Fight the Bite! Tips for Frostbite Prevention and Treatment // Helpful Ski Hints

Fight the Bite! Tips for Frostbite Prevention and Treatment: Lead Image

Despite being March 24th, it was cold as ever at Stowe this past weekend, with wind chill values as low as -8 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a solid reminder that even though the sun was out and it’s mid March, frostbite is still a real possibility, worthy of a discussion here on Chairlift Chat.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite happens when body tissue freezes during exposure to cold temperatures and wind. Fingers, toes, ears and the nose are most commonly affected by frostbite, since they’re harder to keep warm in the cold. It’s important to watch the weather, dress appropriately and seek immediate attention if you suspect frostbite has occurred.

How to Protect Against Frostbite:

Bundle up, apply a protective coating of Dermatone to you nose and cheeks and throw on a neck / face warmer. Keeping covered up will help against the wind and cold temperatures. But be careful you don’t want to end up looking like Randy unable to put your arms down!

The Signs of Frostbite:

Let’s say it happens. You’re out having a blast on the slopes, when all of the sudden your friend tells you that your nose or cheeks are looking awfully pale or red. That’s the first sign of frostbite, and is known as “frostnip.” The affected area also might feel a prickling or numbness. At this point, you’re still okay if you seek shelter immediately. Frostnip has no long term effects, but if ignored, it can worsen in a hurry.

Left in the cold, frostnip will quickly transition into “superficial frostbite.” This is the second stage of frostbite, and when things start to get more severe. At this stage, the skin will turn white or pale. The skin will likely remain soft, but ice crystals will actually start forming in your skin tissue. Despite freezing, you may actually start to feel warmth in the affected area.

If the affected area remains in the cold even longer, superficial frostbite will become full blown frostbite. As the condition worsens, it’ll begin affecting all of the layers of your skin. The affected person will experience numbness, inability to feel the cold, as well as pain or discomfort. If allowed to progress, frostbite can completely disable a person’s joints or muscles which is ultimately the greatest danger. Upon rewarming the skin, the frostbitten area will form large blisters 24-48 hours later. Additionally, the affected area will harden and turn black as the tissue dies. When you hear the horror stories of people loosing the tips of their ears, fingers, or other extremities, it’s because of this dying tissue.

What to Do if You Get Frostbite:

So what do you do if you start getting frostbite? Well first and foremost, seek shelter. In most cases if you’re on the slopes, the lodge is just one run away. If you’re more adventurous, you may need to hunker down and be resourceful to bring warmth to the affected area.

In the event that you can make it inside, one of the best ways to warm the area is by letting it soak in hot water. You will want to be sure that the water isn’t too hot though, as that could lead to scalding of the skin. Once the area is warmed, keep an eye out for blistering over the course of the next couple of days. If none form, then you’re in the clear! If they do, then you may need to see a doctor or cover the area with a bandage to prevent the possibility of the blister popping and becoming infected.

If you’re already aware that you have severe frostbite, then the best thing to do is seek medical help immediately. Extreme frostbite may need special medical attention and should be treated by a doctor.

And that’s about all there is to know about frostbite! Despite its seriousness, frostbite is typically easy to spot and treat when you’re on the hill. In most instances, it won’t progress past frostnip. However, it’s still important to know the signs so you’re ready to act should it happen to you. Now bundle up and get out there!


Written by Megan Davin on 3/24/15