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Ski/Ride Hydration Preparation

Snowboarder Doing a Trick

Snow is in the forecast again, and if you’re like me, you already have your plank of choice waxed and ready to go. Who cares if there’s only one patch of snow and 500 other skiers and boarders to dodge? I’ll take what I can get. But first, let’s go over some on-the-hill hydration basics.

Being proactive about your hydration should not end when the snow begins to fall. Despite the cooler temperatures, water losses can still be significant. This is especially true if you’re skiing or snowboarding at higher altitudes! We dehydrate more quickly at higher elevations because of increased losses through respiration and cold-induced diuresis (increased urination). Don’t forget, we still sweat when exercising in cold temperatures, too.

Whether you’re a beginner, or seasoned in the sport, following these tips can help you get through opening day and set the stage for a progressive, fun season.

1) Show up hydrated. If you get to the hill dehydrated, you’re setting yourself up for poor performance. When 3-5% of body weight is lost from water, cognitive function and performance can worsen. This includes decreases in endurance, strength, and power. Keep in mind, the same negative outcomes can be seen at 2% body weight losses at warmer temps, such as early and late season weather.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends drinking 2-4ml per pound of body weight in the 2-4 hours before exercising. For example, a 160lb man traveling from Denver to Vail for the weekend can drink a standard size water bottle (16oz) during the drive for sufficient pre-exercise hydration.

2) Take water breaks. Drinking to your thirst is a great way to stay hydrated before and after exercise. However, we can’t always rely on this strategy during exercise, particularly in colder climates. At colder temperatures, we can lose our usual thirst sensation and desire to drink, so we shouldn’t rely on thirst as a reminder to drink fluids on the mountain. However, if you are feeling thirst, listen to your body and take a water break!

A more individualized approach is to estimate your sweat rate and hydrate accordingly. This can be done by weighing yourself before and after exercise. Each pound lost is equivalent to approximately 16 fl oz of sweat lost. Remember, we want to limit body mass losses to less than 2%. For more details on estimating sweat rate, check out this fact sheet.

3) Drink to recover. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends drinking 1.25 to 1.5L fluid for every 1kg of body weight lost during exercise, which is approximately 19-23 fl oz per pound lost. Even though 16oz is equivalent to approximately 1lb, up to 150% of the estimated fluid deficit is recommended during recovery to account for post exercise diuresis from drinking a large fluid load.

Sorry, beer doesn’t count! Any beverage with >4% alcohol content can further facilitate diuresis, which will hinder your fluid recovery.

4) Avoid over-hydration. More is not always better when it comes to hydrating. When excessive fluids are consumed, exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH) becomes a risk. This occurs when enough fluid is consumed to dangerously reduce the sodium concentration in your blood. Instead, focus on fluid balance. A general rule is to avoid gaining weight from pre-exercise to post-exercise, assuming you began exercise hydrated.

5) Regularly assess your hydration. Checking body weight and urine color are practical approaches to assessing hydration. As mentioned previously, changes in body mass from pre-exercise to post-exercise indicates fluid lost through sweat. Keeping body mass losses minimal (<2%) and avoiding weight gain is recommended. Urine color can indicate hydration status. A pale yellow color is optimal, as indicated on The Urine Color Chart.

To summarize, hydrating in colder temperatures is just as important as in warmer climates. Make sure you are beginning exercise hydrated by drinking 2-4mL per pound body weight in the 2-4 hours before. Try to limit body weight losses during exercise to <2% for optimal performance. Drink adequate fluids to recover, but avoid gaining weight from pre-to post-exercise to lessen your risk of EAH. Assess your hydration using urine color, or monitoring weight fluctuations.

Urine Color Chart

Pro Tips for Snow Sport Hydration:

  • Warm fluids can often be more desirable while skiing and snowboarding. Single-serve apple & cinnamon flavored hydration packets by Skratch Labs can easily be stored in a jacket pocket and mixed into hot water in the lodge.
  • Consider purchasing a foldable or collapsible water bottle. These can be stored in jackets and snow pants much more easily than conventional water bottles.
  • Come up with a plan before getting to the hill. Hydrating throughout the day can help prevent fatigue and improve overall performance, making the outing much more fun!