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Going for the Gold in the Cold

While watching the Olympians from the comfort of your cushy couch, do you ever wonder how these amazing athletes stay warm in the biting cold and wintry winds atop the mountains outside Sochi?

Insulating your home is one thing…insulating your body is another matter altogether. (Unfortunately, USA Insulation has yet to develop a foam body suit for the skiers and snowboarders.) While the town of Sochi itself has been pretty warm this February (in the 50‘s) the mountains are snow-covered and sufficiently cold to hold events on the slopes.

So let‘s say it‘s 20 degrees up there. Downhill Olympic skiers travel at speeds up to 95 miles an hour. (Unfortunately, Bode was a little slower than that). Figuring a 95 mile an hour wind in your face and 20 degrees on the thermometer, the wind chill calculation comes to a bristling 10 below zero.

Traditional thinking has a skier wearing 3 distinct layers of clothing.

The base layer, next to your body, is made of a wicking material–transferring the water molecules from the surface of your skin to the outer clothing layer–to keep you warm and dry underneath the rest of your outerwear. Sweating causes your skin to become cold.

The second layer is for insulation. It should fit loosely and can have bulk to it. Wool, down, or fleece are great options.The outer layer isn‘t for warmth, but for protection from the elements–like snow, rain, hail and sleet. It should be waterproof, windproof and breathable.

Of course, the athletes need to be ultra-flexible and aerodynamic on the slopes, so the three-layer approach is out of the question.

So how do they fend off the cold?

Men‘s Health magazine found out directly from the athletes themselves. These excerpts are from the January 16th article.Travis Ganong, Alpine skier, admits the speed suits don‘t keep skiers warm…so he puts on two layers of long underwear under those tight outerwear. Layering is key.

Bobby Brown, Freeskiing Slopestyle, puts duct tape over the bottom of the toe of his boots. It keeps the boots dry and his feet warm to boot.

Nick Goepper, Freeskiing Slopestyle, wears a balaclava or bandana to keep his neck warm, feeling most of the body heat is released from there.

When asked how she kept warm, Elena Hight, Snowboarding Halfpipe, just shrugged her shoulders—because that is exactly how she keeps warm. That‘s right, she says that shrugging her shoulders brings blood, and warmth, to her fingers.

Jamie Anderson, Snowboarding Slopestyle, uses breathing techniques, such as Kundalini breathing, to keep her feet warm.

John Teller, Freeskiing Ski Cross, jumps around a lot to get the blood flowing.Andy Newell, Cross Country skier, swings his arms and legs all around, like he‘s dancing in the snow.

Scotty Lago, Snowboarding Halfpipe, performs the windmill. It forces blood to his fingertips and his hands instantly get warm.

So all those machinations and rituals the athletes go through in preparation for an event may not be for loosening up at all. It may just be to keep warm. It makes you wonder if chewing gum somehow keeps Sage Kotsenburg warm.

So while you‘re enjoying the Games from the warmth of your home, keep an eye on the skiers and snowboarders—and lugers and bobsledders–in the coming weeks. See what they are doing to keep warm on the slopes of Sochi.

Remember: whether insulating your home or your body, the same basic principle applies: Keep the warmth in and the cold out. Enjoy the Games!

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