This article appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Organic Hudson Valley. (A direct link can be found under Links to Articles).
As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, many people cut back on their exercise and outdoor sports routines as they attempt to avoid the cold. However, those people, as well as the more dedicated athletes who will continue their workout routines right through the cold winter months, regardless of the temperature or bad weather, can still continue to get a reasonable amount of exercise. There are simply a few safety precautions that should be taken to protect the body from outside elements.
The Hudson Valley region has many winter sports that anyone can participate in recreationally, as well as activities for those that are dedicated to their workout routine. Skiing, ice-skating, snowshoeing, tubing and snowboarding are all among the available outdoor winter sports. Additionally, there are tracks, such as the Hudson River Rail trail, where those continuing their workout can keep running or biking right through the winter.
Skiing & Snowboarding
Skiing is a very popular activity across the Hudson Valley and the entire northeast. Classic and cross-country skiing are both widely available for day or weekend trips.
A large number of ski resorts are located in the Adirondacks and upstate New York, and the Hudson Valley Ski Club is an excellent resource for both avid skiers as well as those trying it out for the first time. The club offers many benefits for its members, according to Frank Van Zanten, the Vice President of the Hudson Valley Ski Club. For skiers planning a weekend ski trip or those planning a longer ski trip, the club helps members get better rates than they would on their own. It also provides information to members about upcoming excursions, including club trips, as well as ski instruction through club members who are certified instructors. “Club members can get free instruction from other club members who make themselves available,” Van Zanten said.
“There’s a big advantage for people who don’t know how to go about researching or don’t want to take the time. In addition, there is the benefit of going with a bunch of people,” Van Zanten added. He joined the club after traveling out west and realizing after he returned that if he had gone out as a member of the club, they would have done the research for him on where to go and negotiated reduced rates. The club also counts snowboarders among its members, and in addition to skiing, they also participate in other activities such as going on bicycle rides and kayaking.
Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) is a great day or weekend trip for skiers that also offers skate skiing, which is a form of cross-country skiing with wider level trails. It also uses specialized skis, which are used to carve ‘V’ grooves on a packed surface trail. “Skate skiing was initiated for racing – but many people now find it to be a quality recreational workout,” Brian McDonnell, the director of the VIC, said. “Classic skiing is typically done on narrower – up to four foot wide trails,” McDonnell said, describing the difference between diagonal stride skiing and skate skiing. “It can either be back country type skiing or groomed, where a double track is pressed into the snow using a snowmobile and grooming apparatus.” The trail at Paul Smith College is designed to accommodate both forms of skiing, and has miles of trails for skiers of either preference to choose from.
“There are more classic type skiers who tend to ski shorter distances, while there are fewer skate skiers who tend to ski longer distances,” McDonnell added.
Another great skiing destination for those taking a day or weekend trip is Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center, which includes trails for novices, intermediate and expert skiers.
For a different skiing experience, those taking a weekend trip can head to Titus Mountain, which offers skiing, as well as snowboarding and tubing at night, ‘under the lights.’ “It really is magical and folks who try it for the first time are usually thrilled,” Dene Savage, the Marketing and IT Director of the Titus Mountain Family Ski Center said. “We illuminate our lower mountain.”
Ice skating enthusiasts have many rinks in the Hudson Valley to choose from, including both indoor and outdoor rinks, as well as some that are more child- friendly than others.
Ice Time offers indoor skating for all ages. According to the web site, at Ice Time, “We believe that ice skating is an excellent way for everyone to hang out with friends, get some exercise, and most of all, have fun.” The rink holds a Friday night DJ skate Night as well. The McCann Ice Arena at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center is another indoor skating rink that is open to the public and is kid friendly.
Windham Mountain Resort offers an outdoor skating rink that includes a warming center so you don’t have to worry about losing feeling in your fingers. Orange County Tubing and Winter Sports Park also offers an outdoor skating rink. There isn’t a fee to skate, but rentals aren’t available, so make sure you bring your own skates.
Another popular winter sport, especially after a snowstorm, is snowshoeing. “People jump right on it and they have a lot of fun,” Billy Denton of Overlook Mountain Bikes said of local participants.
Paul Smith’s College VIC also offers snowshoeing. The VIC maintains 10 miles of snowshoe trails to make it easy for people to follow them. “It allows all kinds of people to get out into the woods for an enjoyable walk,” Brian McDonnell said. Participants can “see interesting things and come back for a hot cup of coffee or cocoa.” Trails at the VIC range from very easy to a trail that is a long walk up Jenkins Mountain.
Lapland Lake offers another option for snowshoeing. “It is as simple as strapping on the snowshoes over insulated waterproof snow boots and heading out on the trails,” Ann Hirvonen of the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center said. “Some snowshoe enthusiasts take along poles, others prefer to use just the shoes.”
Snow tubing is another fun activity in the winter. It is offered at Orange County Tubing and Winter Sports Park, as well as at Windham Mountain Resort.
