Cold-weather sports lovers, rejoice.
With El Niño threatening to bring major snowfall throughout the season, many California mountain resorts have already transformed into a winter wonderland. For Angelenos who don't ski or snowboard, family-friendly activities including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and ice-skating are a way to join in the fun. Now, winter sports send more than 440,000 people a year to hospitals, emergency rooms and doctor's offices for injuries. But you don't need to be among them if you follow these 11 expert tips for staying safe out there:
1. Go slow. Winter sports can be rigorous. Unless you've been putting in hours of aerobic work and strength-training for months, you should probably take it easy, says Dr. Jim Stray-Gundersen, adviser to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn. "Trying a new, vigorous sport that one hasn't done in a while, one is likely to get sore muscles and is also more susceptible to injury if unfamiliar with the demands of the sport."
2. Take an introductory lesson. "The best advice is to take the time to enjoy these new activities gradually, doing a little bit the first day and building from there," he added.
3. Watch the altitude — and stay hydrated. Let's face it, Angelenos aren't used to high altitudes of 8,000 feet or more. Watch out for symptoms such as headache, fatigue, nausea and difficulty breathing. He says the prescription drug Diamox can help. But he adds, "good hydration is the No. 1 piece of advice. It replaces the water one loses breathing harder and sweating." You might also consider acclimating by spending one night at a slightly lower altitude (5,000-7,000 feet) before heading higher, said Dr. Benjamin D. Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
4. Protect yourself from the elements. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat, and dressing in layers of clothes designed for the environment, should be a given.
5. Avoid the adult beverages. "As tempting as it is … excessive consumption of alcohol is the No. 1 factor ruining a nice mountain vacation. It dehydrates you and reduces your physical abilities that are already being challenged," Stray-Gundersen says.
6. But eat up. He advises complex carbohydrates to keep the body fueled for the day's activities.
7. Don't be a weekend warrior. Don't push beyond your skill level, Levine said. "Sports like cross-country or snowshoeing are less intrinsically dangerous, but the backcountry has its own dangers, especially in avalanche-prone conditions."
8. If you're tired, rest. "So often we hear people say their injury happens the last run of the day, which is basically saying that fatigue became a factor," says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Terry Orr of Tahoe Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Among the most common: Knee injuries, and damage to wrists, arms and shoulders.
9. Keep an eye on the weather forecast. "Participating in winter sports in California, you're luckier than in the rest of the country. We have so much more sunshine. But be aware of changing conditions as the weather warms up. The snow before a storm is different than the snow after a storm," Orr said. And if you're ice-skating on a lake, be aware of changing ice thickness.
10. Safety first: Don't participate alone in a winter sport, and make sure someone knows where you're going — and when you're expected to return. Check that equipment is working properly; heed trail warnings; seek shelter and medical attention immediately if you're experiencing hypothermia or frostbite; and be aware of proper procedures for getting help if injuries occur.
11. Make sure you've got a fully charged smartphone with you. And setting up a "find my friend"-type app wouldn't be a bad idea.
When playing outdoors in the colder weather, whether you're in Lake Tahoe or at a rink in Los Angeles, fitness is a welcome perk amid the fun. Don't believe us? The number of calories you burn depends on your size and how hard you're working out, but these estimates give you a good idea:
Cross-country skiing You can incinerate 1,000 calories an hour with this intense, whole-body workout.
Snowshoeing with poles The poles make this an upper and lower body workout. Expect to torch 800 calories an hour.
Alpine skiing This mostly lower-body workout melts about 600 calories an hour.
Ice-skating All that skating around and around adds up to a great lower-body workout: Burn 400 calories an hour.
Sledding burns far less than the rest, clocking in at 200 calories an hour. But boy, is it fun.
There are plenty of places to hit the ice and snow in and around Southern California. And there are plenty of skating rinks even closer. Below are a few. Just make sure to call to confirm hours and openings, as weather conditions can change. Also check prices: Some places allow children in free with a paying adult, or offer discounts for the younger set.
Places in the L.A area to ski, ice-skate, snow tube, snowshoe and sled
SNOW TUBING AND SLEDDING
Big Bear Snow Play, (909) 585-0075. bigbearsnowplay.com Cost: Up to $30 per person.
Mountain High Resort, (888) 754-7878. mthigh.com Cost for two hours of tubing: Up to $20.
Mt. Baldy Tubing Park, (909) 982-0800. mtbaldyskilifts.com A 90-minute tubing session, up to $20.
Snow Drift Tubing Park at Green Valley Lake, (909) 867-2640. snowdrift.net Up to $15 per person, per hour. Cash only.
Sledding at Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs, (909) 867-2751. snow-valley.com Up to $19.
SNOWSHOEING AND CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
Snowshoe Tours (gear provided) leave from the Big Bear Discovery Center, (800) 424-4232. mountainsfoundation.org Up to $30 per person.
Rim Nordic Ski Area, across the street from Snow Valley Mountain Resort on the way to Big Bear Lake, (909) 867-2600. rimnordic.com. Snowshoe rentals are up to $17 per person. Cross-county skiing rentals also available.
OUTDOOR ICE SKATING
Pershing Square Ice Rink, (213) 624-4289. holidayicerinkdowntownla.com, in Los Angeles. Up to $13 per person. (Ends Jan. 18)
Chill at Queen Mary in Long Beach, (877) 342-0738. Queenmary.com $39.99 for Chill, plus $15 skate rental. (Ends Jan. 10)
ICE at Santa Monica, (310) 260-1199. downtownsm.com/ice Up to $15 per person. (Ends Jan. 18)
Woodland Hills Ice, (818) 854-4151. Woodlandhillsice.com Up to $20 per person. (Ends Jan. 24)