On December 18, 2019

Holiday gifts for the snowsports enthusiast

By Tony Crespi

Ironically, although ski writers (and adventure travel writers) are often asked questions about mountain gear – “What’s a great ski for carving? What’s a great glove? Is there a boot bag that is truly better than the one at the mall?” etc. — we really aren’t all gear geeks! Still, having been a ski instructor, race coach, weekend warrior, and airport-traveler it’s clear good gear can maximize warmth, amplify skiing skills, and help make a winter adventure more enjoyable. Good gear also makes a good gift!

Visiting ski shows and mountain shops it’s evident the outdoor ski and travel industry continues to refine, enhance, and introduce new products. Last year my wife gifted me with a new ski helmet. Last year a friend gifted me with a new heated boot bag from Transpack! This year? I’m hoping for a new pair of front side skis and a new down sweater. Sure, I need new gloves and mittens, as both now have more duct tape then leather, but I may look for those at close out bins as I travel.

Here’s a tech alert! Fun mountain gifts such as a Suunto Watch which counts vertical feet skied, bootwarmers with onboard batteries to heat cold toes, heated boot bags, and electric ski tuning tools such as the Swix Evo Pro EdgeTune Pro II all are interesting choices. None necessarily make winter travel easier but they do add interest (and comfort) to a mountain adventure.

When it comes to skiing and riding the choices are diverse! And as the holidays loom closer your favorite skiers may be dreaming of a gift to enhance their mountain adventure. ​

Fortunately, whether shopping near Killington or Okemo, or shopping at outdoor outfitters at points South, East or West, the options are as diverse as choosing a trail on the mountain. Looking for ideas? To help we have put together a gift list. We’re no different than our readers. We ski. We ride. We know what’s fun, we know what’s naughty (financially), and we know what’s nice. But this is clearly a biased list nonetheless, based on personal preferences only. How could it be otherwise? So take from it what you will. Welcome to our holiday gift guide.


In the Northeast warm jackets are a staple! No one retreats to the summit or mid-mountain lodges in January because they are too warm! Insulated jackets, from down to Thinsulate, remain popular. While some may prefer layering heavy fleece sweaters under shells, the biting chill of a cold Vermont day makes an insulated jacket a great choice on a midwinter adventure. In my case my Patagonia jacket contains a removable down sweater which means I have a down sweater in a shell, or either a down sweater or shell able to be worn separately! Honestly, this multi-function jacket is perfect.

For cold weather, down remains a warm option. Thinsulate or similar thinner insulations also are options. Truly, from companies such as Spyder, Bogner, The North Face, Helly Hansen, Arcteryx, or Columbia, insulated jackets vary in price. And style. Because these can range from a few hundred dollars to $800-$900, consider more classic colors and styles so the styles will remain trendy. I used my Patagonia year round, recently enjoying the down sweater on a cold beach walk in Maine.

Hard shells, as they are known, remain very popular. Shells are also fabulous for winter hikes.

Like jackets, shells can come with or without hoods and many offer powder skirts and pit zips to allow excess heat to escape.

Last year, I worn mine on a work trip at Mount Snow, then days later walking the dock on Nantucket during a holiday stroll. I found my hard shell a perfect fit against the cold and wet sea breezes. Truly, these are multi-function garments. The Arcteryx and Helly Hansen shells are expensive but appealing. Fortunately, price points vary, but so does quality.

Most offer some waterproof technology. If you lack a shell in your wardrobe or are interested in a winter layering system a hard shell is critical in creating that outer defense against the elements.

Ski pants

Forget jeans! In the East likely forget stretch pants, too, which are reemerging believe it or not! Today, most mountain pants combine waterproof, windproof, and breathable technologies. Some offer insulation. Some resemble shells. Some use a soft shell technology. Some use a tough hard shell technology. No one uses jeans. No one should use jeans.

Today, there are complex pants boasting variable “stretchable” material inserts to enhance flexibility and mobility. Most have taped seams to minimize complaints against water entering from melting snow or ice. Remember that cold chairlift? Modern pants can virtually eliminate wet, damp access.

Truly, ski pants are a great gift. From approximately $150 for entry pants (boasting a waterproof technology with a soft shell knee panel) to higher end (expensive) offerings, ski pants offer style, warmth, and comfort. I found an insulated pair of pants from the North Face in August on sale and they’ve been a great choice!

