We have all seen that one poor soul up the mountain who didn’t get the memo that snow is pretty cold and pretty wet. They are usually adorned in a pair of blue jeans and a crisp (until it gets soaked) white t-shirt. Looking at that guy while you pull your balaclava to cover your face can make you feel positively toasty in comparison.
Make sure you don’t end up in the same situation as that same guy becomes soaked to the bone, the snow melting into the jeans and making life really uncomfortable and cold. The clothing you wear up the mountain should be every different from clothing you wear off the mountain (even those clothes you wear in winter when it is very cold and you need to stay dry on your commute to work).
Skiers and snowboarders will typically wear multiple layers of insulating and waterproof clothing in order to protect them from the harshness of the snow, wind, rain and ice that is usually experienced high up above the cloud line.
You need to make sure you are prepared for any possible weather conditions. It might be t-shirt weather in the morning when you first arrive, but the weather quickly turns at that altitude and you need to be able to throw on (or take off) layers accordingly. Let’s start from our toes and work our way up…
Your extremities feel the cold first. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that you ensure that they stay warm at all times and that you have a way of regulating that temperature. The shoes you wear to and from the mountain should ideally be sturdy walking boots that provide some basic water resistance and insulation to protect against the cold until you get into your ski boots. You could wear your ski or snowboard boots up the mountain (if you already have them) but should not drive wearing them — they are much too clunky and definitely a driving hazard!
Your socks will act as your first line of defence for your feet against the cold up the mountain. Specially designed ski and snowboard socks are ideal! They are thicker across the shin and the heel providing extra padding at key pressure points helping you to attack the slopes for longer.
A combination of lightweight sport socks underneath heavy wool or synthetic hiking socks is a good alternative. Wearing multiple pairs of socks is a great way to enable you to cool your feet down as they get hot and to give a bit of extra padding too. Keep a couple of extra pairs in your backpack so that you can change midway through the day when things start to get, sweaty.
Base Layers (Thermal Bottoms)
Thermal underclothing provides the most effective retention of body heat while you are in extreme alpine conditions. Made from wool or synthetic materials, thermal long-johns, base layers, spencers, singlets etc draw moisture away from your skin as you sweat, dry quickly and keep you super warm hardly weighing anything at all. They fit close to your body so that they don’t hinder your movement or chafe while you are performing intense physical activity.
Not just any pants – you will need to be wearing a pair of water proof ski or snowboard pants for your alpine adventure. Ski and snowboard pants are designed to be loose fitting so that you can fit multiple layers underneath if necessary, although some come with plenty of thermal layering already. Your pants will stop snow from getting to your base layers and will ensure that when it melts, you don’t end up wet and cold.
Functioning in the exact same way as your base layers, your thermal top will provide insulation for your torso keeping you warm, dry and comfortable all day. It’s probably a good idea go away with a couple so that you have a backup for the following days riding.
Layers, layers, layers. We’ll say it again and again. Start the day off wearing a jumper over your thermals, and maybe wear a t-shirt in between so that you can take it off and throw it in your back as the day warms up and you start working hard.
Jumpers that are specially designed for the snow are usually made of wool or synthetic material making them light weight and compact when scrunched up to go in your bag. A jumper with a zip can be a good option for providing some much needed airflow on a hot day.
Your ski and snowboard jacket should not only make you stand out (both aesthetically and for safety) but should keep you warm and dry. Snow jackets are designed with a huge range of purposes in mind. Some might be lightweight and aerodynamic, while others have plenty of storage space, integrated avalanche transceivers and even polishing cloth pockets so that you can keep your goggles clean on the run. Modern jackets sometimes allow you to unzip the thermal lining so that you can cool down quickly when sun comes out in force, and a hood will provide that added layer of protection for your head and face.
Balaclava, Scarf or Face Mask
You probably won’t need to use both of these at the same time, but it’s good to have something to cover that narrow strip of skin that lies exposed between your goggles and the top of your jacket. A balaclava is designed to breathe while keeping the wind off your face when you are flying down the mountain side. A scarf is a good alternative, just make sure it’s secure and the wind doesn’t run away with it while you’re not looking.
Face masks are pretty popular amongst the younger generation of skiers and boarders. They come in a range of exciting styles and patterns and enable the wearers to look veritably terrifying without actually terrifying anyone.
If you’re not wearing a helmet, you are going to need some clothing for your head. We all know that we lose a lot of our heat through our head so it’s important to cover it up. Beanies are popular because they look cool, and pompoms will only improve your street cred up the slopes. Thermal headwear is more lightweight and can even be worn inside a helmet on extra cold days, so it’s a great idea to throw one in your bag just in case.
Wrap up warm and you are sure to have an amazing time up the mountain this winter.