IF you're headed to cold country to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, sled or ice skate, preparation is the key to staying healthy. Here are tips from six experts:
* Use artificial tears, because humidity drops at high altitudes, says Dr. Lawrence Hopp, an ophthalmologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The eyedrops, available over the counter, are also useful when flying, because eyes tend to dry out in the airplane cabin's recirculated air. If you wear contact lenses, consider re-wetting drops, also sold over the counter.
To reduce glare and prevent snow blindness -- a burning of the cornea from ultraviolet rays -- wear polarized sunglasses, Hopp says.
* Dress in layers, says Dr. Peter Galier, former chief of staff at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. Be sure you have gloves, socks and boots that will keep you warm enough for winter conditions. Consider taking hand and body warmers that are air-activated (sold at sporting goods stores and online).
If you're at risk for altitude sickness, talk to your doctor before departure about whether you might need medication, he says. (In a study published in the journal Wilderness and Environmental Medicine in December, Mt. Whitney climbers who took painkillers during the ascent and who had a history of altitude illness were most likely to get it.) If you're planning remote activities, such as snowshoeing in the wilderness, take along a small pack of essentials that will keep you going for at least 24 hours, Galier says. Include a flashlight, small camp heater, waterproof matches, energy bars, thermal blanket and water.
* Keep up a regular cardiovascular and strength training routine, says Walter Thompson, a professor of kinesiology and health at Georgia State University in Atlanta. On Day One, "start out at an easier slope, a slower pace, until you get warmed up properly. Expect the altitude to have an effect on your endurance. It may take several days to adjust."
* To avoid getting skier's cough, cover your mouth loosely with a scarf or mask and drink plenty of liquids. Breathing cold, dry air can narrow your airways, especially during exercise, giving you a skier's hack, says Dr. Susan Sprau, a pulmonology consultant at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. "This can be magnified in asthmatics," she says. If you cover your mouth loosely with a scarf or mask, the the air you breathe is warmed. Remember to breathe through your nose, not your mouth; this will also reduce the chances of getting a cough. Acclimatize yourself to prevent altitude-related problems. "First day, no heavy exercise," she suggests. "Just get used to the higher altitude."
* Moisturize, says Dr. Joyce Fox, a dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Group. Find a good moisturizer with a sunscreen, preferably with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30, Fox says. Look for a cream, not lotion, she says. "Creams are richer, they have more emollient -- the product in them that holds onto the water." Protect exposed skin with a scarf, ski mask or hat, she says. "The wind can chap the skin and make it more irritated, more likely to develop rashes," she says.
* "Drink plenty of water, eight glasses [daily]," says Jeannie Moloo, a Sacramento dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn. "Watch your caffeine intake so you don't get dehydrated. Eat regular meals, and be sure they are protein-rich with complex carbohydrates."
A good breakfast before engaging in winter sports would include an egg, oatmeal, whole grain bread and some fruit, she says. Easy on the booze. "It's a myth that alcohol warms you up."