What to Wear for Winter Ski Touring
The weather has been great for ski touring on the northern aspect slopes because the Baltic conditions have meant that the metre or so of snow we had last week is still cold pow.Setting off at 9.30am, it's been -8C so pretty darned cold getting out of the van, skins on and setting off for the first 100m or so of vertical climb. Then, of course, it starts to feel warmer with every stride upwards until the need for the first pitstop to descard some clothing.
We've all been carrying avy bags with the risk being between 3-5 depending on aspect and altitude this past week. So just pack extra layers, right? Much as I appreciate the safety aspect of my SCOTT Alpride, there's not a lot of room with shovel and probes so stuffing in a fully-lined Gore-Tex ski jacket half way up a climb is a challenge. This is why I always wear my Elevenate puffer jacket and puffer gilet, both giving super down warmth but squishable into small spaces.
When it's as cold as it has been, I wear a thermal AND a hoodie underneath. The trick is to get the layers right so they are 'breathable' as in letting the heat out on the way up but 'thermal' as in insulating to keep you warm at the top if it's Arctic conditions. If you sweat going up and the moisture isn't wicked from your body surface, then it'll quickly turn cold and reduce your body heat.
Gav is a merino man. He'll wear marino base layers, underpants, socks, whatever because not only do they give him the right heating and wicking elements but they, also, don't need washing after every wear. He's currently wear-testing an Artilect merino top. After three fairly sweaty outings including a 1000m ski tour and crosscounty skate skiing, he waved it in front of my nose and, yep, I have to admit it was completely whiff-free.
For hut to hut ski touring this is a distinct bonus especially for your fellow ski tourers.
Personally, I find merino a tad itchy and wouldn't choose it for a next-of-skin layer. Hands up, I don't often make scientific decisions as to what to wear under what but choose layers that seem to work for me. Right now, I have two absolute favourites both from Decathlon.
FUNCTION OVER FASHION
From my past life as a Fashion Director with front row seats at the Paris catwalk shows, you might expect me to be more of a label snob. And, yeah, there are some I consider too punter to wear but when a brand comes up with performance, function AND style, at an amazing price, what's not to like?
For backcountry ski touring give me function over fashion, any day.
So my number one go-to base layer for ski touring is actually a Decathlon running top in polyester/elastane with breathable panels where you need them like under arms. Best bit of styling? Along with thumb hole cuffs it has a watch window so you can see your smart watch face, such a good idea for running or ski touring especially if your watch is also monitoring your pulse so you don't want to wear it over your sleeves.
Then, next layer, is the lightweight hooded zip jacket, above, from their Simond range It has multi-material construction (body mapping) to provide you with the right function in the right place - kidneys and torso in warm wool mix, back and arms in breathable and resistant fabric. It has great freedom of movement thanks to the stretch component on the arms and in the insert on the shoulders. It also has good-sized pockets (perfect for my Ortovox transceiver) and thumb holes.
The genius styling extra, here, is a panel at the back of the neck that you can pull over and use as a face mask if it's really cold (it has a mesh breathing hole). Also, big bonus, it packs down neatly into its right pocket.
SPARES AND LAYERS
I have, also, worn Decathlon gloves for ski touring for several winters. These are super-functional mitts with flaps so you can turn them into fingerless gloves when your hands warm up on the climb. I then use a pair of light gloves for transitioning and, as these usually get damp from handling skins and binding, have a spare pair if it's really cold to wear under ski gloves.
Being small and light, gloves are one thing worth carrying as a spare although as a mountain guide once said a lot of light things can add up to unnecessary extra weight.
For ski touring, my go-to are Elevenate shell pants with side vents, essential for warmer spring days to let the steam out. What goes underneath depends on the temperature. In Japan, where it was -17C up Mount Yotei, I wore full-on running leggings over thermals and two pairs of socks. The image, below, is every item of clothing I wore for one day's touring.
Of course, heated accessories are amazing for on-the-go warmth but more for piste skiing when, however hard you ski to keep the blood flowing, you can freeze on the chairlifts.
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