The winter of 2016 / 2017 in Montana is already chillingly beautiful. Whitefish is enjoying some of the best skiing on record, and both Big Sky and Bridger Bowl are open for business. It is a winter wonderland, but it can also be deadly if a person doesn’t respect nature’s brutal cold snaps. There can be dire consequences for those who ignore the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared.”
It’s easy for Montana newcomers to underestimate the near-instant impact on the body in minus twenty degree temperatures. Studies have shown that frostbite can occur in less than 5 minutes in subzero temperatures if the skin is exposed.
Basically, the human body is built to protect vital organs and when it is inhumanly cold, our blood flow is directed to the heart, lungs, and organs, leaving our extremities without the internal warmth of flowing blood. White skin and loss of feeling are two signs of frostbite. Monitoring the weather and common sense goes a long way in protect you, starting with avoiding prolonged exposure. If possible, stay inside. Terrible weather is a great excuse for lighting a fire, making soup, and catching up on projects or reading.
Try not to venture out in the middle of a major snowstorm or cold front. If you are going outdoors, dress appropriately. Layer your clothing and include a hat, gloves, scarf to cover your nose, and wool socks to help prevent hypothermia. Remember, wind chill and humidity levels can make 10 degrees feel like it minus 20. If you’re considering driving, have plenty of gas, good snow tires, a towrope, and even a bag of sand and a small shovel in the trunk in case you slide off an icy road. A warm blanket, a bag of nuts or power bar, and bottle of water is also handy to keep in your car. Avoid driving on unplowed or icy roads if possible, and let someone know where you are headed and when to expect your return.
If a storm is predicted, stock up on fresh foods and your check pantry supplies. Having food in the freezer is a good idea. Many Montana towns, including Bozeman, require homeowners to keep the sidewalks in front of their homes shoveled. There are a surprising number of heart attacks brought about by over exertion while clearing sidewalks. Snow is heavy! Stretch before you pick up the shovel, and go at it slowly, taking a break as needed.
Hopefully you winterized your home in the fall. Sprinklers need to be “blown out,” hoses stored, and seals on windows and doors checked. If you are going out of town for a few days and no one is going to be home, you might consider turning off your water. Burst or frozen water pipes can cause tremendous damage.
Be wary of ice. Slipping and breaking a hip or arm is all too common. Getting in and out of cars can be hazardous as black ice is hard to distinguish. Hold on to the car door until you establish the footing.
Pets also get cold. Don’t leave them in your car for longer than five minutes. In subzero weather, your car becomes a refrigerator. Longhaired dogs generally tolerate the cold better than shorthaired varieties, but all pets are subject to adverse effects from the cold. Their paws get frozen, ice balls cut their paws, and they too freez
e. Bring them indoors, shorter their walks, and provide a dog blanket for older, skinny, and short haired critters.
Winter offers many fun activities like making snowmen, sledding, skiing, snow shoeing, and ice skating. Just remember to dress properly, monitor your exercise levels, and pay attention to the weather and your own inner voice. If you think you might be pushing your limits, then time to go inside, warm up, and enjoy the views out your windows.