Brrrrr! Make that a double-brrrrr for toes that feel like glaciers and fingers that have turned to stone.
The thrill of skiing may be the dashing swoop down a snow-covered slope, but reality is the shivers: It's cold on the mountain tops of West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New England. It isn't toasty warm in the Rocky Mountain highs, either, where weathermen predict the coldest ski season ever.
You can, of course, avoid the chills by cozying up to the base lodge, settling in near the fire's glow and staying within easy reach of hot chocolate or hot buttered rum. But if you paid $23 for a lift ticket, you need a long-range plan. COLD DRESSING
Once your body is cold, your circulatory system sends out a message: Cut down the blood supply to arms and legs; save it for the vital organs. The Metropolitan Ski Patrol has an acronym, C-O-L-D, for the way to dress in the frigid outdoors.
* C is for clean -- that applies to clothes and skin; neither should be clogged with dirt or oil.
* O is for open -- open-weave clothing traps air and keeps body warmth in.
* L is for layers -- trapped air between layers of clothing provides warmth.
* D is for dry -- water conducts heat loss; wet means cold. When the temperatures at Snowshoe plunge below zero and the wind on the top of the mountain howls, Jim McIlroy, director of Snowshoe's ski school, layers up with a T-shirt topped by a turtleneck, topped by a sweater, topped by a light vest, topped by a down jacket that's big enough to accommodate the layers. He also wears two or three pairs of long underwear beneath nylon-coated, waterproof and windproof pants. He won't wear stretch pants, even those with wool in them, because he finds they aren't good wind blockers. McIlroy tops off his outfit with a warm hat. Since an uncovered head accounts for 40 percent heat loss in cold weather, a warm head means a warm heart. McIlroy's down parka is probably the warmest jacket he could wear, but for skiers who fall in the snow a lot, it may not be best. Once down becomes wet, the fibers become matted and no longer insulate efficiently. Man-made copycats, such as Thinsulate and Polar Gard, provide almost as much warmth without letting a skier down if they get wet. COLD HANDS, COLD HEART
Hands stay warmer in mittens rather than gloves. Mittens let your fingers stay together and comfort each other. Down mittens are warmest of all but, as with parkas, once the leather-covered down is damp, they lose their warm-ability. Leather gloves or mittens lined with Thinsulate are a better bet for the skier whose hands will be making regular contact with the snow. New on the market are fabric gloves insulated with Thinsulate and lined with Gore- Tex, a waterproof, breathable material that keeps water droplets out while allowing smaller perspiration vapors to escape. Since, in theory, the gloves stay drier, they should be warmer. When Bill Montag is out on the slopes coaching the Ski Liberty/Ski Haus racing team, he stands around a lot -- just as weekend skiers do on lift lines. That's when he pulls on Mylar liners -- shimmery, silver gloves worn underneath a glove or mitten. The Mylar liners, he says, provide the extra measure of warmth he needs when he isn't moving around much. Gloves are only part of the cure for cold hands. "In our ski school classes we often find our students are tense and holding on to their poles for dear life," says Sigi Grottendorfer, director of the ski school at Sugarbush in Vermont. "This cuts off circulation and makes their hands cold. We try to help them relax so they won't be so cold." Sigi also suggests that when you're on a lift line or riding the chair lift, you should clap your hands together, wiggle your fingers, make a fist. Exercise encourages circulation and keeps the fingers warmer. FREEZING FEET
There's one quick, sure-fire method for warming your hands: Bring them inside the base lodge and wrap them around a hot cup of coffee. Cold feet don't lend themselves to as speedy a cure. The best way to keep your feet warm is to start out with warm feet. That means your apres-ski boots should be well insulated and high enough so that snow in the parking lot doesn't fall into them and wet your feet. You should also keep your ski boots indoors overnight and in the car rather than the trunk when you drive to the slopes. "Cold boots never get warm," Grottendorfer says. The plastic conducts frigid outdoor temperatures directly to your soft, warm feet. Also when you bring cold boots indoors, condensation forms inside them, and that's not condusive to warm, dry feet. "Some skiers have cold feet because their feet perspire when they're active," Adam Kahane