When the weather starts getting colder and the leaves start falling from the trees it can mean only one thing: ski season is upon us. Whether you've been skiing for years or you're new to the sport, there's nothing like seeing-or hearing about-that first snowfall of the season. You know (or at least hope) the mountains will soon be blanketed in the powdery white stuff that allows you glide down the slopes amidst other skiers and boarders excited by the onset of winter.
However, before you get out on the mountain, you'll need the essential gear. For you newbies or not-so-frequent skiers, I've compiled a list of the essentials. If you're missing any of these items your exciting day on the mountain could rapidly turn into a relaxing day in the lodge.
- Helmet. Helmets have been growing in popularity in the recent years, and for good reason. Collisions while skiing happen frequently and it's important to protect yourself as best you can. You may think you're safe if you're staying on the bunny slope or if you're an experienced skier, but in collisions between skiers there's usually at least one person who's not expecting it. You can't control other people on the mountain; they can't always avoid you and you can't always avoid them, so wear that helmet! Remember: safety first!
- Waterproof (or at least water resistant) Jacket & Pants. I don't have to point out that you're going to be out in the snow all day, moving at a (potentially) rapid pace. The elements are unpredictable and usually require warm, waterproof or water resistant outerwear, especially if you're planning on spending any time on the ground.
You want a ski jacket and pants that will minimize the amount of snow sliding down your back when you take a tumble and will keep you warm while on the chairlift. Make sure you can secure your sleeve cuffs around your gloves and your pant legs around your boots. This helps to ensure that the weather will stay right where it's supposed to be-outside.
Also keep in mind that this is outerwear; you want to have room for a few more layers under both your pants and your jacket. Typically, a layer of long underwear and a fleece pullover or sweater is a must under every ski jacket. Also consider those warmer spring skiing days. Do you want a vent in your armpits or on the side of your legs to let cool air in when you start sweating from polling through those flat spots or attacking those moguls full force?
- Gloves. Some people can sit on the chairlift, with their hands out of their gloves, looking at a trail map for the entire 10-minute ride. Not me. My fingers get cold easily and I like to do my best to prevent that. Whichever side you come down on in the epic gloves vs. mittens debate, you'll want something that covers your hands and fingers, is long enough to tuck into your jacket sleeves (that snow is NOT getting in here) and is waterproof.
My favorite option is the glove mitten combo. These toasty babies encase each finger in a layer of fleece and then an outer shell covers all of your already covered fingers. It's the best of both worlds as your fingers get to keep each other warm and they're still individually wrapped.
If your fingers do get cold, don't forget to ball them up in fists within your gloves or mittens when you're riding up the lift-let your friends worry about the trail map. And for those of you who get really cold, you can always shake up a hand warmer and stick it in your gloves, or your...
- Boots. Your boots are probably the most important aspect of your ski gear. Even if you're renting your ski boots, you want to make sure that they fit properly and snugly, otherwise your feet might start hurting and, perhaps more importantly, you won't be performing at your best. It's going to be hard to control your skis and make crisp, exact turns if your feet are sliding all around in your boots. If your boots are too tight, your feet will be in serious pain and you won't be able to ski more than a few runs.
It goes without saying that if you're buying your boots you should shop around and spend some time trying on different ski boot styles. Talk to the salespeople at different stores and ask questions until you feel confident that you know how your feet should feel in your boots. I cannot emphasize enough that your ski boots are the most important part of your ski gear! If you're renting equipment, talk to the person outfitting you in the rental shop, he or she should be able to talk you through your boot selection. Even if they're busy, take your time and make sure that you ask questions and get the right boots. It's your vacation!
- Skis & Poles. There are a few things to consider when it comes to skis: what terrain you'll be skiing, how tall you are, what your skill level is, etc. Again, if you're buying your own skis you'll have to shop around and talk to some knowledgeable salespeople about what you're planning to do and where you're planning to go on your skis. If you're unsure, renting a few different lengths and styles is a great option.
Although rental shops usually have a limited number of ski types, especially on a busy day, you can usually find a demo shop that will let you "demo" different skis that are currently out on the market. While this is essentially renting skis, it will allow you to try the latest and greatest styles. You can even switch your skis throughout the day if you want to test out more than one pair. As you may have guessed, demoing skis will cost a little more than simply renting, but you are on high performance gear and the salespeople will typically spend more time with you, describing the differences in their products, recommending what they think will work best for you and setting you up with the right tension, length, etc. for what and where you're planning to ski.
Poles are pretty simple when compared to skis and boots. The most important thing when it comes to buying or renting poles is their length. As long as you can plant them in the snow comfortably on your turns, it's hard to go wrong. There are different weights and shapes, but the "right" choice is really just based on your preference.
- Goggles. A good pair of goggles is essential to a successful day on the mountain. If you can't see where you're going, it's going to be hard to ski it. If it's a beautiful, sunny day, some people will opt out of goggles and go for sunglasses. If this works for you, that's fine, but many people find it difficult to see with sunglasses because they don't cover as much surface area as goggles do and they don't block the wind, so your eyes tend to tear up if you're moving quickly down the hill.
As long as you have clean, clear goggles, you should be good to go for most conditions. However, if you're going to be skiing a lot, or the places you're going to be skiing are often bright and sunny, or often dark and gloomy, you might want to opt for goggles that have interchangeable lenses. Depending how much light you want let in on any given day (a lot for gloomy days, a lot less for bright days); you can switch out your lenses to accommodate the weather conditions.
- Lift Ticket. Unless you're going to be hiking into the backcountry-in which case I'm betting you're not reading this article-you'll need to buy a lift ticket. There are a few ways to accomplish this, some of which may save you a little money.
If you're just skiing for one day you'll likely head to the ticket window at the base of the mountain that you're planning to ski and purchase a lift ticket. If you're willing to wait until Noon, however, many ski resorts will give you a small discount. It's not worth waiting if you want to be up and skiing when the lift lines open, but if you roll out of bed at 10:30 and aren't going to make it to the base of the mountain until 11:30 anyway, it might be worth looking into.
Also, if you're planning on renting skis and/or taking lessons, most ski resorts will offer package deals that reduce the price of one or more of the items or services you're purchasing (especially lift tickets). Check with the ski school or the rental shop to find out what your options are.
If you plan in advance, you may be able to buy a block of tickets and save. For example, if you know you're going to be skiing for at least 5 days, or you have 5 people in your party, you can go online a few months before your trip and purchase your lift tickets in bulk, at a discounted rate. This may also apply to a multi-day purchase too. Most resorts offer 3 out of 4 day, or 4 out of 5 day options. If you know you'll be in the area for a certain number of days and can gauge the number of days you'll want to ski, you may get a reduced-rate lift ticket as well. This option is a great choice if you want to sightsee or shop. You can ski for one or two days, take a day off then finish your trip off with another day or two on the slopes.
Other items you might want to consider:
- Ski Socks-you should never wear cotton socks skiing. Getting a pair or two of socks designed for skiing can keep you feet warm, dry and happy.
Long underwear-tight fitting long underwear is a great choice for those really cold days. It'll fit under your usual layer of ski clothes and does a great job keeping your body warm.
Neck gator or scarf-on windy days something warm around your neck can be a lifesaver. When you're riding up the chairlift you can tuck you face into your neck gator and burrow away from the wind, rain, ice and snow.