Foot Care in Winter: Keep Your Feet Safe on the Slopes or Rink

You may love to hit the slopes or the skating rink when the temperature (and the snow) starts falling, but you may not realize the beating your feet and ankles take from winter sports. Between cold conditions, ill-fitting boots and sports that may involve lots of cutting and changing direction, winter can be pretty tough on your feet.

Don’t let that stop you from doing what you love. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your wintertime activities, while still treating your feet and ankles right.

Get the Right Fit

What do skiing, snowboard, ice skating and hockey have in common? They all require specialty footwear. To take it one step further: Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and playing hockey all require properly fitted specialty footwear.

Ski boots, snowboard boots and ice skates that are a good fit are some of the most important requirements for a safe, fun winter sport session. If too loose, they won’t provide the proper ankle support necessary for such dynamic activities. Loose boots might also cause blisters or corns if they allow the socks to bunch up. Boots that are too tight may cause blisters, plus they’ll be uncomfortable.

Without the right support, ankle sprains and ankle fractures are a real danger. Ankle sprains are damage to ligaments, usually caused by “rolling” the ankle. Fractures are broken bones in the ankle, which can happen when changing direction too quickly. A properly fitted boot or skate can protect your ankles from both.

For a good fit, make sure you can wiggle your toes while keeping your heel and ball of your foot steady. If you don’t own your own gear, most facilities allow you to rent—keep trying on boots or skates until you find a pair that fits well and is comfortable. And, it should go without saying that you should never ski or snowboard in any footwear other than the proper specialty boots required.

Fungus Among Us

Speaking of boot or skate rentals, who knows whose feet were in there before yours? The fungi that cause athlete’s foot and toenail fungus just love warm, moist, dark environments. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s exactly what you’re putting your feet into when you wear skates or ski and snowboard boots.

Facilities should be disinfecting rental boots and skates after each use, but many don’t do a very thorough job. It may sound strange, but rubbing your feet with antiperspirant can help keep them dry, cutting down on the chance for an athlete’s foot infection.

Put a Sock in It

You can have the proper equipment, but if you don’t have the right socks you might be in for a long, miserable day. Socks are the most important item of clothing next to specialty boots for keeping your feet safe in winter.

While your choice of sock comes down to personal preference to a degree, here’s what you don’t want: 100 percent cotton. Cotton socks hold moisture next to the skin, and that’s bad for a number of reasons.

First, modern ice skates and ski and snowboard boots are designed to keep your feet warm. Warm means sweat. The purpose of sweating is to cool you down, so even though the boots are warm, you may soon find feet cold and uncomfortable while wearing sweat-logged cotton socks.

Moisture also softens the skin. Soft skin is prone to blistering with just a little friction, and sports such as skiing, snowboarding and ice skating usually come with more than their fair share of friction. It should be no surprise, then, that cotton socks increase the risk of blisters.

Keep Feet Warm

Depending on conditions, frostbite can be a real risk of a day on the slopes. Your toes may feel warm initially, but they’ll progress to tingly and numb. When that happens, hit the lodge and get off your feet. Avoid exposing your feet to further cold conditions.

You already know why you shouldn’t wear cotton socks. Here’s what you should wear instead to keep your feet warm and protect them from frostbite:

  • Look for a moisture-wicking sock. These socks are basically the opposite of cotton. Instead of holding moisture near the skin, it draws it away from the skin. That should both help keep your feet toasty and prevent blisters.
  • On really cold days, opt for sock liners. These liners—usually made of silk—provide extra warmth without the extra sweat. They’re thin and lightweight and should fit comfortably inside your boots or skates.
  • Socks should fit well. If they’re too big they can bunch up at the toe, increasing the risk of blisters or corns.
  • Use toe warming inserts. These small chemical packets give off heat when activated, usually by shaking them to mix the ingredients inside the packet.
  • Wear only one pair. If you need two or more pairs for your boots to fit properly, they’re too big; get better-fitting boots. Additionally, hitting the slopes with more than one pair of socks can cause the feet to move more in the boots, increasing friction and the risk of blisters.

Need foot care after a long day of winter sports? Request an appointment with one of our specialists to discuss your treatment options.