Contrary to popular myth, the coldest place on Earth is not San Francisco in the summertime.
If you ask Les Stroud, it might just be Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.
"Yellowknife is the type of place where every store has plug-ins for your engine block so your engine doesn't freeze," says Stroud, better known as "Survivorman," the star of the Discovery Channel show by the same name. "It's the city of the constantly idling cars, so the city is always in a haze of exhaust fumes."
What was Stroud doing in such an inhospitable place, a place that hit minus-50 Celsius during his stay; a bone-chilling existence that Stroud could only describe as "brutally cold"?
Enjoying the great outdoors, of course. Stroud had happily volunteered for the assignment to Yellowknife, eager to teach outdoor skills to others and taking tourists to see the Northern Lights.
Needless to say, Stroud has the life experiences provided by forays like the one to Yellowknife and through his hit show -- in which he is stranded alone in remote locations and forced to survive on his wits and the bounty of the land for several days -- to handle whatever weather may greet the 41,000 fans who show up on New Year's Day afternoon (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio) at Wrigley Field for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic '09.
And, as a die-hard hockey fan, Stroud is more than happy to offer his expertise to those that will provide the soundtrack and the backdrop to the game between the Detroit Red Wings and the host Chicago Blackhawks, in the process helping to turn one of baseball's grand cathedrals into a winter wonderland for an unforgettable one-off hockey experience.
While the forecast for Thursday's game -- 32 degrees Fahrenheit, light winds and small chance of snow -- in no way conjures up images of Stroud's description of Yellowknife, it will certainly be cold enough to make the unprepared uncomfortable.
"The cold is never a walk in the park," says Stroud, busy making his own preparations to be at Wrigley Field for the game. "Minus-50, minus-20, whatever; it's all the same. You can quickly knock yourself out with frozen fingers and frozen toes.
"At 28 degrees, now we are talking Fahrenheit again, you can start to deal with hypothermia. Even at 32 you can start to see the effects. So, you have to be prepared."
Again, Stroud knows of what he speaks.
In doing a documentary to detail the onset and effects of hypothermia, Stroud did something few sane humans would ever consider.
"I jumped in a frozen lake and stayed there for 13 minutes," he says matter-of-factly.
So, when Survivorman says he can help you beat hypothermia, it's a good idea to listen up and do what he says, especially when it can be fun. His first order: Go and eat a nice, fatty meal -- be it breakfast, lunch or brunch -- before heading to Wrigley. Survivorman says that a nice thick steak, a roast or a burger will do the trick.
"When I'm in a survival situation, I try to put some fat in my stomach before nightfall, because the fat will burn all night long and help keep my body warm," he says.
And you don't have to worry about that lull that usually arrives after a big meal, either. That's because Stroud suggests you put some sugar into your body as soon as you arrive at the game. Hot chocolate -- that old hockey-rink standby -- is just the ticket because your body will have to work extra-hard to break-down the sugar and, hence, keep you warmer in the process.
He also has some clothing suggestions and accessory ideas that will make sure the cold does not become a storyline in the stands.
Most importantly, Stroud says you should ask what would Survivorman do in your place and act accordingly.
"This is some serious hockey we want to watch," says Stroud, who was also at last year's Winter Classic in Buffalo. "It's not about being in civilization and then just going home. In fact, the end goal is to survive, endure and enjoy, so you have to really look at what you need to endure, especially psychologically.
"You need to think that you are going to sit in the bush for two or three hours in the dead of winter and you wouldn't do that in sneakers and a fleece."
Instead, Stroud suggests you dig out that heavy parka as your first line of defense.
"Layers are usually important in cold-weather situations when you are active, but we are going to just walk from our car to our seat and maybe to get a coffee or whatever, so you're totally fine to wear that parka that you can't even move in," he says. "You want to protect yourself from the cold wind and cold things you are going to touch."
To that goal, Stroud also suggests that fans wear mittens instead of gloves because mittens -- while neither as streamlined nor as sexy -- allow fingers to remain in contact with each other and circulate body heat.
He also suggests a visit to the sporting-goods store for some other essentials.
Stroud says you can't go wrong with those handy-dandy hand- and toe-warmers used by hunters and skiers. Also, a hunter's chair -- a clip-on seat hunters use while sitting in a hunting stand -- will be invaluable in stopping the cold from the Wrigley chairs from creeping into your body. Another trick of the trade is to fill a hot-water bottle with steaming water and use that to ward off the chills as they appear.
Finally, Survivorman says you must always remember where you are -- out in the elements and at the mercy of Mother Nature -- as you get lost in the nuances of the Winter Classic. Awareness is the biggest key in any survival situation, he says.
"It's so much different when you are focused and concentrating on something," says Stroud. "It's both a good and bad thing. You get focused on waiting for a goal and you forget about the cold and that's a good thing. But, it's also a bad thing because you forget about the cold and all the time your body's core temperature is dropping and you have to make sure that you get it back up."
Remember these tips and you will "survive" the Winter Classic with the minimum amount of weather-related fuss.
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor