Winter Wisdom and Snow Safety

It's a fact... not only can freezing weather be extremely uncomfortable, it can be dangerous. Denying that can not only lead to some serious discomfort, it may even lead to death. Sorry to be all doom and gloom about your winter wonderland, but with snow falling all in most of the U.S. and our northern neighbors, it's important to know how to deal with it the right way to make sure that you get to see the light of spring. After all, if the Eskimo's can live in impossibly cold temperatures, you should be able to survive a mild freezing.

From making the trip from your front door to your snow covered car to a weekend ride through the snowy trails on your snowmobile, there are a few basic rules that any snow dweller should follow. For instance, running around in your jockeys during the first winter snow may have be hilarious when you were in college, but any exposed skin (whether it be your whole body or that pesky sliver of skin between your pants and jacket) should be avoided at all costs. Skin that is exposed to the cold for a period of time will probably be painful and is often accompanied by the much dreaded frostbite (aka frostnip). While mild frostbite isn't particularly threatening, keep an eye out for it and check skin for red, white, grayish-yellow or possibly a waxy appearance that can range from painful to itchy to prickly. But proper snow attire and gear is always the best preventative. Make sure that every cell of your skin is covered and pay extra attention to areas that could have gaps.

A lot of times, people who aren't familiar with the ways of wicked winters think that frostbite and hypothermia are related. While proper gear and protection can reduce the risk of both, the two are very different. Frostbite ails the outer-most layer of a person: the skin while hypothermia affects the core of a person; it's not necessarily caused by direct skin contact with the cold air but happens when a person's body loses heat faster than it can produce it and their temperature drops below 95 degrees F.

While you will usually feel or notice the affect of frostbite, hypothermia can often go unnoticed by the person experiencing it. If you're in a group of people, everyone should be keeping their eyes peeled for the telltale signs of hypothermia. They typically suffer from uncontrollable shivering, lethargy and less coordination than normal. If you notice any of this, don't panic. While hypothermia is dangerous and can be life threatening if it goes untreated for long enough, most cases won't kill you.

In order to get a hypothermic person back up to heat, they'll need some gentle TLC. And by gentle we mean that their body will need to be brought back up to its normal temperature slowly and gradually. Rubbing or massaging the person isn't actually recommended. Instead, remove any wet or moist clothing and cover them with something dry and warm, preferably blankets though other articles of clothing will work if blankets aren't available to you. And while it may seem like a good idea at the time, increasing their body heat rapidly may cause cardiac arrest. Avoid direct heat such as warm water or heating lamps. Even if they don't cause a heart attack, these could easily damage their cold skin.

It is, however, a fantastic idea to give them a warm beverage but try to avoid loading it up with alcohol. While there is the common misconception that alcohol warms you up because of that nice warming sensation it gives your belly, it actually increases the chances of hypothermia, particularly in people over 65 or young children. And this doesn't just apply to those already suffering from hypothermia. While you're out in the cold, refrain from warming your belly with alcohol as it will make it easier for your body to lose heat and harder for your body to replace it.

Let's add water to the equation. Many states that enjoy the perk of a white Christmas have a plethora of lakes, rivers and streams that may or may not freeze during the winter season. It's always a good idea to keep up on ice conditions in your area via local businesses and local news. If you're visiting a snowy area and are unfamiliar with the conditions, check with your resort or hotel for any information on ice that might be in the area. When traveling, do your best to stick to plowed or marked areas. If you're in a car, this may be a lot easier than if you're traveling by snowmobile. Either way, stay within the speed limit no matter how late you're running to dinner at your in-laws' and never drive faster than your field of vision, especially at night or in a storm. You never want to be going so fast that by the time you spot a patch of ice or water it's too late to stop. And always have with you an emergency snow kit with the proper tools, such as an ice pick, to get you out of a jam.

With any type of vehicle, intersections or road crossings are always some of the most dangerous road areas all year round. But in winter, the danger factor is heightened due to less visibility and reduced traction. Plus the smaller you are, as in small cars or snowmobiles, the less chance you'll be spotted, particularly if you're vehicle of choice is white. Everyone should be sure to come to a complete stop at all intersections and check extensively for traffic. In particularly bad conditions, it's not a bad idea for snowmobile riders to even dismount form their sleds to look around embankments or corners for oncoming traffic.

If you're riding a snowmobile through trails whether for pleasure or because it's just the best way to get through a snow covered town, you'll be more likely to come across ice hazards or open water than cars, which primarily stick to groomed roads. If you're trekking along and suddenly realize that it's ice that you're riding on, do not stop and do not get off your snowmobile. With ice, it's not the total weight of an object but the weight of a particular surface area that is more important. While you and your snowmobile may weigh more than just you alone, getting off of it will increase the amount of concentrated weight in one surface area and make the ice more likely to give underneath you. Keep your weight spread out and keep it moving.

But the only thing worse than ice is open water. If suddenly you find yourself riding through open water, keep riding at the same speed or even increase your speed until you reach the other side. Your sled and its skis will be able to coast right over the surface of the water if you're at a high enough speed.

If you end up in the water, don't panic. Remember the 1-10-1 rule. First, take 1 minute to concentrate on your breathing and get it back under control while trying to swim toward the thickest part of ice that you can reach. Then, try to lift or wiggle yourself out of the water and roll onto the ice and away from the water. If you can't get yourself out in that ten minutes, remember that you have 1 full hour before the cold becomes life threatening. Until then, it is best to conserve your energy and wait for help by keeping your head out of the water. To make this easier, try to lift at least your arms onto the ice and freeze them to it to hold you up.

Snowy and icy conditions make for a beautiful winter, but they certainly add a lot of safety factors to a person's travel regardless of if they're in a car or riding a snowmobile. Know the conditions of your area before you step out of the house and be prepared. After all, we all want to be in top shape when spring hits and your motorcycle is ready to ride once again.

Winter Motorcycle and Snowmobile Gear:

heated gloves face masks heated jackets

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