Posted by: thehungryrunner | February 22, 2009

Skiing with Raynaud’s Disease: A royal pain in the neck!

This is one of those times when a blog becomes more a source for your intrepid blogger to rant than a source of recipes or fitness information.  You’ve been warned!

I am sitting here, on a Sunday morning at 6:40, sipping coffee with the hopes that our plans to ski at least part of the day today won’t have to be nixed.  We both love to ski, almost more than any other activity; it’s a gift we’ve given ourselves (we only took it up about 4 years ago — yes, try to picture 35-year-old adults trying to learn to ski!).  And the experience has been scary and glorious all at the same time.  Both of us have made tremendous strides since those very first, humble outings, when just learning how to stay up on our skis on a bunny hill (bonus:  without looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame) was the major victory of the day.  We’re now both skiing “intermediate” and “advanced” runs (in quotes because we live in the Midwest, so the level of difficulty is not the same as that of out East or West) with little issue; now it’s more a matter of refining our technique as we continue to make progress towards increasingly difficult terrain.  Our major highlight of every winter are our weekend ski outings; we revel in being able to rejoice in winter weather and have found new excitement in watching a snow storm come rolling in.  Talk about a change of perspective from the days we were non-skiers!

Which brings me back to this morning, and the reason for my rant.  I have just checked the weather, hoping upon hope that the forecast had been mistaken.  Instead, it’s worse than they even expected:  Right now it’s 13 degrees F, with a -4 windchill.  Cold by anyone’s standards, but a particular problem for me, as I have Raynaud’s Disease.  It’s an abnormal vascular reaction in the hands and feet to cold weather.  In other words, when it gets cold, you lose all circulation, with your fingers and toes turning (in my case) white.  This, as you can imagine, is both painful and dangerous; no circulation is just that:  no circulation, no blood, no oxygen, reaching your fingers or toes until they can be warmed up, either in a heated room or by running them under warm water.  You can imagine how it’s added an element of complication to going skiing!

And indeed, it has, quite frustratingly.  If I ski when the temperature is higher than 32, especially when it’s sunny and there’s little wind, the sky is practically the limit; as long as I have my mittens and hand warmers and my core is sufficiently kept warm, I’m golden for as long as we want to ski.  But the minute the temps drop into the 20’s, especially if there’s no sun and you add a wind to the mix, I’m sometimes doomed from the moment I step outside.  We’ve made the best of it, often having to limit our outdoor time to 45-60 minutes at a time, in which we’ll then go indoors to warm up, then head back out, but this seems to result in dwindling tolerance for my body:  If I only last 60 minutes initially, after warm-up number one I’m only good for 40 minutes, after warm-up number two, I’m only good for another 20-30 minutes, and so on.  So needless to say, I try putting off the need to go inside for as long as possible.  I won’t get into the outerwear specifics here, though you can imagine the experimentation, the high volume of high-tech gloves and mittens and liners that have passed through my ski bag over the years.  Thankfully, I seem to have found the right mittens for the job, a pair of Burton’s that actually cause my hands to sweat on some of my winter runs — a miracle!

But I digress.  The coldest I have skied is with temps in the teens and a windchill of zero.  That was Easter morning last year, on a trip to Lutsen, MN.  When it’s your only option you just do what you need to do, but I think I managed to stay out all of 35 minutes before we had to start the in-and-out routine.  It’s with that memory in mind that I sit here, deflated, looking at the temperature and bemoaning the fact that so many of our weekend ski outings this year have had to be scratched for similar conditions.  I’m reaching the point in which I don’t want today’s outing to join them!

So…..I guess the words “We’ll see” come to mind.  We haven’t made our minds up yet.  I suppose I will have to make a new blog entry to let you know what we chose to do, and how it went.  All I know is…..having Raynaud’s is an annoyance of the highest order!

There, I feel better now.  End rant.



  1. Sorry to hear about the weather not cooperating. I often find out the first time I go into a warm lodge, I *never* want to leave!. Check out this link: regrading rehabbing for Raynaud’s. Sounds like a lot of work.

  2. Have you ever used the hand/foot warmer packets or heated hunting socks? I have troubles with my toes for the same reason as you and the warmers work really well…..keep my toes from turning blue and going numb on colder days.

    Hope that helps!

    • Thank you for the suggestion. As a matter of fact, I have indeed used the hand warmers, and they’ve actually turned out to be an excellent solution. This past season, I found that if I start out with the packets already in my mittens, my fingers last a lot longer in the cold. Great idea with the heated hunting socks. Unfortunately, the problem with my toes is less an issue with the cold; rather, it’s the loss of circulation due to the necessarily tight nature of the ski boots; I’m finding that the only socks I can wear are (of all things) the thinnest of nylon trouser socks. Anything else and my toes go white even faster, regardless of the temp. But at least these are workable solutions!

  3. I also have raynaud’s and have been looking for gloves for skiing – can you give me specifics about your Burton mittens?


    • Hi C, I went to the Burton website, and I believe this is the mitten I’m using of theirs (I hope the link works):,default,pd.html?dwvar_221183_variationColor=088&start=35&cgid=mens-gloves-mitts

      I bought a man’s mitten because I’ve discovered that women’s mittens are generally too confining (despite my having small hands), sometimes worsening the cutting off of my circulation!

