The Daily Gazette
The Locally Owned Voice Of The Capital Region
Philip Johnson's Ski-Lines
by Philip Johnson


A Daily Gazette sports blog
Ski season in Upstate NY

PrimaLoft will keep you warm

The snow is great. But even long-time skiers have been grousing about the cold lately.
If you’re like me, though, if there is something that can keep me warm and keep me outside, then bring it on. I want to be able to enjoy living where I live 12 months a year.
Goose down, you say.
Well, for centuries, that was the best we had. It works. But it also has problems. It tends to clump and lose its insulating value when wet. It can be expensive. And, being a natural product, it can create allergenic problems.
Today, fortunately, we have something better, and it’s a local product.
PrimaLoft is the brand name of a synthetic microfiber textile developed in the 1970s by the then Menands-based Albany International Corp for the U.S. space program. The government wanted an insulation material to protect spacecraft entering and exiting the earth’s atmosphere. It worked. The result was a material that had great thermal insulation properties.
In 1983, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Natick, Mass., asked Albany International to develop a version of that insulation for clothing and outdoor gear. The challenge was to produce a product “comparable to down that could retain its warmth characteristics in the presence of moisture.”
That worked, too. Today, PrimaLoft, now an independent company since it spun off from Albany International in 2012, is one of the best-known insulation products on the market, used by almost every manufacturer of clothing in their high-end outdoor products. Its reach is worldwide. The company is still local with its leadership including its research, testing, sales, and customer services, now based in Latham.
The insulation was originally patented in the 1980s as “synthetic down.” The brand name PrimaLoft was adopted in 1988. The big commercial break came two years later, when LL Bean introduced its “Mountain Light” jacket using the new insulator.
PrimaLoft is actually fabric or yarn sold to manufacturers for use in their products. It is characterized by its light weight, compressibility and warmth. It is an extremely fine fiber intended to mimic down while remaining water-resistant. It is very warm.
The effect has been especially appreciated in a winter like this one. But unless you are very label-aware, the name PrimaLoft isn’t widely recognized. That may change soon.
According to the company’s Victoria Lee, “Up to now, we have been known as an insulation provider only. Now that we are an independent firm, we expect to be able to broaden our reach to ‘comfort solutions’ for a wide variety of conditions and products. We expect to do more promotion and increase the visibility of our PrimaLoft brand.”
As anyone who spends any time skiing knows, no matter how toasty your body feels, if the feet are cold, there goes the fun.
Just starting to come into the Eastern ski market this winter is a boot where a major part of the appeal is comfort, and a major part of that is warmth. The Apex boot system was developed in Boulder, Colo., a few years ago by Denny Hanson, whose Hanson Boot was popular in the 1970s and ’80s.
It is a hybrid featuring a snowboard-style soft boot that fits into a hard shell Alpine stiff chassis. So what is so different about that? For starters, like a snowboard boot, it is easy to get in and out. For some older skiers, that alone makes it worth taking a look. The soft boot easily detaches from the hard shell and is designed to allow walking around the lodge or even out to the parking lot, if necessary.
In the shell, the soft boot is tightened by a Boa cable closing system with plenty of adjustments that snug the boot around the foot and ankle front to back and sideways. There are two buckles on the shell to keep the boot in the binding.
The Apex boot first came out in 2008. It has just begun to be seen in the East this winter. I was introduced to it last year in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where some of the ski guides who are on the hill just about every day were saying great things about it. The closing ratchets — one or two depending on the model — make sure the fit is tight and, comfortable. I can attest the boot is warm.
In the post-World War II era, it was common for ski boots made of leather to have both inner and outer lacings. By the 1970s, the popular boots had plastic shells and were fastened by buckles only. That was a time when it seemed like pain was considered the measure of boot quality. A new boot had to hurt until it was broken in, usually after several days of great discomfort. More recently came boot fitting and foot comfort came back to the sport.
Just a handful of shops in the East carried them this year. The company’s goal is to bring that total up to 35-40 next seasons. Currently, the Alpine Sports Shop in Saratoga Springs is the only retailer in the greater Capital District where they are available. Alpine’s Dick Hay said he has sold a few pair this winter.
There is one caveat to all the good news about Apex. They are expensive. The top models will cost $800-1,000 or about 25% more than top models of well-known boots widely available in the local market. If the common brands serve your boot needs just fine and they are warm, the extra cost is probably unnecessary. But for some skiers, especially those over 50 who would appreciate some extra comfort on the hill, Apex is worth a look.
The Capital District Ski Council wrapped up its racing season recently with the OC Ski Club edging the Albany Ski Club for team honors. Individual honors went to Mark Pavlus of the OCs who earned the Dick Walsh Memorial Trophy as the best male skier over the course of the season. It will be the 50th year this award has been given when the presentation is made at the ski council’s annual banquet April 25 at Bellini’s Restaurant in Clifton Park. Other season-long awards will go to Sally Vanderzee of the Albany Ski Club (the Valerie Hammond Memorial Trophy for top overall female racer), Phil Bayley of the OCs (the Larry Pigeon Memorial Trophy for Super Vet men), Tim Jansen of the Albany Ski Club in the men’s veteran category, Deb Scuderi of ASC as the top women’s vet, Mark Wilder of the OCs in the men’s Class II category and Nichole Bouchez of the OCs in the women’s Class II division.
Lost and Found
For those, like me, who have enjoyed Jeremy Davis’ series of books on lost ski areas in the region, a new one is due out late this year. The new project is “Lost Ski Areas of the Northern Adirondacks,” a follow-up on his book featuring the Southern Adirondacks that came out two years ago.
Davis is still looking for photos or personal memories about areas in the region that no longer operate. You can reach him at
Kids Ski Free week begins Monday at Gore and continues on through March 23. Sons and daughters 19 and younger can ski, ride, or tube for free when accompanied by an adult who buys a full-price ticket.

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