Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lady, it's cold outside!

Do you know what ceramics, soda pop bottles, zirconium carbide and insects have in common? They’re all sources of materials that go into your ski clothes.
The list of state-of-the-art fabrics and fibers that make up ski clothing reads like a chemistry book. Today’s technical threads move moisture, block wind, shed water, wick vapor, trap air, transport perspiration, heat up, cool down and breathe. They do everything but carve turns. Warmth, comfort and a pocket where you need it are the hallmarks of new-millennium ski clothing. Think of it as equipment.
Whatever your preference—high fashion or high tech—warmth is always in. My survey shows that being cold puts a freeze on a woman’s ability to enjoy skiing, and it is one of the reasons women quit skiing. 

How much warmth?
When buying ski clothes, consider your body chemistry: warm-blooded or cold-blooded? Combine that answer with the terrain you usually ski and the amount of energy you put out to determine how much warmth you need.
Layering continues to be the smartest way to foil foul weather. Warm air trapped between layers of clothing creates insulation that keeps you warmer than a single piece of heavier clothing.
The clothing layer closest to your body should be made of a fiber that  both breathes and wicks away perspiration to keep your skin warm and dry. The base layer I wear is Snow Angel, the softest and most versatile of all sports underwear. It comes in lightweight, mid-weight and ultra warm fabrics. The inside is a soft brushed material, while the outside is a smooth, shiny fabric that lets me easily slip my fleece over it. And, back at the lodge when I shed my jacket and pants, it becomes apres skiwear! The top is a zip T-neck, the bottom is a low rise capri. Love 'em! This season they've added an adorable Posh Plaid to the collection. Hard to believe something so cute and cuddly can also be the most important piece of clothing I wear!

Middle layer: sweater or fleece

On top of your base layer, the next piece of clothing should be a turtleneck (polyester is better than cotton) topped by a fleece pullover or thin zippered jacket. With its new weather-resistant treatments, fleece holds as much warmth as a traditional ski sweater, plus it resists moisture and wicks away sweat. 
If you choose a sweater, make it wool or wool-blend. Wool draws moisture from the skin and retains heat well; cotton and cotton-blend sweatshirts absorb perspiration, become damp and stay damp. You’ll get cold very quickly in cotton.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Outer layer: parkas and pants

The final layer should be the insulated or non-insulated parka and pant. Insulated clothing traps air, creating a barrier that keeps warmth in and cold out. It stays warmer than non-insulated clothing, but for some people can be too warm. The cold, damp northeast requires more insulation than, say, the dry climate of the Rockies where a lighter insulation works just fine.
Obermeyer for 2010-11

Don't be fooled by skiwear in discount or department stores. Although department-store jackets may look and feel like those you see on ski slopes, look closer. Read hangtags. If you want real warmth, you want the latest technology from companies that make clothing specifically for cold-weather sports. Though a parka might resemble a brand carried in specialty ski shops, its cheaper price tells you the fabric, construction and features are not the same quality and won’t protect you from the elements like the real thing. 
Look for these features:
• Wind flaps over zippers for wind and snow protection • Pull-tabs on zippers for easy grabbing with mittens or glove Strategically placed pockets for outside access like a trail map pocket on a pant leg •  No hip pockets on tight-fitting pants — they make pants too bulky • Sealed seams — wind can rip through seams of poorly made clothes Snug or adjustable cuffs at wrists and ankles  •  Collars and inside closures that can be zipped or buckled to the chin • Elasticized drawstrings at waists and hems of jackets that can be tightened.
I find everything I like in Obermeyer, the Aspen-based company that has been designing skiwear for more than 60 years. You can read about the company's founder Klaus Obermeyer here on this blog. His ski clothes top the charts, especially for women and kids.
Nils for 2010-11
I also like Nils. This Swedish company designs ski wear only for women, so it's all about us! Their clothes fit women's curves like no other. My review of 2010-11 ski fashions is here

