Hypothermia is rare on the ski slopes. It’s most apt to occur on long back - country ski or snowshoe trips and can develop even in temperatures well above freezing. The victim is often a thin person who becomes chilled, physically exhausted, and wet. This results in a dangerous drop in corebody temperature, manifested by a rapid increase in pulse and respiration and a loss of physical control. This is more a matter of the body feeling as though it is cold, than the actual temperature, though some experts say the core temperature may register a couple of degrees below normal, but the skin is actually much colder because of sluggish circulation.

In hypothermia’s first stage, falling becomes frequent. Sometimes the victim is unable to stand without help. Near the end of this stage, the body begins to feel cold to the touch, pulse and respirations slow, and shivering decreases or disappears.

The next stage, occurring when the core temperature drops to about 88 degrees, is confusion and defective thinking. Without treatment there’s a loss of consciousness, and an irregular heartbeat develops. Death occurs when the core temperature drops to about 81 degrees.

There’s only one treatment: immediately warming the victim’s torso as quickly as possible. “Under no circumstances,” says Dr. Darvill, “should the extremities be treated until the torso is warmed. To do so will simply further lower the body’s temperature.”

The best choice, if available, is to rewarm in water of between 104 and 112 degrees. The patient can also be sandwiched between two warm skiers, or wrapped with warm stones. Heat must be maintained until the shivering ceases. Offer warm liquids but avoid alcohol or caffeinated drinks.

On long backcountry trips, prevention is safer than treatment. Experienced winter mountaineers carry extra food and eat frequently, especially proteins rich in fat, which produce slow-burning calories. If the weather deteriorates they set up a protected campsite, build a fire, and just hunker down until it’s safe to get up and get going again.

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