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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What to Wear Skiing: Dressing Warm, Staying Safe, and Looking Good on the Ski Slopes

Typically we don’t tend to associate skiing gear with looking great.  In order to stay warm enough while you're out on the slopes, and padded enough to protect from inevitable wipeouts, you end up looking like a fluorescent version of the Stay Puft marshmallow man.

But the fact is that when you’re skiing there’s more to looking good than simply knowing how to ski. There are a vast array of styles and looks available if you take the time to browse, from down-filled puffer jackets to layering systems, venting zips and wrist gaiters.  The amount of thought that goes into most ski-wear these days is like that of early space suits.  Instead of looking like you’re fresh out of an 80s music video, think carefully about just what you’re going to be looking like on the slopes, including the colors, textures and cut of your outfits.

A Good Ski Outfit Starts on a Strong Foundation

In this context the “foundation” is the base layer. Before you put on anything else, you want a layer between your skin and everything else you’re going to be wearing. This usually takes the form of long johns and a long-sleeved t-shirt. It’s not for keeping you warm though, this is to keep you dry. The material should be as far from absorbent as possible, so that any water that soaks through the rest of your clothes won’t end being held against your skin. Some of the more hi-tech fabrics also actively transfer water, and even sweat, away from your skin using a process called wicking.

Man-made fabrics such as polyester, polypropylene, or even bamboo are excellent at keeping you dry, but the payoff is they make you stink something rotten. Woolen base layers are natural odor-eaters, but we prefer the man-made fabrics because frankly, staying dry is worth it.

Lay on the Layers
Now that you’ve got that crucial barrier between your skin and the wet wide world beyond it, you can start putting everything else in place. Some people think the best thing to do here is put on one great big thick layer. A thick layer is warm, right?

Actually no. In a fortunate twist, both the fashionable, and sensible thing to do is to have multiple layers. Each layer creates another chamber for warm air to become trapped in, and you want to trap plenty of warm air. At the same time, it also allows you have to have a bit more control over your temperature if things are too warm. A layered system also tends to be slimmer than a single heavy jumper as well, meaning you look better and can move more easily.

Those who spend a lot of time out on the slopes like to have a selection of mid-layers and specialist fleeces. Here you want things to be a little more tailored – you want a snug fit that’s going to allow your clothes to move in perfect harmony with your body while you ski.  From a fashion perspective, layers also allow you to do plenty of stuff with colors, whether you have a variety of colors on display, or numerous shades. You can create lots of different looks.  Quick note: even in the middle of the coldest winters, you will very rarely need to layer up your legs. A combination of long johns and ski pants should be enough protection.

The Outer Layers

Now we’re getting to your outer layers, the part of your ski gear that the world is going to see most of the time. This is going to be made up of your waterproofs, breathable jacket and pants. Now I’m not going to be blowing anyone’s mind by suggesting you should use Gore Tex for these, but it’s considered the gold standard for skiers for a reason. However, you only really need Gore Tex if you’re going to be in more extreme weather conditions.

However there are some extra features it’s worth paying extra for. You want to make sure you get something with a high collar that covers your chin when you need it to – a chin exposed to the wind is nobody’s friend. Also, remember the stink I told you your polyester base layer is going to build up? Make sure your outer layer has venting strips on the arms and legs so you can slow down the sweating a little. Inner cuffs can stop snow going up your sleeves, and toughened fabric on the inside leg can prevent your trousers being ripped apart by your ski boots.

Whatever you buy, look for high quality zips and taped seems. And fur collars look pretty, but if you’re kitted out properly, you should have a helmet, so really you only need them if you like the look.

Final Touches

Goggles.  Any outfit comes down to the accessories, and ski-wear is no different. Your helmet, goggles and gloves are crucial. For goggles you ideally want something with interchangeable lenses, so that you can switch them depending on whether it’s a bright sunny day, or a bit more overcast. On the other hand, to save money you can simply get a pair of goggles for regular use, and wrap-around sunglasses for the sunnier days. Either way, you want 100% UVA and UVB protection, safety isn’t something to cut corners on, and it can get bright out on the snow.

Helmet.  Your helmet is also a safety must. There’s plenty of research to show how much they can reduce head and neck injuries, but every veteran of the slopes knows at least one anecdote of a time when a helmet has saved a life.

Gloves.  Finally, a decent pair of gloves is the finishing touch. You don't need to spend a ton on a good pair of ski gloves, but if you’re going to be making a regular thing of it, there are brands such as Hestra that are geared towards professionals.

Follow this advice, and you will have you a ski outfit that allows you to look and feel great.

Sam Wright is a freelance writer and skiing enthusiast who works with Much Better Adventures.