Each layer you put on traps additional air, allowing even more warmth to be captured. This is the same reason why goose down works so well as an insulator and why a polar bear's fur actually consists of tiny hollow tubes.

There are essentially three layers to consider (base, middle and outer), and each has its function.

The base layer is the one closest to your skin. It should both be tight-fitting and possess the ability to wick moisture and perspiration away from your skin. Polypropylene, silk, wool, capliene or polyester are all good choices. (I prefer merino wool because it's nonscratchy and doesn't absorb odors.) Just avoid cotton, which traps moisture and stays wet against the skin.

Base layers come in various thicknesses or weights, so choose one based on the temperature and your activity level. Lighter weights are better for strenuous activities, while heavy weights provide more insulation.

Mid layers, usually fleece, down, wool or one of many newer synthetic/natural blends, should provide most of the insulation. While mid layers should be a bit looser than the base layer, thus trapping more air, they also need to maintain contact with what's on underneath.

Finally, you're ready for the outer layer, something that can repel snow and rain while also blocking wind and allowing moisture to escape. GoreTex is the most popular shell material, but there are others that do just as good a job at a fraction of the price. Outer layers also should be abrasion resistant so you don't tear a hole just by scraping against a branch.

Once you have a layering system in place, temperature control is easy. Just add or remove single layers as needed.

Now that you're properly dressed, a word about winter driving. Actually two: Slow down!

Over the years, I can't tell you how many spun-out vehicles in ditches I've passed on snowy mountain roads. And many of them belong to knuckleheads under the mistaken impression that four-wheel drive is a license to speed like Jimmie Johnson at Talledega. It isn't.

By far, the most common winter driving error is accelerating too hard up a snowy hill, which torques the wheels and causes a spin-out. Crawling at 5 mph, even with tire chains or cables, isn't the answer either because it's too easy to lose traction. Instead, pick a safe speed for the conditions and keep extra distance between your car and the one in front of you.

Always top off the gas tank before heading into snow country, especially if there's a chance of getting stuck in a traffic jam, and never leave the house without winter essentials such as extra blankets, batteries, food and water. Dress warm and drive safely out there.

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