On July 9, 2014

In snow wear and gear choices, high tech abounds

By Karen D. Lorentz posted Apr 4, 2013

The fashions are colorful, the gear rocks, and both are more high-tech than ever – and guaranteed to make you more comfortable on the slopes.

Guaranteed? No way, you think.

Think again, and then shop till you drop ’cause right now the sales are on!

For many a snow-sport aficionado, the weather presents the biggest challenge to great days on the mountain. For some it can present a problem of being warm enough, for others keeping cool or dry. But when it comes to personal comfort, consider that there is no such thing as “bad weather,” just the wrong clothing.

Ditto for equipment. Skis and boards are so much better than 10 years ago that there really isn’t any ‘bad’ equipment out there, but there is ‘wrong’ equipment for your specific needs, terrain preference(s), and ability level. In fact, the plethora of choices can be overwhelming.

The solution to such challenges is good communication with a salesperson at a winter-sports specialty shop. Their staff “are knowledgeable because they attend clinics and seminars and get to talk with manufacturers,” notes Sharon Funaro, assistant manager at the Okemo Snowsports Shop.

Lee Quaglia, owner of Aspen East and Surf the Earth in Killington, adds that, “Our staff tests equipment at several on-snow trade shows before we order for the next season so we really know how the equipment performs.”

“Staff can fix any problem,” observes Bill Langlands, proprietor of Darkside, a ‘core snowboard shop in Killington.
Even if you don’t have a problem and are just looking to update your wardrobe or gear, knowledgeable salespeople can assist by explaining features and function – and that can lead to more personal comfort and, thus, more fun.

For anyone bothered by cold hands, simple hand-warmer packets may be the answer. Funaro calls them “little miracles.” However, there are also heated gloves with pushbuttons to control the heat setting. With their thin lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, they are comfortable and can be the answer to a vexing problem.

Other “heated” garments available include balaclava masks, vests, and socks. All are more expensive routes to comfort, but work amazingly well. For most people, the technological advances in fabrics make heated items unnecessary.

Funaro advises outdoor enthusiasts to choose “base layers made from synthetic fibers – not cotton, throw it out.” Synthetics allow moisture to escape, keeping you drier and therefore warmer. Wicking fabrics have been around for a while but are now made from more advanced fabrics that work better, she added.

BJ models an Obermeyer outfit while showing the men’s orange jacket and plaid pants that were so popular this year. Yellows, pinks, purples, prints and florals were popular in adult and children’s wear.

Advanced synthetics have improved the performance of most clothing, from socks and base layers to outerwear and gloves.
Barbara “BJ” Jeromin, who works at the Killington Sports’ Obermeyer Shop, said that new membranes foster waterproofing and breathability, lighter and warmer linings and insulations (micro-weight fleece, Permaloft, recycled polyesters, etc.), and other advances like laminate constructions and DWR (durable water repellant) outer coatings and make clothing more comfortable while offering more protection from the elements.

Jeromin explained that tags with numbers like 10,000mm/10,000g indicate the degree of waterproofing and breathability built into a garment. The higher the numbers, the better and the more expensive the garment is likely to be.

Those who only ski in fair weather can do fine with less expensive products, but if layers get damp, a more breathable pant or jacket that allows body-moisture vapor to escape will be appreciated, she noted.

For those who ski/ride in any and all weather, waterproof and breathable clothing with additional features like sealed seams, waterproofed zippers, and ventilation inserts (to prevent overheating) will provide the most comfort, she added.

Fleece linings at wrist, neck, or ear locations, tricot-lined pockets, powder skirts (in jackets), and jackets that zip together with pants are among other features that increase comfort.

New mid-layers like Obermeyer’s women’s “down sweater” are lighter in weight, toasty, and fit under jackets thanks to new weavings of down fibers that also enable them to double as a light jacket on a warm day or for après evenings, thus solving a packing problem for trips. Ski sweaters also feature soft merino or alpaca wools and new designs.

New fabrics that mimic the sweatshirt or jeans look, sport features like water repellency and breathability, thus enhancing the options for the youthful market or those who like to appear casual. A woman’s high-tech silk jacket can similarly satisfy the fashionista who craves function and performance.

