This is a great time of year to be part of a skiing or snowboard family. Not only do you get to spend time on the slopes but these sports offer plenty to put under the holiday tree.
Now equipment for these sports has improved significantly in recent years. Unless you are a serious competitor, this means that you do not have to pay for the top of the line to get perfectly suitable gear. Here is where you need an experienced shop staffer who will match what you buy with how you plan to use the equipment.
Fortunately we have several high-quality specialty shops in our area. The staff knows skis and boards and all that goes along with it. And since you will probably be upgrading or replacing gear in a few years, it makes sense for them to match you to the proper gear the first time you come in the shop.
The good shops want you as a regular customer.
Boots, Poles, helmets
While it is important to buy right when shopping for skis and boards, it is essential when in the market for boots. Buy boots in person, not online. This is your most important purchase because if your feet are comfortable, the rest of you will be comfortable. Buying the right boots takes time. Different manufacturers make boots that fit differently. Be sure to try on several pairs. Try on both boots at the same time and walk in them to make sure they are comfortable. And make sure you are wearing a pair of socks similar to what you will be using on the hill. Boots today are much warmer and more comfortable than a generation ago. Foot pain is no longer a requirement when buying new.
Poles are easy to buy once you determine the proper length. Aluminum is cheaper but more susceptible to bending and breaking. Carbon fiber is more expensive but should last longer.
Helmets have come a long way since the first mass market ones 20 years ago. They are much lighter today and much better ventilated. Here it is important to buy quality and try on the headgear in the shop. You have only one head and you want as much protection as you can get, not only from hitting a tree or a tower but in much more common falls and sneaky bumps like whacking the back of your head when pulling down the safety bar on a ski lift.
Skis, boards, boots and helmets are personal. A gift certificate may be a better choice for a surprise under the tree.
Clothing is a matter of personal taste: Bright colors, or more subdued earth tones, patterns, or plain. I generally prefer something that stands out so I can spot a companion on a crowded slope.
Newer materials like Primaloft and Gore-Tex have made jackets and pants both warmer and lighter. Layering is the best way to stay warm with a moisture wicking base topped with a fleece or wool pullover with a water-resistant, windproof outer layer. There are a lot of manufacturers who make high-quality gear. You can wear as many as four layers as needed and shed a layer if you get too warm. A fifth layer is generally too much. It is bulky and, if you need that much, it is probably too cold to ski or ride.
Accessories are where the gift giver can shine. These are handy items that can sometimes make or break a day on the slopes and almost always will make it more comfortable.
Skiing without eye protection not only can damage eyes but almost always will create tearing. This is especially true if you wear regular glasses only. Make sure the goggle you buy fits properly with your helmet, has good ventilation, and the lens has enough tint to provide good definition of snow terrain.
I always carry one in my jacket pocket. It is a light fleece material that I can pull over my head, serving as both a skull cap under my helmet and a face guard to help prevent frostbite on exposed cheeks. At one time these were mainly black but there are many patterns now for the fashion sensitive.
I like the lightest socks I can find that will wick moisture away from my feet. Boots these days are warm and I want as little bulk as possible.
Some people are lucky enough to have warm fingers no matter what the temperature. I prefer to wear gloves but often choose mittens, which are warmer. If you are still cold, pack a handful of disposable heating pads.
In recent years backpacks have become super-sized. I like the ones with ample side compartments to carry boots plus a roomy center compartment that will accommodate a helmet as well as ski clothing. I want the backpack straps to be padded and comfortable for the walk to and from the parking lot.
For the road
Before the season I always make sure to have snow tires installed, the car tuned up, and a carry shovel with an emergency kit in the back. If you need extra space, a carry pod on the car roof is a good idea, if not especially fuel efficient.
I always carry a can of Slide On, a spray to help me with my boots in the morning. I also pack a ski lock to secure gear when I go inside for a break. Make sure you use a combination lock with numbers big enough to manipulate with cold hands. When away for more than a day, I pack a pocket-sized can of ski wax that includes an applicator and a cork to smooth out the ski base. It helps keep the gear running smooth, and by doing it, you also get a look at the bottoms to see if there was any damage that needs more attention.
You are on your own here. Just remember that after a day outside in the cold, you tend to get tired and sleepy sooner than normal. Be careful, especially on the highway.
Get more recipes, gifts ideas, fun activities for the kids, and a roundup of holiday traditions from The Daily Gazette’s special Celebrate page!