The key to successful dressing when skiing and being out in the mountains is to use layers. This helps with allowing perspiration moisture to ‘wick’ away from the body efficiently whilst also regulating body temperature more effectively than one or two ‘thick’ layers. It also allows you to remove a garment if it becomes too warm. Skiing is also an athletic sport and therefore we need to balance our need to stay warm along with the need to stay as light as possible. Modern technology in fabric manufacture allows us to do this effectively.
So, as my previous post on the subject of thermal underwear described, starting off with these under garments gives you the best foundation for your layers. After that, the next layer to get right is the ‘Mid Layer’. Many outer ski jackets these days are highly waterproof and windproof ‘shells’. This means that they do not have an insulated layer. This is often considered better for skiing as the breath-ability of the garment is enhanced. But because they have no insulation the primary function of the mid layer garment or garments is warmth.
The most common form of a mid layer garment is commonly known as a ‘fleece’ or fleece jumper/fleece jacket (depending of course on the design). Fleece is usually made of a polyester type of material, although some manufactures use directly recycled plastic, for example soft drink bottles, as the main ingredient. The fabric can come in different weights and it is wise to invest in a thinner and a thicker garment if possible. For skiing in ‘normal’ temperatures (that would be anything from say +5 degrees centigrade to -8 degrees centigrade) the thinner version is usually OK, anything colder then you need extra warmth. But remember the thicker the material the heavier it is.
Many of us use fleeces as everyday items of clothing during the winter months although it is important to remember that there are companies that design them specifically for outdoor and extreme sports and others that design them only for fashion based everyday clothing. Either way, they will keep you warm, but the fashion based, often cheaper versions, might not be so effective in the breath-ability area, possibly resulting in excess moisture inside the garment which can actually make you feel colder. Also, the better quality brands use better fabrics allowing more warmth with less material. Go to a recognised ski shop and purchase a brand that is specifically designed for skiing. Brands that I have used and recommend would include The North Face, Patagonia and Icebreaker.
Other mid layer options, might include a long sleeved sweater made with a thin layer of merino wool. This could be worn in combination with a fleece to give some extra warmth. Many people feel the cold in different ways and you would also expect beginners to get warmer more quickly than better skiers due to the physical excursion needed to learn to ski. Therefore experimenting with a combination of thinner layers is the best way to find where your tolerance lies.
There are a couple of other garments that are popular with skiers. Another polyester based item of clothing which is usually referred to as a ‘stretch’ fabric is used to make lightweight, thin jackets that are easily worn over the top of a thin fleece and under a shell outer jacket. They are popular as they look good and add another layer without compromising on weight. Many skiers also like to wear a ‘gillet’. This is simply a jacket without sleeves and is usually made from either fleece material or stretch fabric. Its advantages are that the arms are less restricted whilst still keeping the body warm. They can go in and out of fashion, just like colours, but that’s another story!
Personally, my typical dress set up would include thermal underwear, a thin layer consisting of merino wool or very thin fleece and then either another fleece or a ‘stretch’ fabric style jacket. All of this would be underneath the outer ‘shell’ layer.
So, the main points to remember are warmth without weight and artificial fabrics or merino wool (which is naturally light and warm).
In my next post, I will look at what is probably the most important item of ski clothing, the outer ‘shell’ or simply the ski jacket.
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