There are a couple of pieces of gear that can make or break your day of skiing or riding. Sure, you need skis that work, a waterproof jacket, layers, a helmet, poles — all of those things are essential.
But the deal breakers are boots and gloves. Both are critical to your interaction with the snow, and both, if not working properly, can turn an epic powder day into an epic nightmare.
Ski gloves are often overlooked. People spend lots of time shopping for the glory pieces — skis, for instance. When it comes time to buy gloves, they grab whatever is on sale and make do.
This is the first mistake. Having the right glove is critical for a few reasons. First, keeping your hands warm and dry helps makes everything a little easier. Wet, cold hands just don’t work as well as warm, dry hands.
Buying any old pair of gloves might mean limited function and dexterity. Gloves are handy if you can actually do things in them, like grip your poles, grab your skis or open your zippers.
Which brings me to the most important point: What type of gloves should you buy?
Aside from super-light spring-style or ski-touring gloves, where synthetic materials can be a better option, I am a fan of leather. Leather gloves can be waterproofed, break in nicely, provide a good level of dexterity even in a thick, severe-cold-weather style and can last several years.
Leather is tough and durable, and if treated properly with waterproofing wax, it doesn’t freeze and stiffen up.
All leather gloves require treatment with wax compounds to make them truly waterproof, but some incorporate a Gore-Tex membrane between the leather and the lining, providing even more waterproofing.
The Gore-Tex version is probably the warmest, because even if the leather gets soaked, your hands stay dry. It’s the kind our guides favor.
As a ski patroller, I need something that can put up with daily abuse, and only leather can do that. Synthetics last about a week on the job, as they are just too susceptible to tearing by rough and sharp edges. Leather protects against all that.
Some of my favorites over the years have been the Hestra Army Leather GTX, Kinco Ski Glove, Flylow Blaster, Black Diamond Kingpin and Arc’teryx Rush. All are fairly warm and have proven to be tough, comfortable and, if treated regularly, waterproof.
In cases of extreme cold, especially if you’re not doing a whole lot out there, your hands need mitts. Mitts are like having ovens on your hands. They are warm and comfortable, but they do lack dexterity. If you’re thinking about mitts, though, the same principle applies: Get leather.
Hestra even makes lobster-claw gloves, which are a three-finger hybrid between a mitt and a glove. It has a little more dexterity than a mitt and is waterproof. These are a good choice for very cold days when you still want to be able to grab things efficiently.
In terms of fit, get your gloves a little on the small side. Leather stretches, especially when it’s being used in a wet, cold environment. The liner of the glove, much like the liner of a boot, will pack out as well, so if you buy them large or “just right,” in a few weeks they will be too big.
Be patient with the break-in period. Once that’s passed, you’ll have a pair of comfortable, durable, warm gloves that can handle just about anything.
Be safe, ski hard and keep your wands warm.
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