What makes the difference between a good day on the mountain and a bad day? No, it’s not necessarily the weather or even the snow conditions. They are important of course, but for me – and countless other cold feet sufferers – it’s how warm you are.
I once sat on a broken-down chair-lift for an hour in high winds and sub-zero temperatures on the Tignes glacier in early December. After a while, all feeling went from my feet and when I got back to the hotel and gingerly took off my ski boots, I discovered the early stages of frostbite.
When my toes started to thaw I was in such throbbing agony that I thought I might faint. Since then my feet have remained ultra-sensitive to the cold, which I’m sure sounds familiar to a lot of skiers.
“If your boots fit properly your feet won’t get cold,” is what the ski boot fitters tell you. Yes, true for many people. Not for me or for others who have either experienced frostbite or have poor circulation. It’s a constant battle to keep the feeling in our toes when temperatures drop. Here are five tips that might just help:
Get some decent socks
Ski socks are padded in various places – including the shin and Achilles tendon areas – and should protect your feet from pressure points and rubbing inside the boots. You’ll need socks that are specially manufactured for skiing or snowboarding and nothing else. Normal socks and even sports socks are not OK. The socks need to be able to quickly transport the moisture away from your skin, so they should be made from wool, bamboo or mixed with an artificial fibre (see below). Feet that can breath won’t get wet and therefore stay much warmer.
Thick socks keep you warmer: true or false? False. Thin socks allow a micro-cushion of warm air to be trapped between your foot and the liner. Thick socks also seriously interfere with your skiing. When you tell your legs to turn, you don’t want a pause in the transfer of energy while your sock compresses again the boot! Racers wear the thinnest of socks – or no socks at all.
Always try new or rental ski boots on with your own ski socks to make sure they fit comfortably. And never ever wear two pairs, which will certainly restrict the circulation. As Henrik Enarsson of Skistar at Are in the Arctic Circle says:
“Too many layers of socks would lead to tighter boots which in its turn leads to cold toes. But this is not the whole truth; cold feet could also mean that your boots are too big”. He adds: “If your boots are too big you will keep pinching your toes and tightening your feet and thereby hampering the blood circulation. It is essential to find boots that fit well…”
The Icebreaker Women’s Ski+ mid sock is a comfortable and highly breathable sock, 80% merino wool, 16% nylon, 4% elastane. From Snow+Rock.
The SmartWool PhD® Ski Medium features a medium-cushioned shin and foot, 70% Merino Wool, 28% Nylon, 2% Elastane. From Ellis Brigham.
PhD Snowboard Medium socks have cushioning and warmth. They are premium Merino wool from New Zealand and come in some funky colour mixes. From Ellis Brigham.
Understand the different fibres
Silk is a natural insulator that is sometimes blended with wool for softness. It offers a smooth texture against the skin. Sidas have Premium Silk Socks.
Silver can be used in conjunction with other materials. It keeps the heat in and the smell out. X-Socks are made from a fabric that includes thousands of loops of pure silver; we’ve tested them ourselves and they’ll certainly keep you warm and smell-free. For further details visit their website.
Artificial/technical fibres rapidly transport moisture away from the skin. Polyamide and polypropylene are frequently-used fibres that wick away moisture to keep your feet dry. Remember, cotton absorbs moisture so does not wick well.
Should you buy some boot warmers?
You’ve seen and possibly used those throw-away handwarmers that look a bit like tea bags? Well, boot warmers are the same – but bigger. Personally, I don’t see how to fit them in your boots and remain comfortable, but I am waiting for someone to tell me otherwise.
Splash out on boot heaters
Since I discovered boot heaters I can’t imagine skiing without them. They used to cost a small fortune but these days they’re much more affordable. They’re also more reliable then they used to be. The three main brands are Therm-ic, Sidas and Hotronics, and all come complete with rechargeable batteries you clip onto the outside of your ski boots.
The batteries should last all day unless you have them on the very hottest setting. If you remember to switch them off at lunchtime you’ll save on power. Get a specialist boot fitter to insert them into your boots – they go in the space between the liner and the shell or, if you have footbeds, they can be threaded through them.
Hotronic E3 Footwarmer Universal Power Plus, is easy to install and can be transferred from one pair of footwear to another. Four temperature-duration settings. Snow+Rock.
Use a boot dryer or hotdryer bag
It is enormously important to dry out your boots at the end of the skiing day. If they feel at all wet, remove the liners and sit them next to or under (but never on) the radiator. You can store your boots overnight on boot driers – if your chalet, hotel or apartment has them. It makes a big difference putting on toasty warm boots first thing in the morning.
Just to make sure you have a boot dryer to hand you can buy your own and plug it in your hotel room. Hotronic Snapdry dries and pre-warms footwear and gloves in 60 minutes – and minimises bacteria. Snow+Rock.
Alternatively there’s the hotdryer Boot Bag, which is a light ski boot warming bag that comes with a hotdryer, which you can use to in the car or in the chalet. To use it you plug in the hotdryer and two blowers automatically puff hot air into the bottom of your boots. Details from Sidas Sport.
Also see our features on buying the perfect ski jacket (women), features every ski jacket needs (men and women), and ski base layers. If you have any other ideas for keeping your feet warm, please share them with us!