I'm just back from my first annual trip to the Snow Eagle Ski School at Gray Rocks in St. Jovit, Quebec.
We skied morning and afternoon for five days in temperatures ranging from a high of just-above-freezing (10 degrees Centigrade or 34 degrees Fahrenheit) to a near-record low of minus 35 degrees Centigrade or minus 33 degrees Fahrenheit. (How many of you trivia buffs remember that Centigrade and Fahrenheit meet at minus 40 degrees?)
Last year, when I first started skiing, I wrote a column containing the following astonishing observation about the nearly insignificant increase in energy expenditure involved in downhill skiing:
Downhill skiing is essentially a skill sport. That is, it requires lots of practice to train muscle groups to perform quickly and accurately to keep you upright. (Otherwise you get plenty of practice doing pushups in the snow!)
Like other skill sports (golf, bowling) it burns very few extra calories, despite a great time investment.
During actual skiing time, women expend about 5 calories a minute, men about 9 calories a minute. However, while standing in the lift line, and riding the ski lift, a woman can burn as little as 1 calorie per minute, a man as little as 2.
In an hour equally parceled out among skiing, standing in line and lift-riding, a woman expends about 150 calories, a man 250. A cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream contains about 250 calories.
But before you despair, remember, any movement is better than none. Your spouse, having hot chocolate by the fire, burns only 60 calories an hour.
You also burn more calories to keep warm as the temperature drops. And a few extra carrying all that gear around.
Just how much did the extreme temperature drop affect energy expenditure? According to the Recommended Dietary Allowances of the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, energy expenditure is about 5 percent greater below 14 degrees Centigrade than in a warmer environment.
If you normally eat 2,000 calories a day, add another 100 for warmth. Add 100 more for lugging around all that additional clothing.
What does that mean in food?
By and large, your normal, well-balanced diet will provide all the energy you need unless you ski really hard for many hours each day, without spending much time in line or on the lift. Let your hunger be your guide. Choose plenty of fruits, vegetables, breads and cereals, with a little low-fat meat and milk thrown in, and go easy on added fat. Eat as long as you feel hungry. Stop when you first begin to feel satisfied.
Then add one trip to the dessert table every other day.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and director of Eating Together in Baltimore