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Winter Sports in City Weekend Magazine, Dec. 2010

Zach and Hayden contributed information about winter hiking for a winter sports feature in the December 2010 issue of City Weekend magazine. Because of space restraints, not all of the information fit into the finished articles. We thought that there might be some interest in the extended information provided. Read on for information about hiking in cold weather and our recommendations on getting ready for it.

Hayden talked to Blake Stone-Banks, one of City Weekend's main editorial staff members.

Blake: Beijing Hikers keeps hiking right through the winter. What do you tell your clients to wear for outdoor athletic activity during winter?

Hayden: We tell our clients wear a waterproof outer layer--including waterproof shoes and gloves--with thermal layers under that. It's important to stay dry in cold weather, because if you get wet you'll get cold quickly, especially if there's a wind blowing.

The waterproof outer layer prevents moisture--say, from snow or sleet--from getting your inner layers of clothing wet, and that's the first half of staying dry.

The second half of staying dry: layers of clothing underneath the waterproofs. By wearing layers, you have greater control over your body temperature. If you get too hot, you can take a layer off; if you're too cold, you can add another layer. If you overheat, you'll sweat a lot, and that's another way that your clothing can get wet.

For example: if you're climbing up a steep hill, you can stay a little cooler by removing your hat, gloves, and an outer layer as well, if necessary. Walking in a shaded valley, or waiting for slower friends to finish climbing that hill - put those layers back on and stay warm!

Blake: What are some of the best fabrics to wear? What are some fabrics to stay away from?

Hayden: For the outer layer, Gore-Tex or similar is good, because it's waterproof but allows moisture out. Otherwise, quick-dry type synthetic fabrics are good. If you're old school, you'll wear woolen clothing - it traps heat well. Stay away from cotton, which, if it gets wet, will stay wet.

Blake: What are some special items to wear for the snow? Sunglasses?

Hayden: Snow reflects light, so sunglasses are good. If you're walking through snow that's deeper than ankle height, gaiters keep snow out of your boots. We bought a lot of gaiters after all that snow last year, and they received quite a bit of use.

Some people like Yak-Traks, a slip-on attachment for your boots that are sort of like the chains that you put on car tyres. Those help with grip on slippery slopes, as do simple crampons.

Blake: What are some places you and other Beijing Hikers staff shop in Beijing for these products?

Hayden: Sanfo is a large chain of stores that has the best range of hiking equipment in Beijing - tents, boots, bags, ropes ... all sorts. They sell Osprey bags, which our guides quite like. The prices are not a lot different than what you'll get overseas, more expensive in some cases.

Decathlon is a French company, I think, and they've also got a few big stores around Beijing. They deal more with sports in general, but stock the basics for hiking. The prices are reasonable, and the quality of goods is certainly good enough for hiking around Beijing. Quite a few of our hikers have shopped there, and have been happy with what they got.

Finally, in Solana Mall, there are quite a few places that sell outdoor gear. There's a big LL Bean store there, as well as five or so smaller stores, including Columbia and North Face outlets. A few weeks ago I picked up a pair of snow trousers from a store called Kolumb, and they look to be good quality at around a fifth of the price of similar items at the LL Bean store. I'm looking forward to comparing the performance of my Gore-Tex jacket to the 'Komb-Tex' of these trousers.

Blake: What are the dangers of wearing too much are too little while doing sports outdoors? Hayden: If wearing too much, you have the danger of overheating. This is one of the main reasons to keep warm with layers. Say you're wearing a heavy jacket, with just a t-shirt underneath, and you start overheating. In this situation, you're going to be too hot wearing the heavy jacket, and too cold with just the t-shirt.

Wearing too little is more dangerous. If you're wearing too much, you can always take some clothes off. But if you're cold, and don't have more clothes to wear to warm up, you're in trouble.

When doing sports outdoors people sometimes wear fewer clothes, reasoning that they'll be moving enough to stay warm. Consider a situation in which you can't keep moving, though - you've twisted your ankle, or you're helping someone who can't walk any further, or perhaps you're just waiting for slower people to catch up. In that type of situation, if you're wearing light clothing in cold weather, your body will cool down quickly. At best, you'll be uncomfortably cold. At worst, hypothermia - not good.

