Before heading out onto the trails, you need to outfit yourself in the correct snowmachining clothing. Make sure you have layers on to protect yourself. Select your clothing carefully, paying special attention to the current and predicted weather, and preparing for the worst. Check not only the temperatures, but also the wind chill. You can virtually eliminate the danger of frostbite and hypothermia if you’re prepared with the proper clothing for the conditions.
The clothing you wear underneath your suit is crucial to staying warm while you’re riding. On cold days, layers can provide a barrier from the cold, wind chill and frostbite. If you have too many layers on, you can always remove them during your journey, but if you don’t have enough on before you start, you can’t add any later. (You can always carry extra clothing but taking off layers and losing heat while re-dressing should be avoided if possible.)
The first layer should be long underwear that allows your body to breathe. This layer should be lightweight, and not tight or restrictive. A couple of light layers add much better protection than one heavy layer. Cotton should never be worn as the first layer or as any layer since it does not wick moisture created by perspiration away from the body, does not dry and stays wet and/or freezes once it is wet. Polyester blends, silk or other synthetic blends are recommended because they dry quicker and wick moisture away from the skin. Fleece, wool or polyester tops and bottoms are the best choices. Cotton sweatshirts, t-shirts and jeans, cotton long underwear, and cotton socks should never be worn.
FRC (Flame Retardant Clothing) parkas and bibs are provided for all employees on the Slope. These are excellent outerwear garments and when combined with proper under-layers, will protect riders from cold, wind chill and frostbite. There are many man-made materials that provide good insulation, and there is always goose down, successfully used for years. Whatever you choose, make sure that it is tough enough to handle the arctic environment. Hoods with fur ruffs can really help. The air in the “snorkel” warms up enough to breath comfortably.
Facemasks are important to have on very cold days to prevent frostbite. (Many of us have a specific temperature – including wind-chill – that we know is our cutoff point when a facemask is needed.) If your helmet is not full-faced, a facemask is a must. If not normally worn when riding, a facemask is always important to have stored in an inside pocket, where it will stay warm, in case the weather worsens. Balaclava facemasks made of thin polyester, silk or other synthetic fabrics are lightweight, less bulky, more comfortable, and often preferred over knit stocking cap style facemasks. Technology is coming up with some very effective and comfortable facemasks for cold weather travelers.
Neoprene face masks are also useful, particularly when combined with another thin facemask. Some varieties have a “snorkel-nose” to deflect exhalations from goggles, helping to minimize fogging problems. The neoprene masks work much better against the wind also.
Eye protection is part of our normal, everyday PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). When riding snowmachines, some form of eye protection is essential and may include a helmet face-shield, goggles or safety glasses. They protect the eyes from kicked-up snow and ice from other snowmachines, and protect your eyes from watering from the wind and cold, or in extreme weather, from getting frostbitten. Strange as that sounds, frostbite of the eyeballs is not unheard of.
Goggles, sunglasses or visors with colored lenses for bright days are indispensable. Amber or yellow colored lenses are very useful during late afternoon, dark or “twilighty” conditions. These amber lenses, when used in the correct light conditions, can reveal problems in your path that you would have otherwise missed completely. Take as many different varieties of lenses out with you as possible and find what works best for you.
No snowmachiner should ride without gloves. Some choose mittens, which can be the warmest, to protect their hands. The problem with mittens of course, it the lack of manual dexterity while using them. Always purchase gloves or mittens that allow your hands to operate the controls freely, repel water and wind, and keep your hands warm. Fleece or wool glove liners worn as a layer with regular over-gloves can help you adjust for changes in the conditions, since you can always add or remove the liners. Be prepared in case the grip warmers on the snowmachine should malfunction.
Gauntlets are available and offer excellent protection from wind and cold. These are “mittens” that attach to the handlebars and into which you put your glove-covered hands. Gauntlets are highly recommended for snowmachining in the arctic!
When selecting socks, select carefully and NEVER wear cotton! Good sock choices include thin nylon, polypropylene, fleece, wool or synthetic blends. Wool or fleece is best for keeping a good warm insulation value on your feet. Make sure your socks fit properly and don’t squish your feet or ball up underneath causing pressure points. When you feel your feet getting cold, it is time to change your socks. Bring an extra pair along with you to change if needed. If possible, these should also be carried in an inside pocket, or at least somewhere where they won’t accumulate any of the snow dust that always kicks up while riding.
If you need to change socks while working in the field, make sure someone is there to lend assistance if needed. You’ll need to walk around to warm your feet up after changing socks and rapid but controlled movement is the best way to do so.
Good boots are imperative for a safe day of snowmachine travel and work. Boots keep your feet warm, comfortable, and protected from moisture, wind and other outside elements. The best material for boots is a combination of materials that includes a rubber waterproof bottom with a good lug sole for traction; a nylon or synthetic upper that is high enough and fastens to repel snow; and a removable, breathable liner made of wool, fleece or synthetic material that wicks perspiration away from the foot.
Some boot soles become very hard in cold temperatures, making walking on anything other than snow, very problematic. Buy boots that retain some “softness” to the soles regardless of the temperature. Make sure your boots do not let in any water, but allow your feet to “breath” or let out moisture. Choose boots that fit well and are comfortable for a long day of riding and working. They should not feel tight or restrictive when worn. Boots that are too tight, can cut off circulation and your feet may become frostbitten without you even being aware of it.
Take the time to find a good outfitter and find the size and type that works best for you. The days of only “Bunny Boots” working in extreme cold are long gone. Try Cabela’s, REI or Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking for starters.
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