This winter is going to be epic. Whether you ski or board – or just concentrate on really ruling the après ski scene – new advances in riding gear, clothing and wearable technology are changing the way we connect with the slopes.
So right now, no matter if you are heading to ski school for the first time at Stowe, or considering a weeklong mecca to the big slopes out west in places like Colorado, Park City, Montana, the Pacific Northwest and Lake Tahoe, it’s time to gear up for a winter of big powder, big mountains and even bigger adventures.
Start with the base
To best prepare for this year’s ski season, start from the base and build up and out from there. First off, you’ll need a really amazing pair of ski socks. Who knew socks could have advanced technology? But the EURO Silver Supreme sock features high-tech anti-bunching technology and tiered compression – fancy! For the money, keep it simple with a nice modern slim-fit merino number like the Smartwool Darn Tough Vermont Padded Cushion Skiing Socks. Lots of people say go with a thin sock. However, if your boot feels right with a little more cushion in there, don’t hesitate to err on the side of comfort. After all, you probably won’t be competing in slope style at the Pyeong Chang Winter Olympics.
Wool used to be so itchy that we were forced to wear polypropylene as our under layers. But new generations of merino wool are making it easier (and way less smelly) to go with wool for your long john pants and top. Try out the aptly named Ice Breaker for a cozy layer all the way to come après ski-time. Speaking of après skiing, does booze count as gear? For the best après action, try the home-distilled rum at Crested Butte’s Montayna, Arapahoe Basin’s world famous bacon-vodka-infused Bloody Mary’s, or the Red Onion in Aspen.
Not every skier needs a $700 Gortex ski jacket and pants. To keep it real, consider going old school with one of the outrageous onesie offerings from Tipsy Elves – with plenty of American flags and neon on offer, this is the preferred outfitter of Olympic Gold Medalist Jonny Moseley. If you’re going to get a pricier option, look at what Patagonia has to offer. Their clothes last forever, and their corporate social responsibility programs are leading the entire outdoor gear industry in a direction to better sustainability and a better planet.
The single most important part of ski technology is the boot. If you are going to throw down a week’s salary on any one piece of equipment, this is where you’ll want to go long. Head to your local ski shop in off hours when you can get a good boot technician to take an hour or so to properly fit you and let you try on a few options. A number of boots now have heat-molded liners. However, think before you mold. With just a little bit of time, your boots will pack-in around your feet and provide a better fit over the long haul.
A growing trend across the sport is toward inbounds uphill ski touring. Rather than take that first lift of the day, uphill ski tourers equip themselves with climbing skins, alpine touring bindings and boots – and splitboards in the case of snowboarders – to ‘skin’ up to the top of the mountain. Backcountry.com is a great wholesaler for backcountry, sidecountry and alpine touring equipment.
While ‘earning your turns’ isn’t for everybody, heading up the slope at sunrise with alpenglow igniting the peaks beyond is about as transformative a ski experience as you get. Most major ski areas around Lake Tahoe and in the Pacific Northwest allow uphill skiing. In Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Montana, you can do it almost everywhere, though the sport takes on much larger proportions in places like Sunlight and Aspen. On the East Coast, over 35 areas are known to offer uphill skiing.
It’s time for a ski
Back in the ‘80s – when skiing was really great and nobody bothered with things like helmets or selfie sticks – we rode on basically the longest and narrowest skis we could humanly manage. Snowboarding changed all that, and you could say that it saved skiing as a sport. That more fashionable sport led the way to new design trends, parabolic side cuts to skis and technology like rockers (like a surfboard) for better float in the pow. Over the past five years, skis have gotten wider, rockers have gotten ridiculously big (just head to the back bowls of Vail and check out the pontoons the big rippers are sporting these days), and the amount of ski ‘under foot’ – that’s right, the part of the ski that sits below your boot – has gotten much wider.
Most of this new technology allows for swifter turns and better float. But let’s face it – most people don’t throw Rodeo 540s off 20-foot cliffs, and most days, you don’t get to ski in two feet of snorkel-worthy powder. So what board is right for you?
In the West, you’ll probably want something with a little more rocker and enough under foot to keep you up on big pow days. Back east, something that cuts into ice and carves turns might be better. Just remember, Glenn Plake – the legendary mohawked ripper from the 1980s – skied way harder stuff than you ever will, and he did it on spaghetti-thin 210-centimeter skis.
The bells and whistles
There are a few other places where you should consider investing more of your hard-earned cash to update your ski gear. Gloves are a really important piece of equipment. Cold hands are one of the quickest ways to ruin your day, and while it may seem overboard to pay $375 for a pair of gloves, the new Seirus Inferno heated glove looks like it would keep you warm on even the coldest of days.
Lots of people are also taking it to the next level with their goggles. The new Abom antifog goggles sport a heat conductive, and they basically never fog up. Most people scratch their goggles on the first day anyway. So just go for something with strong UV protection and that fits well with your helmet to avoid what locals like to call ‘the gaper gap’.
Lastly, when in doubt: roll some duct tape around your ski pole to use in case of emergency.