Fleece and soft shells

Most mountain warriors own at least one fleece jacket. My wife Cheryl? She has four that I can recall! But she also has a soft shell which is more wind resistant.

Today fleeces can vary. Some are heavy. Some are light and resemble a sweater. Some are soft. Some blend fleece and soft shell technologies. Styles vary. Warmth can vary! Yes, prices vary. Pull-over? Pit-zips? Whatever your choice, fleece comes in an array of colors and styles.

Most are machine washable. Some use recycled plastic to help our environment!

My wife wears her fleece year round.

Style? Compare manufacturers. Traditional mountaineering companies such as The North Face or Patagonia sell an array of fleece and soft shells but large retailers classically carry a vast array.

Thermal base layers

These are a perfect stocking stuffer. Modern thermal base layers no longer resemble the thermals of yesteryear. While once prone to damp cold, modern thermals add warmth without wetness. Today most “wick” moisture away from the skin, drying quickly if damp. But, it’s more than for legs. Turtlenecks to V-necks are also a key base layer, but no longer is cotton desirable as it can become wet and cold.

Gloves or mittens?

These are expensive if you want quality, and you do! We, obviously, cannot ski or ride without mittens or gloves, and cold fingers can make any trip miserable. Fortunately, mountain shops offer an array of choices. From Outdoor Research— with gloves with Gore-Tex inserts — to Marker. Fit and finish vary. Some showcase padded knuckles for racers, some offer fleece inner liners, and many boast waterproof coatings.

I like mittens as years of frostbite has decreased my cold capacity. Truly, these are important! Also, be sure you have a backup pair.

Tech gifts: Tuning

Honestly, maintaining a tuned ski or board is worthwhile. Whether a ski racer or weekend warrior, we can all benefit from sharp edges and waxed bases. Still, tuning can be expensive and not all tunes are equal. This year the Swix Evo Pro Edge Tuner at approximately $550 or the EdgeTune Pro II at $150 offer two innovative options for those interested in a home powered edge tune.

While periodic shop tunes may suffice for occasional escapes, those who ski frequently know that one day of hard skiing can dull even the sharpest edge. These tools use small machined powered stone grinding technology to maintain side edges. I haven’t tested the Swix to date but certainly Swix brings great expertise to the design.

Not everyone wants a stone grinder. Fortunately, companies such as FK-SKS and Sun Valley Ski Tools offer multiple file guides for hand tuning and polishing. Friends have routinely been impressed by the SKS Racing  Combi I’ve used for years! With it’s built-in side edge remover and carbide steel blade housed with a small versatile tool with rollers, this is a fine tool.

Fortunately, from approximately $30 for a basic plastic file guide to more than a $100 for a sophisticated guide with rollers, file guides are capable of functioning for years. Most such as the SKS and Sun Valley guides nicely accommodate a diamond insert for polishing .

Wax tools

Waxed skis glide faster and turn more easily. Still, an old iron can pose risk as a traditional iron can create sufficient heat to promote edge separation on the bases. Either buy a specific tuning iron or consider an alternative such as the SKIMD Pro-Glide, a hand waxing tool using a round cylinder with a cloth covering which uses the principle of line pressure – contact on a round cylinder – to create sufficient pressure to melt rubbed wax on the ski base. Tested for more than a decade the Pro-Glide simply has the skier rub wax onto a ski or board followed by approximately two minutes of polishing. Used following a shop hot wax, the Pro-Glide has maintained my skis – without freezer burn on the base – for an entire season!

Boot heaters

Forget gender, are your feet often cold? Years of frost bite have left my feet with poor circulation. Fortunately boot heaters help. The Hotronic Footwarmer or Therm-ic heaters are both easily installed in virtually any boot and feature multiple temperature settings.

Last minute ideas

Helmets, skis, ski watch, face cream, neck gaiter, utility carabiner, scarf, vest, gift certificate, gloves, vest, travel pillow, sweater, turtleneck, boot bag, swiss knife, sunglasses, toe warmer packets, ski wax, boot dryer, weather radio, hand warmers, snow shoes, helmet liner, ski poles, sunblock, ski magazine subscription, glass anti-fog, goggles, ski DVDs.

Tony Crespi, columnist, has served as both a ski school supervisor and coach.

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