      These mittens have worked out GREAT. I’ve already gone skiing on a few occasions this season, and they’re my primary choice for handwear. What I’m finding works best is to open up a pack of hand warmers about 20 minutes before going out, and sticking them in the mittens right away. It’s a bit of a pain, having to deal with wearing a mitten with a hand warmer in it, particularly when trying to grip the ski pole, but it’s WORTH it! I’ve been out in 0 degree (F) with 20-30 mph winds, and while I still needed regular indoor warm-up breaks, I’ve managed much better than I ever imagined possible.

      So I definitely recommend these particular mittens! Hope this helps.

  4. I too am a runner, who for the past week (really past two years) has been dealing with unbearable pain in my toes. I finally went to the dr. today and was told I have raynauds and because of it had caused thermal damage (mild frostbite) in my toes. Do you have any suggestions for socks that can get me back to running outside in the winter?

  5. Hi Sarah,

    I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis, it can be very discouraging. I know exactly the feeling; I still struggle to keep my toes warm on winter runs. I don’t have any specific sock brand recommendations — I’m still experimenting myself, but I do have some suggestions that have helped me:

    –Before going out for a run, wear extra warm socks in the house, drink some hot coffee or tea, and do some light (read: not sweat-inducing) exercises to warm up my core and feet, get the circulation going. If I leave the house still feeling a bit cool, it’s almost a sure thing my feet will never warm up to a “doable” level. But if I leave the house already feeling warm “from the inside,” it seems this gives me a head start.

    –Wear my long ski socks, normally the ones designed to be worn in ski boots, for the run. This does seem to help, and I suspect it’s because of the density of the weave, since technically the socks aren’t really thicker than my running socks.

    –Take care to dress in more layers than needed, as the more I retain lots — maybe even uncomfortably so — of heat in my core, the more likely my hands and feet will stay warm.

    –Watch the weather; try to orient my outdoor runs on sunny, non-windy days that are over 30 degrees more than days that are damp/windy/below 30 whenever possible, even if this means rearranging my workout schedule a bit.

    –Choose a steady, easy pace for my winter runs, minimizing my walk/runs (the walking phase is too cooling) or interval-type runs in favor of what I call my “maintenance” runs.

    –Start the run immediately, albeit a very light, jog-type pace, as opposed to starting with a short walk. If I start out too slow, I cool down before I even get the chance to warm up, and this sometimes dooms the rest of my run no matter how intense I go.

    –Avoid snow, puddles, or even just wet pavement like the plague; if need be, drive the course before going out to ensure I have safe access to only dry pavement the entire time.

    –Try to relax and not give in to feeling stressed, as this only seems to exacerbate the loss of circulation.

    I hope this helps! I’m still experimenting, so maybe I’ll have additional information at some point. Good luck!

  6. Hi,
    I too suffer with this dreaded Reynaud’s disease and am planning my first skiing holiday this month. I’ve been doing some online research and found these gloves that are heated:

    They’re expensive at £115 but if they worked I think they would be worth it. Just wondered if anyone has tried these kind of gloves before I splash out on so much cash….

    Cheers, Delia x

    • Thank you Delia, and best wishes on your first skiing holiday! Thank you for the link. I have not tried those gloves in particular, so I would certainly be curious as to what you or someone else thinks of them. Thus far this season, I’m continuing to find fairly good results from using thick (but large enough to be loose) ski/snowboard mittens, with a pair of those hand warmers already ripped open and placed inside each one. My biggest issue continues to be my thumb, being the one finger that is isolated away from the other fingers and hand warmer, but it’s still rather manageable. Definitely still a challenge, but good to know there’s a way to deal with it.
      If you do try those gloves, please let us know how they worked out for you!

  7. Hi all, I love reading the blogs and getting some great advice. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Raynauds as well. It has been a nightmare trying to deal with the cold as were are skiing and snowboarding fanatics. I have yet to find anything that works and that is comfortable. It is extremely painful when I lose all circulation. I am going to take some of your guys’s advice and try some of these ideas. Keep warm an thanks for the tips!!

    • Hello Angie,
      I’m glad to be of help! Good luck, I know exactly how you feel. Hope you find success with some of my tips!

  8. Hi Angie,
    I live in Salt Lake City, exercise/play (alpine and nordic ski, bike, run, etc) and work year-round outdoors. My coping with Raynauds is sometimes successful, sometimes very painful.
    Perhaps it is related to your passion for French Press coffee but I noticed in your tips you did not mention avoiding caffeine. I have started abstaining from my typical 2 cups in the morning on days such as you referenced above where you were sipping your cup of coffee and hoping to go skiing and it has seemed to help.
    I also typically either take or have with me doctor prescribed nifedipine, a calcium channel blocker. If I’m heading off on a night ski for instance, I’ll take one prior to leaving. Recent experience leads me to think that the nifedipine does not interact particularly well with caffeine for me, leading to a short episode of apparent low blood pressure.
    Stay warm

    • Thank you, Steve! (I knew which name you meant.) That’s a good point, that the caffeine could contribute to the vessels’ constriction. Admittedly, I don’t always drink coffee before heading out to ski — sometimes it’s (no caffeine) peppermint tea. But nothing consistent enough to accurately gauge if there’s a difference. It certainly sounds worth a try! Maybe if I switch my morning cup for decaf and then get out there right away, by the time my body “realizes” it’s missing it’s stimulation, that first run or two will have given enough adrenaline to make up for that. 🙂

      I appreciate your sharing, especially since this blog entry gets quite a bit of hits — you’ve helped me and others, as well.

  9. whoops, earlier post should have started with “Hi Evamarie”

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