8 Tips For a Successful Snowboarding Weekend With Diabetes

8 Tips to A  Successful Snowboarding Weekend with Type 1 Diabetes

Back in early January, I sent an email out to some of my friends asking them if they might be interested in getting away for a ladies’ snowboarding weekend. To my surprise and delight, nearly everyone was immediately in. It was a big deal, since we rarely grant ourselves permission to get away, especially without our families. And even when we do, there are a million things that usually get in the way, from sick kids to looming work deadlines. That all eight of us made it up to Tahoe that Friday in early March was something of a mom miracle.

As usual, I was the only person in our group with a chronic illness. In fact, a couple of my friends had forgotten I have Type 1—that’s how incognito I’ve become when it comes to managing my disease. That said, perhaps due to our extended time together, I was more vocal about my disease than I’d ever been before with my friends. Over the course of the weekend, I learned a few things that might benefit my fellow people with diabetes out there, and not just the chill mama type 1 snowboarders.


Tip 1: Temperature extremes can be your friend, if you use them correctly.

Our first stop was Grover Hot Springs State Park in South Lake Tahoe. With a natural hot springs pool on one side of the small facility and a cold water swimming pool on the other, this spot provided a great way to ease into our ladies’ weekend. I checked my blood sugar before getting in the pool—187, too high—but knew I wouldn’t have to take insulin to bring it down. Over the years I’ve realized that hot tubs or saunas, when paired with cold pools, almost always drop my bloodsugar by 20 to 50 points (sometimes more). While it’s difficult to find studies to back up this eperience, over 20 years I’ve found it to true for me personally. As I oohed and ahed at the late afternoon beauty of the sunlight playing over the craggy Sierra Mountains from my hot and cold pools, I also knew that my bloodsugar was likely dropping. Sure enough, when I returned to the truck it was 120.


Tip 2: Don’t eat the continental breakfast. Duh.

We stayed at the cute and hipster-saturated Basecamp Hotel, which offered a continental breakfast as part of its amenities. Given the cool factor of the hotel, I was expecting its continental breakfast to be similarly progressive. Not so much. I cobbled together a meal of granola with milk, peanut butter (sugar was listed in the ingredients) and coffee. My blood sugars in the morning are historically the highest of the day, so I was going into my sugarbomb breakfast with already elevated sugars. By the time I was walking to the gondola with my snowboard, I knew that I should’ve likely skipped the breakfast altogether and opted for an Epic bar instead. My blood sugar was three times what it should be.


Tip 3: Let your fellow adventurers know the deal.

“My bloodsugar is high,” I admitted to my friends Dana and Lisa as we rode the gondola up to the top of the mountain. I had taken out a needle and stabbed myself with a few units of insulin. “Is there anything we can do?” they asked, concerned. In typical fashion, I told them I’d be fine. Still, they kept a closer eye on me than they might usually. I’m known in our circles as being unreasonably capable, and it was nice to have my friends check on me after I let them know that all wasn’t as well as I’d hoped it to be.


Tip 4: Wear a backpack.

I really hate wearing a backpack on a chairlift. It creates one more step in the process (unstrap rear binding, sit down, swivel backpack to front), but the items I had in there were crucial, especially given the high blood sugar that I started the day with. Usually I pawn my insulin, meter and energy bar off on my husband, whose jacket is blessed with copious pockets. However, I wasn’t going to ask any of my chill ladies to carry my kit. And luckily for me, a backpack meant I could also bring a Nalgene of water, which I absolutely needed to stay hydrated on the slopes that morning, especially with my high blood sugar.


Tip 5: It helps to have another mama with food restrictions in your posse.

By lunch time, my blood sugar was happily back to normal. My friend Marie and I snagged an outside table while our other friends stood in line to order lunch. We each grabbed a beer or bloody Mary to have with our meal—mamas gone wild! I told my friend Lisa I was trying to keep Hefeweizen as my main carb at the meal. Lisa, who has a wheat and gluten sensitivity, grabbed chili for the both of us, likely the lowest carb choice on the limited menu. While waiting for our food to arrive, we dug into a bag of hazelnuts and an avocado I’d brought—my diabetic-friendly version of mountainside appetizers.


Tip 6: Careful with the chocolate, brah.

After we’d spent the entire day riding a variety of snowboarder-friendly blue runs, we headed back to the hotel for snacking and chill time. The snacks table we’d assembled in one of the hotel rooms was impressively stocked with seaweed packets, Cowgirl Creamery cheese, spicy cashews, and myriad other delights, including dispensery-purchased CBD chocolate. (We live in California, where marijuana is legal for the time being.) After our day on the slopes, we all hurriedly changed into swimsuits to head to the hotel’s 16-person hot tub (the chill mama snowboarders dominated that hot tub). Some of my friends grabbed beer and a cooler, and another friend handed me a tiny square of the CBD chocolate. I rarely indulge, but since it was our chill ladies’ weekend, I popped it in my mouth with nary a second thought.

A few minutes later, sitting in the hot tub with my friends, I couldn’t stop repeating, “I can’t believe how relaxed I am. I am so relaxed.” Indeed, I was so relaxed to be almost puddle-like in posture. But an hour or so later, I was also very low blood sugared, and no longer nearly as chill. At least for me, marijuana drops my blood sugar—and some studies are touting it as the next diabetes drug. While it was inadvertent that time, I’ve since started to think about how I might integrate it into after-dinner routines to counter post-dinner highs (which relate of course to those high morning blood sugars).


Tip 7: Always carry extra supplies.

Getting off the mountain early Sunday morning wasn’t our first choice—we would’ve preferred to linger and perhaps even snowboard half a day. However, overnight a foot of snow had fallen, and locals were warning us to leave immediately or risk getting stuck with a closed highway due to avalanche or snow conditions. By 10 am we were on the road, driving in the worst winter conditions I’ve ever encountered (and I grew up in rural northern Wisconsin). As I practiced deep breathing techniques while staring at the squall outside my icy windshield, I took solace in the fact that I had a full extra bottle of test strips with me, as well as full bottles of insulin, Even if we did get stuck, I knew I wasn’t going to have to worry about a lack of medication.


Tip 8: Keep saying yes.

So many times I’ve hesitated or turned down a chance at a last-minute trip or adventurous excursion because I hadn’t planned it out, or because I was worried about how it might affect my disease. Bottom line? These experiences, especially when they’re rooted in friendship and physical adventure, are some of the best things we can do for ourselves. I know that all of the mamas who went with me on the trip came home to their families invigorated and happy. Sometimes a break from the routine is just what we need to ignite our passion for everyday life. Just remember to skip the continental breakfast, check your blood sugar often, and refrain from eating all the special chocolate.


Elka Karl
Elka Karl

Elka Karl is a writer living in Berkeley, CA. Her writing has been published in American Craft, Modern Farmer, Kitchen Sink, and Design Sponge, among other publications. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 16 years old.

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7 years ago

Loved the article! One additional thing I have learned the hard way is blood sugar meters don’t work well in really cold weather. I was snowboarding in Colorado and after snowboarding at the end of the day my meter wouldn’t work because of the cold weather. I left it in the car, probably not the best choice and it wouldn’t work for at least an hour until bringing it into a heated space.

7 years ago

Awesome piece Elka!
Chill Mamas FTW!

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