Orange County Snow Tubing & Winter Sports Park, located in the Thomas Bull Memorial Park in Montgomery, New York, has an 800-foot hill with 12 groomed tubing lanes, as well as cable tows that bring you back up the hill. It also has stadium style lights, according to Tom Quinlisk with Orange County Parks, so you can keep having fun even after it gets dark. There is also a smaller hill for sledding located next to the tubing area, though don’t forget to bring your sled, as none are provided.
Windham Mountain Resort has a 650-foot slope that participants ride down by lying flat on a canvas-covered tube, according to their web site. No skill is required other than being able to get in and out of the tube on your own, so it’s great for kids.
For those taking day or weekend trips, Lapland Lake also offers tubing. There is also a lighted facilities open three times each winter around the full moon when night tubing is available.
Bicyclists who mountain bike usually ride on the same trails in all seasons. However, biking in the winter can be a challenge in bad weather. Packed snow can make for a slippery track, with a much higher potential for a spill.
Fortunately, a new style of bike has been built to solve that problem. “There’s a new style of biking that is called, literally, fat biking,” Billy Denter of Overlook Mountain Bikes in Woodstock, New York, said of a new genre of bike called a Pugsley. “It’s like a bicycle snow shoe. You run very low tire pressure. It’s meant for riding on snow.”
Overlook Mountain Bikes rents and sells the new bikes, and while Denter was skeptical at first, he is now an enthusiastic fan. “I was initially less than interested and after I got a couple of rides in, I was really excited. It helps you flow over the terrain,” he said.
The bike has tires that Denter describes as enormous. “It almost looks like a monster truck,” he said. “They look wild. It literally looks like a monster truck.”
“People are blown away by it,” Denter said of the reaction of his customer when they see the bike. “They’ve never seen anything like it.” The bikes have become so popular that Denter ordered the bikes he currently has in stock back in February to ensure the supplier didn’t run out of stock. For those riders not used to biking in snow, a visit to Overlook Mountain Bikes and a ride on a Pugsley might be a great way to try it out.
Health & Injury Prevention
Alternatives to Outdoor Workouts In Bad Weather
Sometimes the weather is just too cold or the snow or freezing rain makes an outdoor workout unfeasible. Other people just really dislike cold weather and don’t want to give up their normal exercise routine until the weather warms up again. In these instances, Dr. Michael Mantell, a behavioral science expert and an ACE Senior Fitness Consultant, has some suggestions to bring your outdoor workout indoors. “Join a gym, start indoor aquatic fitness, spend time with a new mind-body class such as yoga or Pilates,” he said. “Keep in mind that shoveling snow, walking with friends during the lunch hour, taking the stairs, parking farther away in the lot and getting off the subway a few stops early are easy ways to rejuvenate during the work day.”
To prevent weight gain from any changes in your fitness routine, Dr. Mantell, who works as a Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) America Ambassador, which is a non-profit advocacy and education program that is focused on ending the inactivity and obesity crisis, recommends finding new goals during the winter months. “Make them specific, measurable, realistic and set a timeline,” he said. “This is a great way to stay focused and motivated when the weather is not cooperating.”
Preventing and Dealing With Sports Related Injury
With more dangerous weather conditions, such as ice and cold, sports related injury is a concern everyone should take the time to address. By working to prevent an injury before it happens, you reduce the chance of enduring the painful experience and recovery time.
Dr. Scott Weiss is a licensed physical therapist and board certified athletic trainer and exercise physiologist, as well as the owner and clinical director of Bodhizone for Human Performance & Sports Physical Therapy in New York City. He recommends increasing warm up time before exercise to ten minutes rather than the usually accepted five minutes. Additionally, dress in three protective layers that include a wicking layer, fleece layer and a shell layer, as well as switching to more rugged sneakers or cross trainers to deal with terrain changes, such as a frozen ground.
The most common winter sports related injury is a head injury occurring secondarily to a fall. “Wearing a helmet while skiing, snowboarding and cycling can aid in trauma abatement to the brain,” Dr. Weiss said.
Other common injuries include hypothermia or frostbite, which are easily prevented by “simply understanding the layering concept, having extra pairs of gloves and socks, and the proper prior planning.”
An injury that many people do not think about is involuntary dehydration. “Sometimes in the cold air and chilly days we tend not to be as hot and one may think they do not need as much water during exercise. This is not true. We lose so much water through breathing and sweating that one must go out of the way to purposely drink water to prevent the all too common winter dehydration,” Dr. Weiss said. He recommends trying to drink between a half-gallon and a gallon of water a day.
If an injury is sustained, applying ice for the first 24 to 48 hours is extremely important to control swelling. Visit a physical therapist to diagnose the specific injury, though rest is usually the first step in the recovery process, followed by gradually reintegrating the activity back into your routine. Remember to start slowly, make sure to stretch, and make a concerted effort not to compensate for the injury with other parts of your body. This will help avoid any secondary issues that could result from the initial injury as a result of trying to go too fast in the recovery process.
Protect Against Temperature
Exercising outdoors in winter has the added challenge of protecting the body from colder temperatures. “Since exercise generates a great deal of heat, dress in layers – try wearing thin, insulating layers to wick away moisture from your skin rather than cotton materials,” Dr. Mantell recommends.
