6 Tips for Snowboarding with T1D

I’m in an interesting phase of my life right now where I don’t like to say no to most things.

I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve let fear and anxiety hold me back in many different areas. But if there’s anything I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, it’s that life is too short to not jump at opportunities when they’re presented to me and to do my best to abandon my assumptions before deciding how I feel about something.

So when my boyfriend asked me if I wanted to go snowboarding with him last month, I enthusiastically said yes. I’ve never been a winter sports person, per se, but I’ve definitely spent too many weekends in the last couple of months cooped up indoors – so spending an afternoon outside at a nearby ski resort trying something completely new sounded like an awesome way to beat winter blues.

I should’ve expected it would also be a literal crash course in snowboarding with diabetes! Literal in more ways than one, because I fell…a LOT. Like, so many times that I lost count. But I was also learning how to navigate a brand-new physical activity with diabetes, which can be daunting. I handled it by preparing as best as I could, and practiced these tips and tricks that worked wonderfully for me when I hit the slopes:

#1: Set a temp basal. In the days leading up to snowboarding, I did a little research online to see what kind of tips other people with diabetes had to share about what to expect when snowboarding with diabetes. The most interesting piece of advice that I found and wound up taking was setting a temp basal with my pump. The physical activity of snowboarding, combined with the mountain’s higher altitude, meant that my insulin could be absorbed in my system at a more rapid pace. So I reduced the amount of basal insulin by about a third for a few hours, which worked out great because I didn’t have to worry about impending low blood sugars and could instead focus on trying to glide effortlessly across the snow like all the other skiers and snowboarders (I had little success in that, but that’s besides the point).

#2: Wear ALL the layers. The night before the snowboarding trip, I laid out all of the clothes that I would layer on the next day. I had thermal pants and a thermal undershirt that I wore for layer 1. I wore jeans and a sweatshirt for layer 2, followed by a fleece zip-up for layer 3. Before heading out onto the slopes, I put on my snow pants, winter jacket, waterproof gloves, snowboard boots, scarf, hat, helmet, and goggles…and yes, even though I resembled the Michelin man with all that clothing on, it was worth it because I didn’t feel the sting of the cold not even once. Plus, my diabetes devices, snacks, and other personal items were extra protected under all those layers, which gave me a sense of security throughout the day.

#3: Protect diabetes technology. This was my main concern for the day. I’ve heard horror stories about PDMs falling victim to particularly nasty skiing and snowboarding collisions. I refused to run the risk of smashing my screen by protecting it as best as I could. So I brought an extra sock with me that I used as a pouch for both my PDM and my cell phone. Once they were safely nestled in the sock, I placed it into a plastic baggie, which served as an extra layer of protection that was waterproof. I then put the plastic baggie into the pocket of the fleece I was wearing under my snow pants and zipped up the aforementioned pocket so there were zero chances of anything falling out of it. It was probably a little extreme in terms of protection, but my devices stayed completely dry and intact (despite the many, many falls I experienced over the course of the afternoon), and that was what mattered most to me!

If Shaun White (the pro snowboarder) is known as the Flying Tomato on the slopes, I want to be known as the Rainbow Wonder – I loved rocking my bright snowboarding accessories on the mountain!

#4: Be smart about packing snacks. I knew I would be limited in terms of what I could carry up and down the mountain – it’s not like I could safely snowboard with my purse or backpack strapped onto me (that would’ve added extra weight that would’ve made me even more wobbly on my board) – so my many pockets definitely came in handy and helped ensure that I had plenty of snacks stashed on me at all times. In addition, I chose to pack things like glucose tablets and granola bars because they were more likely to hold up in the cold weather/not freeze like a packet of honey or a juice box might.

#5: Stay hydrated. I think what surprised me more than anything else was how thirsty I felt after only about an hour of attempting to snowboard. In hindsight, though, it made sense – I was outside in the dry wintry air and trying to partake in fairly strenuous exercise, so of course I would be thirsty. Since I couldn’t carry around a water bottle with me, I made sure that any bathroom breaks that I took at the lodge also included trips to the water fountain – a strategy that kept me well hydrated out on the bunny slope.

#6: Monitor, monitor, monitor. I must’ve pulled out my phone to check my Dexcom graph a dozen different times over the course of the 4-5 hours we were snowboarding. That might sound like a bit much, but I had no idea what to expect in terms of the impact of snowboarding on my blood sugar. Watching my levels like a hawk helped me determine how much to eat at lunchtime, what kind of temp basal I should set, and how long I could stay committed to the activity before having to stop to treat a high or a low blood sugar. I felt extra grateful for my Dexcom on this day, because it would’ve been a pain and very inconvenient to check my blood sugar with a finger prick that many times.

Even though I wasn’t quite as badass as I wanted to be on the slopes (more like bruised-ass), I’m still really happy that I gave it a try and proved to myself that this is yet another thing that diabetes can’t stop me from enjoying. I look forward to my next attempt, which will hopefully include similar diabetes-related success as well as a lesson or two from an experienced instructor – because goodness knows I could benefit from that!

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