Snowsports are some of the most equipment intensive sports it is possible to participate in. Alongside the equipment needed to slide along the snow properly, the harsh environment of the mountains means it is as important to stay warm and dry, and get the right equipment to do just that.
Of equal importance is staying safe in the mountains. Gloves may stop your hands getting cold and goggles may stop the glare from the sun and snow, but both have key safety roles to play too; gloves in protecting your hands from bumps and scrapes, googles in stopping twigs, branches, stones and snow flicking you in the face and eyes.
Here is the Ski Club’s advice for all the things that keep you safe and warm on the hill.
A helmet is one of the most important bits of kit you can buy or rent for skiing or boarding. As more and more people choose to wear a helmet, we’ve outlined the major points to look for when purchasing or even hiring a helmet for your time on the slopes. In many resorts, helmets are becoming compulsory, either for any slope user or in specific circumstances, such as in snow parks, off-piste or for young children.
A helmet does not fully protect a skier or boarder from injuries sustained when skiing or boarding. It is important to become familiar with signs of head injuries, such as dizziness, drowsiness or vomiting. You must, at all times, ski within the International Ski Federation’s (FIS) Rules of Conduct for skiers and snowboarders.
Helmets are normally available to rent as part of your ski rental package if you do not own your own. A good helmet, however, won’t cost the earth, starting around £50 and going up to £300 for top-of-the-line models.
It is important to purchase or rent a snowsports specific helmet, as this will adhere to safety standards and provide the necessary protection. Any helmet sold by reputable retailers, such as Snow+Rock, or rented to you in resort alongside skis and boots, will meet all necessary safety requirements.
Some helmets come equipped with a technology called MIPS (or a brand-specific equivalents). MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System and allows the shell of the helmet to move around the head and absorb directional impact better than a traditional expanded polystyrene-only model. A helmet equipped with MIPS provides better protection but is not essential for Snowsports.
All helmets are sized and fitted in the same way – measure the circumference of your forehead, about a centimetre or so above the eyebrows. A correctly fitted helmet can move forwards and backwards but should not twist side-to-side. It should not touch your neck at the back and should fit snugly but comfortably around your head.
Different manufacturers produce helmets with different shapes. If you have a more oval shaped head, Giro may be a better fit for you. Conversely, Sweet Protection and Salomon make helmets that are very round! It is essential you try on a helmet to ensure the fit is correct
Replacing a Helmet
If your helmet becomes broken or damaged, it is essential you replace it as will be structurally compromised and not afford the same protection as previously. Damage that requires the replacement of the helmet can be dents or cracks in either the shell or foam liner.
The MIPS system is replaceable without having to replace the whole helmet. However, if you have fallen hard enough to damage the MIPS system, there is a good chance you will have damaged the whole helmet too, which will need replacing.
You should never screw a GoPro or any other device into your helmet – this can warp the materials and reduce the protection offered by a snowsports helmet.
Gloves keep your hands warm and dry through both the cold weather on the mountain, and if you have to help yourself up off the snow – something common for snowboarders and new skiers. The range of gloves available on the market is astounding, so this guide will break down some comparisons between different types of gloves and technologies, helping you make the right decision.
It is important to wear snowsports specific gloves – regular gloves will lack insulation and weather protection, and bigger, warmer, waterproof “expedition” gloves will offer too much bulk and you may find yourself sweating and unable to hold onto your poles properly!
Gloves vs. Mittens
Gloves offer greater dexterity than mittens, but mittens are warmer. In addition, it is much easier to fit liners into mittens, providing extra warmth. Keen skiers will often have a pair of both, saving the mittens for the really cold days in which they will be most useful – however, don’t feel that this is a must, a good pair of either will see you through almost any weather.
