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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

Hypothermia in Sports and Outdoors Activities

Wim Hoff, the Ice Man!

Not everyone prepares for the cold quite like the "Ice Man"!

The recent mysterious deaths of two hikers in the nearby Tararua Ranges has reminded me of the tragic deaths of three runners in the Orongorongo Ranges in 1980. Read on:

"A classic and tragic example of fatal hypothermia occurred in the Rimutaka Range near Wellington in October 1980. Three cross-country runners set off to run a well known circuit through bush country to the Orongorongo River, then return over steep exposed hill tracks back to their starting point. The weather at the time they set out was poor with southerly winds and rain and the conditions worsened later in the day. On the last leg of their run it appears the runners may have become confused as to the correct route, and hesitating on the exposed ridges at about 400 meters altitude in driving rain and sleet, all three collapsed and were overcome."

Quoted from: CHANGEABLE CLIMATE THERAPY OR HAZARD? P. J. Dickson Wellington

ABSTRACT Human beings have an in-built adaptability to variations in climate. Exposure to a natural range of atmospheric conditions is necessary for balanced and healthy living. Striking the balance requires some degree of planning for most people. For urban dwellers whose occupations keep them mostly indoors, reasonable exposure to changeable outdoor air can too easily be avoided. For those with a taste for tramping, mountaineering, long distance running or boating, exposure to the elements can become a matter of life or death.

I could not have said this better, Mr Dickson - thank you!


I was running in a road race that afternoon of October 1980, organised by Victoria University Harriers, when that powerful Southerly storm hit the Capital City. It was bitterly cold and had us all huddling from the wind and sleet from the moment we crossed the finish line. later that day we became aware that three of our running buddies were missing, later to be found frozen to death where they fell, one by one, as they struggled to find their way back to shelter. They were only clothed in singlets, T-shirts and shorts. There was a myth that a runner could handle any kind of weather so long as he or she kept the pace up. How wrong this was proven!

Being the ACC representative on the NZ Mountain Safety Council and NZ Water Safety Council, at the time, I was responsible for ACC funding and technical input into the development of various safety guidelines for users of our mountains and waterways and had a good understanding of the technicalities and physiology of hypothermia. While the dangers of hypothermia and ways of prevention were being actively promoted among traditional users of the Great Outdoors, nothing had been done for sport that I knew of, including responding to the rapidly growing interest in the new sports of adventure running and mountain biking.

So, I decided to fill the void and wrote the booklet "Hypothermia in Sport" which ACC funded. I also developed the "Survival Suit" which is referred to in the booklet.

The booklet is now out of print; but I have converted it into a downloadable PDF which you can have for free. It has had a few edits here and there; but is essentially how it was when printed and distributed by ACC in 1980. Here it is and enjoy the read!

Click on the "Full Screen Symbol" (bottom right) to read the booklet.

Further Reading

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