When dressing for outdoor sports, it’s important to keep in mind that almost 50 percent of body heat is lost through the head, so a hat is vitally important to keeping warm. An additional 30 percent of body heat can be lost through extremities like hands and feet, so gloves and heavy socks, as well as waterproof shoes, if appropriate, are great additions to winter workout gear.
“Stay hydrated!” Dr. Mantell emphasized. “Even in the cold your body sweats so it’s important to keep yourself hydrated during workouts.” For those that partake in a lunchtime or midday drink, alcohol decreases the body’s ability to retain heat, so it’s a good idea to abstain on days that you plan to participate in physical activity.
There are some general precautions that those participating in outdoor physical activity should keep in mind. “First and foremost, avoid participating in winter sports alone. Be sure your strength and cardio levels are ready for the extra resistance of many snowy, winter activities. Beginning with warmed-up muscles is important,” Dr. Mantell said. Most importantly for anyone beginning a new outdoor exercise routine, make sure to check with your doctor. Many conditions, among them angina and asthma, can be exacerbated by cold weather.
“Even with all of these extra conditions to think about, winter workouts are good for you!” Dr. Mantell said. He cites a study by The Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, which found that regular cold-weather training boosts the immune system and cuts the risk of illnesses by 20 to 30 percent. “Staying fit during the cold winter months can actually help thaw the winter blues and defeat seasonal affective disorder. Getting outside to exercise and enjoying the crisp air gives you a chance to literally detox the mind and body.”
Winter can present challenges to protecting your eyes that many may not even think about until it’s too late and they have a problem, such as photo keratitis, which is often referred to as “snow blindness” and is a kind of corneal sunburn. “This condition can be quite painful and can leave eyes feeling tired, sore and gritty, like having sand in your eyes,” Dr. Susan Resnick, O.D. F.A.A.O., a New York based optometrist, said. To prevent running into a situation like that, it’s important to make sure to use optimum eye protection to protect your eyes from damaging UV rays. While UV radiation may be lower overall during the winter months compared to the summer, the overall exposure a person faces may actually double in winter months.
“For optimum comfort from glare off the surface of the snow and ice, I recommend polarized wrap-around sunglasses,” Dr. Resnick said. For those that wear contact lenses, there are UV filtering contact lenses available. “Frolicking in the snow also exposes us to the potential danger of being hit with a snowball or melting ice. Sunglasses or sports goggles work well for protection in these instances.”
Without protection, eyes are left vulnerable to wind, which can cause ocular dryness, making eyes feel uncomfortable and tired. To prevent this, Dr. Resnick recommends treating eyes with transient-preserved or preservative-free artificial tears. This “can help prevent any further irritation that may be caused by introducing preservatives into the eyes.” Dr. Resnick recommends that contact lens wearers use a lens that has UV-ray blocking properties and that provides moisture, “which permanently embeds a higher volume of a moisture-rich wetting agent, resulting in a more wettable contact lens for all-day comfort.”
Keep in mind that the head and eyes are the most exposed areas during the winter. “When participating in outdoor sports, I recommend that a person wears sunglasses or snow goggles that block at least 99 percent of UV rays and wrap around the sides of the head to keep UV radiation from hitting the eyes from the periphery,” Dr. Resnick said. She also recommends helmets or hats that cover the top of the head.
Skin care protection
Many people forget that even in the winter, skin is susceptible to dangerous UV rays that can contribute to skin cancer. Cold and overcast weather does not change this, as 80 percent of the sun’s rays can penetrate the clouds. It’s also important to remember that many outdoor surfaces, such as water, snow, concrete and sand can reflect sunlight, intensifying sun exposure, even in winter. “Specifically, snow can reflect up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays,” Dr. David J. Leffell, the Chief of Dermatology and Surgery and Professor of Dermatology & Surgery at the Yale School of Medicine said. In comparison, sea foam generally reflects 25 percent, while sand only reflects about 15 percent of UV radiation.
“I can’t stress enough that sun protection is essential every day, regardless of the season,” Dr. Leffell said. “Because the basics of skincare apply year-round, simple modifications can help you transition to an appropriate routine for winter.” He also recommends lightweight and non-greasy sun protection, and stresses the importance of reapplying. “Reapplication is key because UV rays reach the Earth’s surface 365 days a year. Some UV rays can even penetrate through clouds and window glass in some cases, and so can contribute to skin cancer development as well as premature skin aging.” This is true regardless of skin type.
Dr. Leffell suggests incorporating a heavier moisturizer into your daily routine, as skin is more prone to dryness during the colder months, not only from the outside air, but also as a result of hot showers, indoor heating and frequent hand washing. Dryer skin can exacerbate some skin conditions so a sunscreen formula that is non-greasy and hypoallergenic and won’t irritate skin will work best.
For itchy skin, bath products containing oatmeal can be soothing. Dr. Leffell also warns against overuse of soap. “Use it more sparingly in winter months, and try to reserve for areas that sweat most, like underneath your arms,” he said. Another suggestion is to try a non-soap cleanser.
After an outdoor workout, using a bath soak that contains oatmeal can be a calming and relaxing way to end your day, both mentally and physically.