5 Secrets To Keep You Warmer On The Ski Slope

Staying warm on the mountain is a mix of art and science. Everyone who skis has heard of layering but not everyone knows how to layer. Savvy skiers and snowboarders don't worry about being cold or wet, because they've mastered the ART of LAYERING.

Scroll down and learn the secrets to staying warm on the ski hill.

The 5 Secrets of Layering

  1. MOISTURE is the enemy.
  2. Layers work as a SYSTEM to keep you dry which keeps you warm.
  3. Each layer has a vital, SPECIFIC function
  4. ACTIVITY LEVEL influences the system.
  5. WEATHER and TEMPERATURE influence the system.
The 4 Layers

3 Basic Layers

There are three basic layers which can be remembered with the acronym EMS (External Layer, Mid Layer, Skin Layer).

1. The Outer Layer: protects from precipitation and wind and expels internal moisture.

2. The Mid Layer(s): insulates and continues moving moisture toward the outer layer.

3. The Base Layer: the base layer wicks moisture away from the skin and encourages airflow.

Base Layer

Mid Layer

Outer Layer

Extremity Layer

The Base Layer: Wick

Base Layer

You're going to sweat especially while skiing. The base layer helps the body's cooling system (millions of tiny sweat glands) by quickly moving moisture away from the skin. Without the right base layer, the system is compromised.

Choose the right material:

  1. Synthetics (polyester or polyester blend): Tend to cost less and resist odors. Synthetic base layers can typically absorb around 7% of their weight in water before the skin feels wet.
  2. Naturals (wool and silk): Naturally resist odor and can be worn year round. Wool base layers can typically absorb around 30% of their weight in water before the skin feels wet.

Choose the right weight or mix and match:

Choose the appropriate weight or combination of base layers depending your activity level and environment.

TIP: Mix and match base layers to make base layer/mid layer combinations.

TIP: Bring additional base layer combinations to the mountain. Experiment to find the perfect mix for the weather and temperature.

Choose the right base layer brands: Smartwool Smartwool makes socks, hats, gloves, tights, and base layers from Merino wool. Merino sheep are raised in New Zealand's Southern Alps (up to 12,218 ft high) and have ultra-breathable coats that keeps them cool in the sweltering summer heat. When winter brings severe Alpine conditions, Merino sheep grow an extra layer of wool over their base coat to roam fields of ice and snow comfortably. Millions of years of evolution have made Merino wool the finest wool in the land.

Other Base layer Brands: Outdoor Research, EMS,The North Face, Under Armour

The Mid Layer: Insulate

Mid Layer

This is where the magic happens. The mid layer serves two purposes:

  1. Trap warm air to insulate
  2. Move MOISTURE from the base layer to the outer layer

Experts have fine-tuned the amount of insulation they need for each situation/environment. They've personalized the mid layer to avoid condensation (moisture build-up) between layers while staying warm. This expertise takes time to develop.

TIP: When in doubt, start off a little cold. It's easier to add a layer than to stop and dry out your full system.

Choose the right mid layer:

  • Ski sweaters such as fleece and wool quarter zips and full zips are the most common mid layer because of their ability to transfer moisture.
  • Synthetic insulated mid layers in the form of vests, pullovers, and jackets can serve double duty as outer layers when conditions prescribe.
  • Down mid layers are for the coldest conditions or those needing the most insulation.

Choose the right mid layer brands:

Mountain Hardwear works with era-defining athletes to develop lightweight, easy-to-use, and well-crafted outdoor clothing and equipment. They develop innovative outdoor apparel, equipment and accessories. For example, you'll see more Mountain Hardwear expedition tents on 8,000 meter peaks than any other brand. With special technology like Q-Shield and materials like Polartec, Mountain Hardwear mid layersare a great choice.

Other MidLayer Brands: Smartwool, Outdoor Research, EMS, The North Face

The Outer Layer: Shield

Outer Layer

The outer layer shields your inner layers from wind and rain.

Choose the right outer layer:

  1. Waterproof Jackets: A waterproof breathable jacket (sometimes referred to as a hard shell) is best for skiing in regions known for wet snow, such as New England or coastal areas. These shells will protect you if snow turns to rain.
  2. Soft Shell Jackets: If there's no rain or wet snow, a soft shell may be a better choice. Moisture passes through a soft shell faster, keeping you drier.

Choose the right outer layer brands:

The North Face: Named for the coldest, most unforgiving side of a mountain, The North Face creates athlete-tested, expedition-proven products that help people explore and test the limits of human potential. Well known for outerwear, their latest line (the Summit Series) was tested by Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and others on the Meru Expedition.

Other Outer Layer Brands: Mountain HardWear, Outdoor Research, EMS

Layering Head, Hands, and Feet

Extremity Layer

Head: Add a buff or thin balaclava under your helmet.

Hands: Instead of thick, all-in-one ski gloves, try layers. Consider a three layered approach: a base layer of light-weight liner gloves and a ski glove with a removable liner. Change the mid layer based on conditions. If you always get cold, try shell mittens ' which tend to hold more warmth around your fingers than shell gloves.

Feet: Don't go overboard on thick socks. A MID-WEIGHT WOOL SOCK is perfect. Ski boots have a lot of insulation.

Tip: If your hands are always cold, slip a hand warmer between your glove layers.

Tip: As always, pack spare mid layer gloves for damp conditions

Choose the right outer layer brands:

Lot of great choices here. Marmot's Randonnee Ski Gloves are industry favorites. EMS's Altitude 3-in-1 Ski Gloves are best sellers. Columbia, The North Face, and Black Diamond also provide great options. Smartwool makes incredible wool socks. Seirus and Outdoor Research make great balaclavas.

To wrap things up, remember that:

  1. Moisture is the enemy. If you get wet, you get cold. A perfect layering system should keep you dry.
  2. Layers work as a system. Each part of the system is just as important as the next. Having an awesome jacket without a great wicking or insulation layer won't do you a lot of good.
  3. It takes time and experience to customize your layering system. If you exert the same level of energy each time you ski/snowboard, consider writing down the temperature (the other variable) as well as your level of comfort to continue fine tuning your system.
Smartwool
Mountain Hardwear
The North Face
Eastern Mountain Sports