|Winter is Wonderful When You're Warm|
- Windchill: If it is -10C, or warmer with high windchill index, and windy, you might have to take precautions against frostbite (see below).
- Precipitation: If wet snow or sleet is falling, or the kids want to play in the slush, limit your time outside. I let the kids get wet making a snowman in our yard or park across the street, but would not let them do this when we are in the mountains for a half day ski or snowshoe because they will get too cold too fast and could get hypothermia. "Your body temperature can drop to a low level at temperatures of 50°F (10°C) or higher in wet and windy weather, or if you are in 60°F (16°C) to 70°F (21°C) water." Source: http://www.webmd.com/first-aid/tc/hypothermia-and-cold-temperature-exposure-topic-overview
- Time of day: If your kids are late risers like mine and you don't tend to head out until the afternoon, be aware of when the sun will set and be prepared for it to set a bit earlier if you are in the mountains. As the day goes on, the temperature will drop, so you should plan to be back at your shelter/home/vehicle before it gets too cold. Conversely, for you folks with early risers, don't head out too early. A couple hours can make a big difference in temperature and comfort level.
- Duration: The colder it is, the shorter your outside playtime should be. I have taken my kids outside in -20C and colder, but I take frostbite precautions (see below) and limit playtime depending on how they're doing. In milder temperatures, half-day outings may be feasible, but take regular breaks so kids can warm up. This not only ensures everyone's safety, but ensures the kids have fun and want to go out and play in the cold again. : ) We played 20-30 minutes in -20 when they were toddlers, and 2-4 hours when they were 3 & up.
- Location: Stay out of the backcountry when it gets too cold. You may plan to only be out for an hour, and aren't worried about your baby because she's bundled up in the Chariot, but what if you come back to a car that won't start? This happened to my hubby in our pre-kids days. (They had to light a fire under the car to warm the oil pan.) Or, what if you hurt yourself? My friend's friend broke her arm cross country skiing, was in too much pain to ski out and had to wait a few hours in -20C for a helicopter. Those are challenging enough situations for the toughest of us, but being outside for hours in extreme cold could be dangerous for small children.
- Pre-existing health conditions: If you have Raynaud's, you will have to take extra care to dress warmly to avoid Raynaud's spasms. See Surviving Winter with Raynaud's for my tips on keeping warm and pain free. Asthma can also be triggered by dry, cold air. Be sure to carry your rescue inhaler, don't over do it, and protect your airway (a mask with breathing vents is recommended). More tips in Staying Active With Exercise Induced Asthma.
|A scarf / neck warmer doubles as face protection when the weather changes|
- Cover all exposed skin: wear ski goggles to cover the top of your face, and a balaclava, scarf, or neck warmer to cover the rest of your face. If not wearing a balaclava, a hat with earflaps will help protect your ears. Mitts are better than gloves at keeping hands warm; get waterproof mitts for your kids since they always want to play in the snow.
- Do hand checks every half hour (feel their fingers and make sure they're not red) to make sure your child's hands are warm and dry.
- Check your child's body and feet regularly to ensure she is warm and dry. Change any wet articles of clothing immediately.
- Carry hand and foot warmers for very cold weather and use them before pain sets in. A hot water bottle or rice/wheat pack in the stroller bag (not too hot or full) is an affordable, reusable heat pack.
- If the temperature or wind is severe, take shelter. Go indoors if possible. Otherwise, get out of the wind, then set up a tarp or build a snow shelter if necessary. If you are towing a Chariot, close it up completely to protect your little one.
- Bring extra clothes: mitts, hats, fleece layers for the kids, heavy down jacket (I usually wear a light down jacket for activity and pack the heavy down for break time). We always carry extra mitts and socks in case they get wet.
- Keep matches and candles handy in case you get stranded. They can keep a car or snow shelter slightly warmer but be sure to make an air vent or crack the window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
By now, I'm sure you think I'm the most paranoid parent ever, but keep in mind that I used to be an outdoor club coordinator for groups of adults, experienced all sorts of weather/trail conditions, and am pleased to say no one needed medical assistance or an emergency evacuation on my watch.
Winter is wonderful if you are dressed for it. Play safe!
For recommendations on keeping kids warm in winter (what to wear), see this post. Some of our favorite children's snowsuits are in this post. For more tips on keeping warm (keep moving, stay hydrated and fueled, dress appropriately), see this post.