Waterproof vs. Non-Waterproof
Given that gloves are there to protect your hands from the weather and the wet snow, it may seem like you should be going for a waterproof pair of gloves – not so fast! Because of the amount of cutting and stitching required to shape a glove, this will often damage any waterproofing in place before the glove has even been sewn together! You will tend to find waterproofing, therefore, only in high-end ski or expedition gloves, where manufacturers are happy to spend a little more time and effort sealing up the gloves. Most gloves will have some form of water-resistant coating, to help keep the weather off, and leather gloves provide extra weather protection, providing you can maintain the leather properly. A good pair of ski gloves does not have to be waterproof!
Leather vs. Synthetic
Most gloves are made of a synthetic material, offering a better platform to hold the water-resistant coating, as well as being nice and breathable to allow moisture vapour out. Some, particularly higher end gloves, are made of leather. This is a much sturdier material, offering better weather protection, but less breathable. Leather must be effectively maintained with wax to retain its protective qualities.
Heated vs. Non-Heated
Some gloves have heating elements built into the material to provide extra warmth. Normally, this is intended for those who especially feel the cold or who suffer from conditions such as Reynaud’s Syndrome, and require the additional heat to maintain blood flow to the extremities. Heated gloves are big, bulky and expensive, and it may only be worth it if you fall into one of these two categories.
Choosing ski poles can be one of the simpler aspects of buying ski equipment and will be included in any ski equipment pack you rent in resort.
They can play an important part in your skiing developing, so are not to be ignored! However, a decent pair of poles does not have to break the bank.
Sizing a Pole
To size a pole, turn the pole upside down so the handle is towards the floor, and grasp it just underneath the basket. Place the handle on the ground just in front of you so your forearm is angled to point in front of you. A correctly fitted pole will see your forearm angled at as-close-to 90 degrees from the upper arm in this position. If you are between sizes, slightly too short is better than slightly too long – too long and they can become unwieldly, stymieing poles plants and hindering smooth skiing.
In some cases, baskets can be interchanged from the standard option to a “powder” basket, which is much wider, and, as the name suggests, will hold the pole up better in powder. This option is only available where the baskets are attached via a screw-on system.
Poles with an adjustable length are ideal for ski tourers or those who mix on- and off piste skiing. A shorter pole in the powder can help keep a skier down the fall line, and asymmetric pole heights help with balance when traversing.
Goggles offer vital protection for your eyes and face against the wind, weather, and objects such as stones and tree branches, as well as shielding your eyes from the glare of the sun reflecting off the snow all around you. Wearing a pair of goggles – or sunglasses, as many choose to do particularly on warmer days – is therefore essential, and this guide will help you choose the right pair.
A good pair of goggles will offer high levels of impact protection. This is normally measured against two EU standards, and most good quality goggles available on the market will meet and even exceed this. Some brands, such as Oakley or Sweet Protection, pride themselves on going well above these standards.
Basic goggles will still offer effective impact protection for all skiing environments. If you are a more adventurous skier, exploring the backcountry or using snowparks, it may be worth considering the extra protection offered by higher end goggles.
The range of tints and technologies available for goggle lenses is huge, and at times baffling. They are all designed to work better in different weather conditions – however, despite how it often seems, there is a huge amount of crossover between tints, meaning the slightest change in cloud cover should not trigger a mad scramble to change lenses or goggles!
Many high-end goggles will be available with a system to interchange lenses and possibly offered with a second set of lenses to use with this system. This is absolutely not essential, and a good pair of goggles with an appropriate lens will see you through all conditions you are likely to face on the hill.
A facemask or balaclava covers your chin, mouth and nose, and protects you from the cold, wind, snow and small stones or tree branches. Depending on the model, they can also extend down to cover your neck, as well as come over your head to provide extra warmth.
Good examples are your traditional ski mask – a full, overhead balaclava that leaves space for eyes and nose/mouth – or a Buff, which, in its infinite wearing style combinations, can do everything from a simple neck warmer to pull up over the chin and nose, or a full covering to keep the head warm too.
It is not an essential piece of kit, and many experienced skiers or boarders choose not to wear one at all. However, it is recommended to start with one, and to then take it off when you feel comfortable.
Things to remember when buying snowsports kit accessories: