Most mornings Nathan Tolosky, 23, from Baltimore, Vt. goes skiing at Killington before heading to work at Dartmouth Medical Center.
On the morning of Feb. 8, before leaving the house he grabbed his Therma-Phone Survival Kit to keep his phone warm because it was a particularly chilly day. The insulated phone case was given to him by family friends, the Hermanowskis, who had the idea for an insulated phone case two years ago after they noticed cellphones dying from the cold.
Tolosky’s cellphone generally runs out of juice during a chilly morning on the slopes, and he charges it in the car on his way to work.
Thursday, Tolosky “ducked into the woods around 12:30,” though he didn’t know where exactly. His phone was at about 30 percent battery life.
He came across a hiking trail, and a hiker who gave him a bottle of water and directions to the road. He recalled the hiker telling him the road was just over the ridge. When he continued hiking, it wasn’t so easy to find the road.
Tolosky stopped to call 911 for help. As he started to dial, his phone died. Hoping for the best, he shoved the phone back in the Therma-Phone case and into his inside coat pocket in hopes of warming the phone up. Ten minutes later the battery was back to 30 percent, and he called again for help. Emergency responders tracked his location, and Killington’s ski patrol was able to guide him to the road so that they could rescue him.
“Therma-Phone definitely kept my phone alive for the whole adventure,” Tolosky said. “I owe half my life to the hiker and half of my life to the Therma-Phone case.
“It’s a really simple thing that’s going to be part of my utility pack from now on.”
When Sherri Hermanowski found out about Tolosky, she was thrilled that the case came through in the dire situation. “
“Truly, this is the reason for my product,” Hermanowski said.
Hermanowski spent two years on Waterbury Backcountry Rescue, and four on Stowe’s ski patrol. She’s been with teams that have had to search large areas for lost skiers whose smartphones have died. It’s much easier for teams to rescue someone who has a phone and whose location can be triangulated, she said.
“I saw an issue and worked hard to find a solution,” she said.
Hermanowski, her husband Jim, and Waterbury neighbors Yvette and Tripp Randolph threw the idea around, and set out to create something to insulate the phone — keeping it warm enough to preserve the battery life — better than a coat pocket.
The resulting case, the Therma-Phone Survival Kit, now can keep phones on up to eight hours in the cold.
Phones are our “modern Swiss Army knife,” Jim said. Not only can a smartphone serve as a lifeline in an emergency, it plays your music, helps document your adventures with photos and video — and can even track your runs on the slopes. Sherri noted her kids always used a dead phone as an excuse to stay on the slopes longer.
After many trials and errors — wool is warm, but bulky, for example — the team found the right blended material for Therma-Phone that would keep the device insulated.
Two years later the Hermanowskis and Randolphs are selling their Vermont-made cases in Vermont and Jackson Hole, Wyo. in two sizes and nine different colors, from Apple-matching “space gray” to vibrant pink — and for the outdoorsy type, camouflage.
Depending on the temperature outside, a heat pack can be slid into the soft case for extra warmth. The fabric reflects the sun, serving as a signal mirror, or keeping the device cool in the summer.
And it’s not just for phones — Therma-Phone can be used to protect battery banks, GPS devices and even glucose monitors. It’s not waterproof, but a barrier layer helps keep condensation from forming.
The cases retail for about $39.95, with family-sized packs of three available for $99.95.
The lithium batteries in smartphones aren’t meant for extreme temperatures. They will drain quickly and shut down if it’s too cold, or if your phone’s sunbathing with you on the beach a red thermometer will pop up to tell you it’s overheated.
Apple warns on its website for iPhones generation 4 and later: “Using an iOS device in very cold conditions outside of its operating range might temporarily shorten battery life and could cause the device to turn off.” Its recommended temperature for operation: a balmy 32 to 95 degrees.
Though those warnings are sometimes more of an afterthought, skiers at the Trapp Family Lodge Nordic Center in Stowe often come in looking for a phone charger, but those are in short supply unless a staff member shares theirs, Bill Mason, retail manager at the outdoor center said.
The center sells the Therma-Phone cases, and “we highly recommend them,” Mason said. “They’ve proven themselves.”
Last year, “they sold out pretty quick,” he said.
At MountainOps in Stowe, retail director Brendan Weaver said it’s their first year selling the cases, but they’re moving pretty well.
“It’s an impulse buy, usually,” he said. Customers often come in looking for something else, but the universal problem of a dying phone leads them to ask about the cases.
Stowe boutique In Company Clothing displays Therma-Phone cases right next to the register. They are a surprisingly good seller, said co-owner Devon Williams.
“People notice it right on the counter,” Williams said. “They go right to it because the packaging is spot on,” then she tells customers what the Therma-Phone actually does.
Lots of people came into the store looking for them as stocking-stuffers, and pink and purple cases were popular around Valentine’s Day.
“Stowe is a very active town. Parents get it for their kids on the mountain, and themselves,” Williams said.
She said she started selling the cases in her store because Yvette Randolph used to work there — plus, Williams’ mother is one of Therma-Phone’s local sewers, crafting the cases in her home using materials made mostly in the USA.
The hyper-local connection made selling the already cool product better, Williams said.