of the Ski Center in Washington, points out. Kahane, who's had 50 years experience on the ski slopes, notes that the sweat accummulates and, when the skier is less active -- sitting on a chair lift, waiting in a lift line -- the feet start to feel very cold. "It's not unusual for people to think their boots leak, but that's rarely the case today with plastic boots. More often than not, the reason is perspiration." The cure is an Olefin sock liner that wisks moisture away from the foot to the outer sock and thus keeps the foot dry. It's also a good idea to bring an extra pair of socks to the slopes so that a change is available. A boot that's too snug can also cause cold feet. "There's a lot of talk about brands and styles and which boots are warm and which are cold, but the biggest difference is proper fit. If the boot squeezes your foot, it cuts off your circulation and you get cold feet," Grottendorfer says. Remember, if your boot fits well with one pair of socks, doubling up in cold weather may be counterproductive. Ski muffs are a better idea. These are insulated "mittens" for boots. If you zip them over a warm (room temperature) boot, they'll keep the boot flexible and warm outdoors for several hours. Ninety percent of Sugarbush's ski instructors wear them on cold days, Grottendorfer reports. At Whiteface, which Montag calls the coldest ski resort in the East, the entire ski-racing coaching staff uses them. For those with feet that won't stay warm any other way, there are battery-operated boot heaters: inner soles with wires that run up your leg to a battery pack you keep on your waist. When your feet get cold, you turn the heater on. A 10-minute blast from the battery while you're riding the lift should keep your toes warm for the run down. As with hands, it helps to keep toes warm by exercising them. Curl them up and wiggle them while you're riding the chair. Jump up and down when you're on the lift line. Sometimes the only way to warm cold feet is to head indoors, loosen the boots and warm the toes by hand. It also helps to walk around in your stocking feet, but since base lodge floors are rarely free of puddles of melting snow, socks can get wet. Be sure you have a dry pair of socks on hand if you go for a stroll. CHILLED CHEEKS
In sub-zero weather, frostbite on the face is a problem. Frostbite appears as little white spots on cheeks, chin, earlobes or the tip of the nose. At many ski areas, lift operators and ski instructors check skiers' faces for warning signs. If you're skiing with friends, check each other out before each run. If white spots appear, head inside as soon as you can. In the meantime, cover the white spots with your hand so that body warmth can reach the exposed skin. You can tap the skin lightly, but don't rub hard. Even without frostbite, a cold face is uncomfortable. The worst suffering is on be useless. He pulls the gaiter over his chin for warmth. Only when he's extremely cold does he pull it up over his nose and then, only for a minute or two. Face masks are a less attractive alternative. Knit ski masks draw attention, much of it unwanted, and let the wind come right through. Of more functional use is a neoprane mask, a rubber-like mold that fits over your face, leaving appropriate holes for seeing and breathing. These are the warmest solution, if you don't mind looking like a hockey goalie. KEEP-COZY CHECKLIST
Here are some other stay-warm tips from the experts:
* Wind is a worse enemy than cold. When you're standing on a lift line or pausing for breath during a downhill run, try to keep the wind at your back.
* Even if the temperatures are below zero, the sun can keep you warm. Try to ride chair lifts that face into the sun and keep the sun on your face when you're waiting for a lift.
* Keep your body well fueled with several small meals. Eat more than you usually would, especially carbohydrates -- you'll burn up the calories -- but don't overstuff yourself.
* Stay away from alcohol. It only warms you momentarily. Then it brings on chills.
* Try not to smoke. Nicotine constricts blood vessels.
* Don't walk outside the base lodge without your parka on -- even if it's just to move your skis or check your car. Your body won't like the shock and will have a tough time warming up again.
* When it's very cold, make frequent stops in the base lodge to get warm. Don't wait until you're freezing to do it.
* When it's sub-zero at the base of the mountain, consider cross-country skiing. You don't have to go to the colder top of the mountain to do it or sit and freeze in a chair lift. Once you get moving on cross-country skis, you'll have to worry more about being too warm than too cold.