Blake: What’s your favorite item of clothing/gear for the winter hiking season?

Hayden: A good pair of waterproof boots, to keep my feet nice and dry. I hate having cold feet!

Links: Sanfo; Decathlon.

Zach talked to Charles Silverman, a regular contributor to the City Weekend magazine sports section.

Charles: What is Snow Hiking/Camping?

Zach: Winter hiking is pretty much the same as regular hiking, except there is snow on the ground. If the snow is deep enough, you might not be able to travel very far without snowshoes or skis, but the principles of hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing are quite similar: using your legs to get from one place to another in the great outdoors. Around Beijing, the snow is usually not so deep that you would need specialized equipment. Even after a particularly heavy snow, it can be all the more fun to plow through knee-high drifts!

Charles: Have you gone Snow Hiking/Camping? If yes, where?

Zach: Last winter we hiked through quite a few blizzards. When it snows in Beijing, a major consideration is whether or not the roads will be open, and whether or not you can get to where you are trying to go. At Beijing Hikers, we keep a close eye on road and weather conditions in advance and tend to use routes that are easier to access, like the Round Tower and Immortal Valley in Miyun or the Silver Pagodas Hike in Changping. The important thing is to avoid places that are dangerous in slippery conditions, as may be the case when there is snow or ice on the ground. I wouldn't want to take a group to the steep, slick section of the Great Wall at Huanghuacheng if it iced over.

Charles: What kind of equipment would you need, how much does it cost and where would be the best place to buy it?

Zach: Staying warm is obviously important, as well as staying dry. However, it is also possible to overheat if you are moving fast or uphill, so it is best to dress in layers that you can remove when you are generating a lot of heat and put back on when you are cooling down. It's also important to have clothes that will keep you dry, or at least keep you warm if you are wet. Wool and synthetic materials are good. It's best to avoid cotton. A warm hat is extremely important, as quite a bit of heat radiates from your head. Hats do not have to be expensive: you just want a warm hat that covers your ears. Gloves are also good garments to have in winter. Good footwear is essential: proper hiking boots have good grip on a variety of surfaces and provide ankle support as well. There are companies that make a simple attachment for your boot that makes it much easier to walk on ice, but these are difficult to find. Full crampons are not necessary for Beijing. Gaiters can be worn around your ankles to keep snow out of your hiking boots, which should already be waterproof to begin with.

Decathlon sells a variety of sports equipment at reasonable prices, although stores are not in the most convenient locations. Sanfo, at the south gate of Chaoyang Park carries top of the line outdoor gear and is easy to find. The China Outdoor Retailer Association (CORA) has a retail store in Jianwai SOHO that also carries some of the best brands on the market.

Decathlon - http://www.decathlon.com.cn/EN/
Sanfo - http://www.sanfo.com/en/
CORA - http://cora.org.cn/?lang=en

Charles: Is it dangerous? Who should try it?

Zach: Winter hiking is perfectly safe if you plan ahead, prepare well, and take precautions. It doesn't not require any special skill set or classes, just a desire to see some beautiful scenery and the willingness to work to get to where you can see it. Anyone can hike in winter as long as they approach the activity with the right attitude. The right attitude means that you put safety first and have good plan: you know where you are going, how to get there, what to do if conditions change, and when you expect to be back. The two major factors the make hiking in winter more challenging are low temperatures and slippery surfaces, so if you can take steps to deal with those, then you are well on your way to having a fun, safe walk. If you are new to the activity, you should probably head out with more experienced companions the first few times. We're always eager to see new faces at Beijing Hikers, and more than happy to answer questions that people have.

Charles: Are there any organizations around Beijing that promote it? How do people get involved?

Zach: Beijing Hikers runs day-hikes year round. Check our website for our list of the month's scheduled activities and information on how to register: www.beijinghikers.com.

If you didn't pick up a print copy of City Weekend this month, you can get a look at the articles on the City Weekend website:
Beijing Winter Sports: Your Essential Guide;
Beijing Hikers Advise How to Bundle up for the Cold.