I dread the day one-piece ski suits come back into style. Not that they aren't warm. They are. Their biggest drawback is going to the bathroom! You know the drill: you get into the stall, take off your goggles, hat and gloves and find there's no place to put them except between your knees. So you unzip and drop your top, trying to keep the sleeves from dragging on the dirty, wet floor. Still clutching your hat (or helmet), goggles and gloves with your knees, you attempt to pull your long underwear bottoms down around your bum. Then you remember what your mother told you: don't ever sit on the seat!
While I'm on this delicate subject, let me tell you about a great find that is invaluable if you ski in the backcountry. It's called Freshette, a palm-sized anatomically designed device that lets you take a leak like a man. Without having to squat, you can direct your flow through a trough, a spout and a tube while standing up. Check it out here.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Buying tips:
  • Bring long underwear, turtleneck and sweater or fleece to ensure a good fit when trying on ski clothes.
  • Sit and squat in pants to make sure they don't ride up. For all-day active wear, they must be roomy, and you don't want to split a seam when doing a spread eagle!
  • If leg length looks too long, it's probably OK. Remember, ski boots add about an inch.
  • Too loose is more flattering than too tight.
  • Black and navy create a more slimming silhouette than other colors, particularly in pants.
  • A long, cinched-in jacket looks better on big hips than a short one. A belted style emphasizes big shoulders, narrow waist and legs.
  • Don't be afraid of white. Water-repellent coatings also contain stain repellent tough enough to be scrubbed. Most fabrics can be machine-washed, but always follow instructions on the tags.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Gloves and Mittens

Keeping hands dry is equally important to keeping them warm because hands lose heat 30 times faster when they are wet. Look for gloves or mittens made with high-tech insulation and materials for heat retention and water resistance. Mittens keep hands warmer than gloves and mittens with liners are warmer yet. You can't beat Manzella, the glove company with a line specifically made for women and our smaller, uniquely shaped hands. I wear their warmest style, the Bubble Down Mitt with goose down insulation and a water repellent quilted shell. My hands never get cold.

Many gloves and mittens feature pockets for heat packs for those bitterly cold days. There also are packets for feet, but don't substitute one for the other — the ones made for feet can burn your palms. If you have unopened packs from last year, you can use them this season; they are good for two to three years. Small-size packs for kids are available, too.
Thin glove liners made with moisture-moving materials work well inside gloves or mittens for added warmth and dryness. I like mine when I need to use my fingers outside my gloves for taking notes or opening trail maps.

Cold Feet, Warm Socks

If cold feet are a chronic problem, or if you can't feel your toes while skiing, your boots could be cutting off circulation. Next time you take them off, check your feet and lower legs immediately. If you see any bulging blood vessels, this means they are  pumping blood to get it back to the toes. It is an indication your boots are too tight in that spot. A bootfitter can  correct this.

Nothing makes you more miserable than wet, clammy feet. Pedorthists say the average skier’s foot sheds half a pint of perspiration a day on the slopes, but I think this is more of a guy thing. Nevertheless, wearing the right kind of socks and taking simple precautions can prevent sweat and swelling problems that cause cold feet.

Socks should be made of the same moisture-wicking materials that are used for long underwear. These thermo-regulation materials (wool included, like SmartWool) should transfer vapor and perspiration from the skin without soaking the sock. One way to determine a fiber’s resistance to saturation is by observing how fast it dries. When I take my socks from the washer, they are hardly wet and line dry in a flash. Cotton socks, on the other hand, take forever in a dryer.

Layering doesn't apply to socks. Wear one thin sock (about the weight of a man’s dress sock). Heavier socks or layering will create more perspiration and circulation problems. I wear SmartWool's PhD medium ski sock made of 72 percent Merino Wool, 26 percent nylon and 2 percent elastic. Remember, boot liners inside your boots are designed to be warm.

Pantyhose and nylon workout tights do not make good substitutes for ski socks. They contribute to cold feet in women more than anything. Nylon doesn’t allow feet to breathe, making them wet and clammy. Nylon also makes feet slide in the boots, causing loss of steering and edging control.

Wear clean socks every ski day. Dirt and perspiration interfere with wicking, causing loss of thermal quality. Wipe your feet dry before putting on socks and never put on boots when socks still are damp. Never put on wet or cold boots. Your feet will stay wet and cold all day, making them susceptible to blisters and frostbite. When you drive to a ski area, keep your boots on the heated floor of the front seat.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Ski Technology Great for Women

Wayne Wong explains the Anton ski technology. Photo by Dino Vournas.

