7 tips for great days on the ski slopes
It’s the snow season. Or for us who enjoy zipping down mountainsides with pieces of glass and carbon fiber strapped to our feet, it’s the ski or snowboard season. Here are 7 tips to make your ski and snowboard days even better.
I’ve been skiing since age four. Both alpine and cross country. In a country like Sweden, it’s not as rare as it may sound. Many Swedes form an early relationship with snow. Almost every Swedish person I know can recall fond memories of brilliant days on the slopes, either skiing or as a kid, going in sleighing on their latest Christmas gift: the Stiga Snow Racer.
If you’re skiing or snowboarding, or want to try, here are some practical advice from years of doing it.
Wear a helmet to keep your smarts about
If you think you’re too cool, or too good, to wear a helmet, think again.
I was that person. During a few formative years as a snowboarder I eschewed the helmet for my brown Burton beanie. But I got wiser as I hit my 20’s. These days, my helmet is my favorite ski accessory. The reasons are many.
- It keeps you smarts where they should be: safely inside your noggin. I value my brain. A helmet is an obvious item to wear.
- It keeps my ears warm. No hat or beanie I’ve ever worn has been able to keep my flappies comfortably warm.
- My helmet lets me listen to music, make phone calls and use the iPhone's Siri voice command. Thanks to Bluetooth insets, I can wirelessly do all of the above.
- If you’re into capturing your moments among the peaks on tape, a helmet serves as a perfect mount point for an action camera. These days, you see them everywhere.
It’s no wonder that it seems that it’s generally the best skiers and snowboarders who wear helmets. They simply know their limits and know the advantages of a helmet to value wearing one.
Use inner gloves (glove liners) to keep your hands warm
Everyone who has been skiing or snowboarding knows how important good gloves are. Problem is, they tend change from dry and warm to cold and wet quickly. It’s hard to find a pair that stay warm and dry for a whole day. And even if you have a pair, your hands freeze the second you remove them. Over time, the insulation gets flattened and the gloves lose their ability to keep your hands warm.
The solution is simple: use inner gloves.
Inner gloves are thin gloves you wear inside your regular gloves. They usually don’t cost much, €10-15 or so. They’re the glove equivalent of a thermal base layer (more on that later).
I figured this out just a few years ago. Wearing a simple pair of inner gloves will not just keep your hands warm when you take off your gloves to handle something such as stuck bindings. Inner gloves will also keep the gloves dry as the inner gloves absorb sweat when your hands get warm. They will also prolong the lifespan of your gloves and you won't have to wash your gloves nearly as often.
Wear a thermal base layer
The skin tight fashionable base layer is pure magic. Ok, I was joking about it being fashionable. It’s super functional however.
The trick to staying warm in winter is to dress in layers. By wearing multiple layers, you stay dry and warm. The layers help transport perspiration while at the same time, create additional pockets of air that serve as insulation.
For the layers to be extra effective, take care of what kind of materials they’re made of. The best ones are made of wool. Merino wool has wonderful capabilities of absorbing moisture while at the same time insulate. And better yet, it doesn’t smell. Wool has antibacterial properties too.
If you don’t feel like paying the €100 or so for a good set of wool base layer (shirt and pants), synthetic ones are almost as good.
Add a t-shirt for your upper body and a fleece jacket, and you’re good to go at almost any temperature. You will never feel wet and you will stay warm, even when the lift goes painfully slow.
For some extra luxury on the slopes, get a fleece neck tube. It will keep your head warm and keep cold air out of the top of your jacket.
Bring extra clothes and gloves
My parents kept insisting on how me and my brothers should put on an extra jacket when we took breaks. In a typical fashion, and as kids do, we made a point to oppose the idea. It was our parents talking, after all, right?
As a somewhat more responsible adult, I’ve started to side with them. Bringing extra clothes and putting them on when you stop moving is smart. Especially if you stop to eat. Ingesting food tells the brain that there’s nutrition entering your stomach and so it directs a good portion of your blood flow to your bowels to maximize nutrient uptake.
So pack a small backpack with an extra fleece jacket, a warm hat, an extra pair of gloves (in case the other ones get wet). You can take turns wearing it if you dislike skiing with a pack. You can bring extra warm gloves to wear while in the lift.
Bring a hot drink
“Hunger is the best spice”, an old saying goes. Well almost the same is true for cold weather and coffee. A thermos full of a hot drink for the breaks, such as while being in the lift, can give your mood a well deserved boost.
In Italy, where I go skiing sometimes, the preferred hot drink is called bombardino. It’s an alcoholic blend of Venetian egg liqueur, called Vov, and brandy or grappa. You can even make your own. It's easier than it sounds.
But just like driving, drinking and skiing don’t go well together. It’s worth to keep in mind when your ski app tells you that your last run clocked at 100 kph.
Get a ski app and track your progress
Technology goes further than just allowing you to listen to music. Using an app in your phone, you can track your skiing during the day. You can see exactly where you’ve been, how fast you went, how many vertical meters (or feet) you skied and how far. Looking at your stats and discussing them with your friends is a fun way to end the day.
I’ve tried out a few and my favorite is Ski Tracks so far. The UI isn’t super attractive but you’ll find your way around it after a while.
It may also be wise to get an extra battery for your phone. Ski apps use the GPS and suck battery life. The sub zero temperatures aren’t helping. An extra li-ion battery in your pocket will give your phone a few extra hours of life. Enough to see you through the day.
Avalanche safety smartness for €10
There’s a very simple precaution you can take to avoid being swept away by an avalanche: don’t go outside the pists.
However powder is amazing and with a mountain guide, skiing offpist isn’t necessarily a bad idea. If you decide to go offpist, chances of being found are considerably higher if you invest in a Recco badge or get a jacket, pants or boots with it already sewn in. The badges work by reflecting a radio signal that the avalanche rescue teams use to locate skiers. You can buy the badges for €10 or so a pair. They’re adhesive so you can stick them to your boots.
There are competing technologies too but Recco seems to be the most common one.
A word of warning. A plastic adhesive badge is not a replacement for having the required knowledge and skills. But it’s better than nothing. If you want to be really smart:
- Get your own avalanche transceivers and bury them and practice locating them.
- Bring shovels and learn to use them.
- Get avalanche probes and understand how they work.
- Always inform others of where you’re going and intend to be skiing (and inform them of deviations from the plan).
- Consult with a mountain guide or always ski under the guidance of one.
People die on mountains every year. Know the dangers. Don’t take unnecessary risks, stay warm and have fun.