Children’s clothing is more rugged to withstand playing in the snow while sporting the new features and fabrics that will keep them warm and dry. Obermeyer’s I-Grow feature in children’s jackets, bibs, and pants provides generous hems that can be let out for additional years of use, Jeromin said.

The trend has been toward more colorful prints, florals, stripes, plaids, and bright solids extends to womens’ children’s, and men’s wear, Jeromin added, noting that Obermeyer’s bright orange print pants for men sold out quickly. Plaids vary from the red/black traditional lumberjack look to the brilliant blue flannel of Helly Hansen’s Odin insulated shirt, a mid-layer that can double as cool après-wear or an ‘urban woodsman’ look in the city.

Jeromin noted that since Klaus Obermeyer started Sport Obermeyer [62 years ago] with the first down ski parka, the many innovations in fabrics and fashions have made them “more efficient and effective” in keeping people comfortable, which, in turn, has contributed to less time in the lodge and more time on the slopes.

Cathy Quaglia observes that some of us have a tendency to hang on to our ski wear for too long and miss out on the new advances which lead to greater comfort, whether it’s warmth that is needed or staying dry in all kinds of weather.

She points to the Gore-Tex demonstration kit that shows how high-tech fabrics really do make a difference – by illustrating that our bodies generate heat and moisture vapor which can make us uncomfortable if it can’t escape (demonstrated by a two mitt – one Gore-Tex, one clear plastic- experiment.

Gore-Tex® is an extremely thin membrane that’s waterproof, windproof, and breathable because it has over 9 billion pores per square inch that allow human moisture vapor (sweat) to escape through it because water vapor is 700 times smaller than a pore. A water droplet, however, is 20,000 times larger than a pore so it can’t get through and thus the membrane is waterproof and windproof.

Some manufacturers use Gore-Tex while others feature their own proprietary membranes. “It’s important to look for the numbers which indicate how waterproof and breathable the products are,” Quaglia noted.

While vibrant colors, florals and prints have recently become the rage in skier clothing, those fashion developments can be traced to snowboarding, noted Langlands, who stated that years ago, manufacturers were more amenable to “experimenting and taking risks due to snowboarding’s more youthful culture.”

Similarly, snowboards led the graphics revolution seen on today’s skis, and skiing copied sidecut from snowboards, too. Snowboards also sported rocker first with Lib Tech’s original Banana board featuring full rocker (a base profile shaped like a banana), Langlands added.

There have been many technology changes since with camber, full rocker, and various combinations of rocker and camber now featured in snowboards.

“Boards have never ridden better,” Langlands said. One of the changes he likes is the NUG model from Burton, which is a full-rocker board that can be ridden 8 to 10 cm shorter.

At Surf the Earth Snowboards and the adjoining Aspen East Ski Shop, salespeople in both departments noted the tremendous range of features among various makes and models of snowboards and skis.

While everyone can find a snowboard to meet their needs, there isn’t one board that will suit everyone so it’s important for the salesperson to learn about the rider’s experience and preferred terrain, noted Ted Manning, manager and buyer for Surf the Earth.

Among the latest trends are “the hybrids that blend rocker and camber and a resurgence in traditional camber boards, driven from more aggressive riders who want a more powerful feel,” Manning said. The spectrum of boards include those designed specifically for learners, powder, terrain parks, kids, and ladies (with softer flex, different binding placements, narrower width.) They come in a variety of flex patterns, camber/rocker blends, or pure rocker or camber only, which make some more versatile and others more specific to a type of terrain with literally hundreds to choose from, he noted.

Today’s trend in skis is wider, rocker, and hotter graphics. Wider waists underfoot offers better stability in variable snow conditions with 84-98mm waists now the average for all-mountain skis (compared to 72-82 mm five years ago,) explained Lisa Swett of Aspen East.

The widest or “fat” skis (105-130 mm underfoot) and super-fats (140 mm) work best in powder.
When it comes to rocker skis, they are beneficial for all levels of skiers due to their easy turn initiation, being less hooky, and enabling a smoother entry to the turn when on edge,” Swett said.

