Tips on how to survive a Norwegian winter

The view from the media center in Lillehammer's Olympic Park.
The view from the media center in Lillehammer’s Olympic Park.

“This is not a fashion show.”

This was the first advice our photojournalism mentor, veteran photographer Nick Didlick, gave us when we arrived at the media center of Lillehammer.

Covering winter sports can be deadly, he added, if you’re not prepared well for the conditions. I looked around our room and no one had the same guilty look as I did.

Before Norway, my idea of winter was limited to what I have seen in Western movies and television, since we only have tropical weather back home. People looked good despite the cold in the media I have seen, so I thought dressing up for winter was the common thing to do.

When I went to Seoul in March 2013 and Tokyo in November of the same year, my notion of dressing up for winter was affirmed since the locals I met and saw dressed stylishly. These cities, after all, are some of Asia’s top fashion capitals.

The temperatures in these countries never dropped below 0 degreesC when I visited so I never had to put so much layers of clothes to feel warm. It also didn’t help that I stayed at the business districts only for 4 days each.

But a Norwegian winter, as I learned, was very different and covering winter sports is much more challenging than I expected. Looking good is the last thing that will come to your mind when the temperature drops below 0.

The cold bothered me

I didn’t mind our mentor’s advice during my first few days in Lillehammer. I didn’t put that much layers on because it was so heavy to wear – especially since we had to trek up and down for our coverages. But this was until the opening ceremony of the Winter Youth Olympics.

Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena, minutes before the opening ceremony. This is where we watched the 3-hour program.
Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena, minutes before the opening ceremony. This is where we watched the 3-hour program.

We had to climb up the Lysgårdsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena, where the 1994 games were opened exactly 22 years ago, and the temperature dropped to -5 degreesC. Before that, the temperature ranged from 0 to 3 degreesC. We had to pass through thick snow that covered the hillside to get to the venue. The wind also blew colder as we went higher so I was really caught unprepared.

Ten minutes into the opening ceremony, I was shivering. I only wore two layers of pants, 3 layers of shirts/ jackets, and a pair of cotton socks. It was a good thing that I brought my snood so I had something to cover my face with.

My toes started to freeze because some of the snow got inside my boots. A few minutes past and I couldn’t feel nor move my toes anymore. I was afraid I’d get frost bites so I was panicking. Thankfully, my American friend brought a couple of warmers in her bag. I had to take my boots off in the middle of the arena and put some warmers inside.

My hands were also freezing because I left the gloves the IOC gave us and brought the cotton gloves I got from Tokyo. I didn’t enjoy much of the opening ceremony because I just wanted it to end so I can go back to the warmth of my hotel room.

After the Olympic flame was lit, my friends and I immediately went back to our hotel.
After the Olympic flame was lit, my friends and I immediately went back to our hotel.

From that incident on, I learned my lesson. I wore as many layers as I can and brought as many gloves and scarfs I can put in my bag until the end of the coverage. This proved useful since the temperature dropped to -10 degreesC in the days after the opening.

Whether you’re traveling, doing business, or learning winter sports in cold places like Lillehammer for the first time, these tips will prove useful so you can stay warm and enjoy your trip without the hassle I went through.

1) Layer, layer, layer

This is how -5 degreesC for me looks like.
This is how -5 degreesC for me looks like.

I could not emphasize this enough. Especially if you’re coming from a tropical country and it’s your first time to experience winter, you need to wear as many layers as you can. The lower your tolerance to cold is, the more layers you should wear.

Cotton is of no use to freezing temperatures, believe me. Some activities can make you sweat despite the cold. If you’re wearing cotton, which is very absorbent, your sweat will freeze on the fabric and will make you colder. Wool and dry-fit clothes are the best things to wear.

If the temperature ranges from 5 to 0 degreesC, you can wear 2 to 3 layers of clothes. If it drops to -1 to around -5 degreesC, wear 3 to 4 layers and have a thick jacket and windbreaker ready.

When the temperature dropped to -15 degreesC in Lillehammer, I wore 2 layers of dry-fit shirts, 2 thick jackets, and 3 layers of pants. Again, it depends on your tolerance to cold.

Another important note: Wear a bonnet or a headgear. According to our mentors, 30% of our body heat is lost through our head. So cover your head and ears, and if necessary, your nose and mouth.

2) Keep hydrated and bring snacks

It's hard to shoot in snow.
It’s hard to shoot in snow.

Dehydration is still a risk even if you’re walking through thick snow. You will notice that you sweat inside your jacket even if it’s cold but the perspiration evaporates easily so you’re tricked into thinking that you’re not losing fluids.

But you are losing body fluid, especially when you’re doing a lot of activities, so you need to drink water regularly. The downside is that you’ll have to urinate more because of the cold. But this is good for you since you don’t sweat as much as in summer and your body still needs to flush out toxins.

Our bodies also burn more calories to keep us warmer in cold temperatures. So when the temperature drops below 0, you’ll notice that you’ll get hungry more often. There aren’t that many food options in Lillehammer so I always made sure I had a chocolate bar or two in my backpack. This proved useful, especially when I was up on the mountains doing stories.

Forget your diet! You can always do it when you get back to your tropical country. When in a winter wonderland, eat and give your body calories to burn!

3) Get warmers

I don’t know where to get these in countries like the Philippines but they are very useful!

Warmers are small bags of sand with chemicals that heat up for a couple of hours when you shake and squeeze them. They have ones for the head, the hands, the feet, and even the groins. You should get some to keep yourself warm and avoid frost bites, especially when you’re staying outside for a long time.

I’m sure they are readily available on the nearest convenience or sports store in countries that experience winter.

4) Get inside whenever you can

Outdoor venues and restaurants in Lillehammer had fire places like this to keep people warm.
Outdoor venues and restaurants in Lillehammer had fire places like this to keep people warm.

This can be the nearest convenience store, coffee shop, or restaurant. Go indoors especially when the windchill gets unbearable.

It’s nice to enjoy snowfall for a few minutes but when the snow starts melting in your face and clothes, the cold starts to get in your body. This is when waterproof jackets, gloves, and pants become useful so when you go inside a warm place, you won’t drip with water.

Public transport in these places have good heaters so it’s also a good option if you need to get somewhere and it’s too cold for you to walk.

5) Acclimatize

The best way I got used to the cold weather was staying outside as long as I can. I walked the same distances and did other activities that I normally do outdoors in Manila the first few days I was in Norway.

It also helped that I went to the highlands in the Philippines and exposed myself to the cold, a week before I left for Europe. Though the weather is warm compared to the winter temperatures in Norway, for a guy who’s used to 30 degreesC, it still helped.

My Norwegian friends and those who’ve experienced colder weather said the winter we experienced in Norway was warmer than usual. There are times when the temperature drops below -30 degreesC!

Winter is beautiful.
Winter is beautiful.

I don’t know how I’ll cope to those temperatures but I’m sure these simple tips will still ring true. The best way to survive winter is to come prepared, mentally and physically.

Don’t forget to enjoy the snow!

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