Despite the copious amounts of snowfall we can get during the long-lived Colorado winters, it can surprise people to hear that Colorado gets more sunshine than the actual “sunshine” state of Florida — in all about 300 days of sunshine per year. And all that sunshine can really take a toll on the body if you spend a lot of time outdoors, whether it’s skiing, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, or whatever.
At higher altitudes, the thinner atmosphere filters less UV radiation. For every 3000 feet, ultraviolet levels increase by 10%. Then factor in the reflection off of snow (skiing) or water (alpine lakes), and UV radiation becomes even more intense. So if you want to recreate in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, you better come prepared to protect yourself from all that powerful sunshine.
We buy sunscreen in abundance throughout the year, going through several mega-size bottles. I never use anything weaker than SPF 30, often opting for SPF 50 for the face. I’ve gotten in the habit of liberally applying sunscreen to my face and neck every morning, 365 days a year, as part of my morning routine, without even bothering to check the weather forecast.
Just as important is protection for the eyes. Because I am a person who frequently either loses or misplaces things, I used to always buy the cheapest sunglasses possible, figuring that I’d be lucky to make it through the year without losing them. But I’ve found that’s not the best strategy living at higher altitudes, as you can actually do permanent damage to your eyes without proper protection, including snow blindness and burning your corneas.
Now, I spend the money necessary to buy not only high quality sunglasses but polarized sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses cut down on the intense glare that comes off water and snow, cutting down on UV radiation, and providing much better clarity as well. Finding the right glasses that fit your face and don’t slide off your face when your biking or running make all the difference in enjoying yourself while outside.
Skiing in winter brings its own unique needs, with most skiers opting for a good set of goggles to protect them from the potent reflection of intense sun off the snow, as well as protecting the eyes from the blustery winds that blow as well. With almost everyone opting to wear a helmet these days, it’s even more important to try on goggles with your helmet to make sure the fit is optimal.
I view sun protection as so important that I keep extra sunscreen in my pack, my car, at work and at home. I have three pairs of sunglasses, keeping an extra pair in my car, and having a pair for cross-country skiing and hiking, and another pair for driving.
I love being able to spend time being outside in this amazing environment, and properly preparing myself for the elements goes a long way towards making my outdoor experiences that much more fun.