Swett demonstrates rocker technology (or upward bend of a ski) by placing a pair base-to-base. Under the foot and extending toward tip and tail, most skis have camber, which means the bases are not perfectly flat but arch outward (away from each other) so they don’t touch for much of their length. (This enables a skier to weight the ski under foot and pressure it so that when tipped on edge, the ski engages the snow and starts to turn.)

When cambered skis with rocker, or upward rise in the tips and tails, are squeezed together at the waist, the tips and tails bend outward more (upward when on snow) which makes them less susceptible to hooking in loose snow, more manageable, and facilitates learning to carve.

Manufacturers are making skis with traditional camber only, camber with tip rocker or tip and tail rocker, and full rocker.
Fatter width (113 mm waist, 143 mm tip, 132 mm tail) with camber plus a lot of rocker makes for a versatile ski that can work in powder and on hardpack.

Twin Tips also feature varying degrees of rocker today and are “super fun, all-mountain skis, not just park skis,” Swett said.
Lee Quaglia noted that mogul skiers still prefer more traditional narrow skis because they are quicker edge to edge for falline skiing. “You’ll see lots of Dynastar Twister skis that we’ve sold for the Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge this weekend,” he added.
All agreed that demoing – trying new models before purchasing – is advisable for everyone.

Thanks to Jeannie Thoren’s pioneering work that led ski manufacturers to recognize that a woman’s build and center of gravity are different from a man’s, we have women-specific skis designed for all categories of skiers – beginners to experts, racers to powder hounds. These skis are softer flexing, shorter, lighter, and have a binding location forward of center, Swett explained.

Another major change came with women-specific boots with narrow heel pockets, softer flex, and lower cuffs for greater control and comfort. While stronger women can still ski a shorter unisex or men’s ski, most really need the women’s boot, Swett observed.

JoAnn Kavouksorian, co-owner of Mountain Travelers Hike and Ski Shop, explained that the increasing popularity of Alpine Touring (AT) and how great it is for an “uphill fitness workout.” AT equipment gives athletes the “ability to climb up with free heels and ski down with locked heels alpine-style.”

Noting that Alpine skiers are already familiar with the step-in style binding, she said the AT binding can “lock their heels and have the ‘release’ they are accustomed to” for downhill runs while they can free the heel for ease in uphill climbing. “We are selling more and more AT every year,” she noted.

Spring brings bargains in the clothing and gear departments as shops make room for next year’s lines. So it’s the best time to take one’s fashion/gear level up a notch.

With the almost four feet of snow that fell in March and extending their seasons – Pico is reopenign Saturday, Okemo’s new close date is April 21 and Killington appears headed into June! – there’s still time to enjoy new equipment and the latest fashions.
Technology is improving all the time, so be sure to ask an expert to explain the newest features and function.
Next week, look for local experts advice on boots, accessories, demos, and tuning.

Debate: Rocker technology, who is it designed for?
When it comes to the new rocker technology, one view says that the introduction of rocker to alpine skis has improved the ski experience for all skiers from first-timers to powder hounds to World Cup racers. It does this by helping skis to “turn with less effort, carve more easily, and float better in deep snow.”

Another view holds that rocker is appropriate for new skiers and beginners to intermediates or for Western powder.
Rockered powder skis are an epiphany and pure delight in powder, but they can’t carve at high speed on groomed, observes Jackson Hogen, a recognized ski expert who writes: “any attempt at simulating a tip-to-tail carved turn is futile, even an expert will skid like a newbie” (Skiing Heritage, March-April 2013).

That inability to turn as precisely as carving skis do raises a concern for John Fry, a former editor of SKI Magazine and another knowledgeable expert. He is concerned that a rockered powder ski designed for off-piste may not work well for “a skier with imperfect technique” and could potentially be “dangerous” if its tendency to skid turns leads to a high-speed skier on hardpack being unable to avoid colliding with something or someone.

Such concerns illustrate the importance of choosing appropriate equipment and most likely account for the blends seen in today’s boards and skis, especially for Eastern skiers.

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