Of all the new skis I demoed last February at the SIA on-snow show at Winter Park, the most fun was the Anton, a brand new ski with a built-in suspension system like your car, absorbing all the shock. It has an unbelievable way of hugging the snow, so you are always in control and able to initiate turns like never before. This is super important for women, since we tend to ski in the back seat with most of our weight in our hips. With the tip grabbing the snow like a front-wheel drive car hugging the road, there's no way the tips will leave the ground or (worse) get crossed. It creates amazing stability and balance. 

I spent the day ripping on the Anton with the inventor for whom the skis are named and Wayne Wong, the hotdogger from the 70s era who is helping to bring the skis to market. I was impressed with how easily I could get the skis engaged and carve into the turn. I was with some ski journalist buddies who all loved it as I did. One said it's the first time he's skied all day without his knees hurting with every turn. In fact, at the end of the day, he said, he had no knee pain at all!

And get this: the next day when skiing on my own skis, I noticed my tips were all over the place. I really missed the stability the Anton gave me.

I'll be writing more about this Ferrari of skis, but if you want to learn about the specific technology, click on

I also demoed a few skis with the new "rocker" technology. Basically, the rocker is a reserve camber, where instead of bowing in the middle, the ski's middle is flat against the snow with a longer rise in the tip and tail. This allows better flotation in powder and crud. If you like big-mountain and powder skiing, look for rocker technology.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Women's Ski Clinics

Chicks on Sticks
2010/11 Ski Season

Academics are taking a second look at new research showing that boys demand, and get, teachers’ attention more than girls in grade school through grad school. But remove the boys from the classroom, and girls are more likely to participate in discussions, to achieve more and to hold themselves in higher self-esteem, the studies show.

The concept also has proven effective in ski schools. The trend toward all-women ski classes is snowballing in the ski industry.

Chicks on Sticks, Babes on Boards, Thelma & Louise on Skis— call them what you may—participants of these clinics know a good thing when they ski it.

All-women classes remove the pressure to ski like men. Women learn at their own pace, in their own way. Dancing with the mountain rather than attacking it becomes a unified goal. Men like to Rambo down the mountain while women take it slower, concentrating more on technique. With everyone sharing the same objectives and strategies, the class becomes an ideal learning environment. It breeds success.

Former Telluride Ski School Director Annie Vareille Savath said all-women classes work because most women are not as confident about their athletic ability as men. “In coed classes, women tend to ski defensively, and lose quality,” Vareille Savath said. “But competition on the same level pushes them to be better and builds confidence.

“In Women's Week, we show women how to accomplish goals, how to recognize and deal with fears and to coordinate mind and body,” Vareille Savath said. “What they learn skiing, they carry throughout their lives. It’s better than psychotherapy.”

Women-only programs owe much of their success to the quality of instruction. Ski schools select the crème de la crème of their fully-certified women instructors who are well-versed in the latest teaching methods and equipment technology, and capable of setting examples in a non-condescending way. Their skiing definitely presents a visual, achievable model.

A male instructor for these specialized classes just won’t do. Feedback questionnaires from participants who’ve completed women’s clinics indicate they prefer the women-taught-by-women format. The presence of even a single male is like having a “gal” go out for beers with the guys after bowling. It’s just not the same!

Besides mastery of skills and building confidence, women come for the sheer fun of it. A spirit of camaraderie sets these clinics apart. The multi-day seminars can be a slumber-party-sorority-house-Girl Scout-camp rolled into one great getaway. “Let’s Do Lunch” takes on a whole new meaning: Picture a sun-drenched mountaintop deck where new friends celebrate their skiing breakthroughs over a bottle of wine.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Schlep Ski Boots with Ease

Schlepping ski equipment is a necessary evil for skiers. For day trips, I never put my boots on at the car and walk on icy pathways or graveled pavement to the slopes. This is a sure way to either fall on my butt or ruin my boot soles. I used to strap boots together and hang them over one shoulder and carry my skis on the other. Now I've taken the weight off my shoulders and put it on the ground. . .in my Skboot bag. Skboot is a versitle roller bag that holds not only my boots, but my helmet, goggles, gloves, neck warmers, sunglasses, and extra stuff like hand warmers, boot heaters, hats and socks. It rolls easily over snowy parking lots and hotel hallways, and it'll be great for flying too. Here's a photo of Caroline Horner, who invented and designed Skboot. Check out more at