Winter weather brings a number of challenges to outdoor activities, even those that are designed for snow or ice.
Skiing is the perfect way to enjoy colder weather, but strong winds can often make skiing not only challenging but dangerous.
Learning about how to ski in windy weather or deciding when to stay home instead can make your ski trips safer and much more enjoyable.
How does wind affect skiing?
Because downhill ski slopes are generally clear and free of windbreaks such as trees, wind can gain speed and knock skiers over or send them tumbling down the slopes.
Skiing into the wind is possible, but it can make the activity much more challenging and tiring. It can be very difficult to keep your balance in windy conditions, and you may need to actually lean into the wind to stay upright.
Wind affects cross country skiing a bit less since trails are often protected by trees that help to break up the wind’s speed and direct movement.
These areas are often flatter than downhill slopes as well, making it easier for skiers to keep their balance, even in windy conditions.
However, cross country skiers skiing in open areas can be buffeted by the wind, which can make movement more difficult and strenuous.
Wind not only creates dangerous situations due to heavy gusts blowing skiers about, but it can also add to the windchill factor.
Winds that are moving quickly pick up cold air and wick away heat. Skiers who are comfortable skiing at the current air temperature may not be prepared for how cold the wind chill is, and frostbite or hypothermia can occur very quickly.
Wind can also pick up loose snow from the surface of slopes, sending it swirling into the air. This can affect visibility in both downhill and cross-country situations.
Getting lost while skiing is incredibly dangerous and can lead to hypothermia, so consider staying inside and leaving the skiing for another day if the winds are high.
Although skiers can ski in any weather or wind speeds they feel comfortable with, most ski areas shut down when wind speeds reach 40 miles per hour or more. At these speeds, it’s no longer safe to operate ski lifts.
Skiing is still possible during wind speeds of 40 miles per hour, however. It’s not until about 50 miles per hour that wind speed becomes truly risky.
At this speed, skiers will need to lean into the wind to avoid being blown over. Wind speeds that reach 80 miles an hour or more can easily knock skiers down, creating dangerous situations, and anything faster than this can blow skiers down a slope.
Tips for Skiing in the Wind
When skiing in windy conditions, remember that it will most likely feel colder than whatever the air temperature reads, so wear or pack extra layers for added warmth.
Always make sure that vulnerable areas, such as your hands and face, are also well-covered. Use a scarf or balaclava to cover your nose and mouth. You may also want to put your ski helmet on after pulling up your hood.
This helps to ensure that your hood stays in place.
For any skin that’s left exposed, consider applying a thin layer of Vaseline. Although it’s sticky, petroleum jelly can help to protect skin from wind or chill, making chapping less likely.
Stick to areas that you know well and that feature plenty of landmarks. Even though you may be very familiar with a certain slope or trail, swirling snow can make it difficult to get your bearings or to tell which direction to go in.
Landmarks can help you stay on course. Choosing a cross-country trail instead of a downhill slope can also help to break up the wind, making skiing conditions safer.
On particularly windy days, you may also need to adjust your skiing technique. A lower center of gravity may help you stay more balanced, while a higher center of gravity might help you stay upright.
Try different techniques, bending at the knees, to figure out what works best for you or for those particular conditions.
If the wind is at your back, pushing you downhill, try skiing in a zigzag pattern to cut down on your speed.
Skiing fast can be exhilarating, but it can also be dangerous if the wind picks up and carries you along faster than you feel comfortable with.
Make your zigzags wide and point your skis so that they are perpendicular to the base of the slope.
Remember to take more breaks when skiing in windy conditions. You may be making more turns, using different muscles for different techniques, or pushing into the wind, all of which can be tiring.
Keeping up your stamina without becoming exhausted is key when it comes to safety.
Finally, only ski when it feels safe to you. Although many skiers are comfortable with winds reaching up to 40 or 50 miles per hour, judge things for yourself according to your skill level and personal temperature preferences.
Take windchill and stamina into account, and never be afraid to call off a ski trip or save it for a safer day.