We seem to be quite lucky on the South Coast of BC. The temperatures rarely drop to anything extreme. Except for that one week in January…when the Polar Vortex makes it’s way through our coastal towns and into every layer of clothing.
This past weekend I was up at a backcountry lodge, where the lows were hitting around -28 celsius. When the deep freeze hits here, its not your classic dry cold – it’s still got that ocean influenced “wet” feeling. It cuts to your core and pushes you indoors. But when there’s 50cm of fresh in the backcountry, cozying up inside just isn’t an option.
When the chill hits, you really want to have your layering system dialled. You want to avoid the sweat on the uptrack and stay warm when you are slashing down the slopes. I’ve prepared a little list of what my system looks like when I’m ski touring in those super cold temps so you can stay feeling relaxed and “cool” instead of cold and sad.
It all starts with that base layer. Wearing something close to skin thats going to push moisture away from your body and keep you warm is key. I always have a merino wool top and bottom on when skiing in any temperature. When it gets below -10, I add a fleece pant layer into the mix. Check out some Smartwool or Ice Breaker merino options. Merino wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in moisture and still maintain its ability to insulate, keeping you dry, warm and cosy.
Mid Cozy (on the up)
It’s always discouraging to start cold before skinning uphill but it’s always worth it. You never want that sweat to get out of hand and create issues when you stop moving. I typically strip down to my base layer and a shell jacket if I am skinning up in anything above -10. But this past weekend my layers needed to be a bit heavier. Along with my merino and fleece base layers, I wore my Arcteryx Atom LT for my mid. I love this jacket because of the warmth on the chest and breathability in the side panels. This jacket is quick dry, durable and stays warm even when damp.
Mid Cozy (on the downs)
When we finally stopped moving it was time to layer up! I always prefer down fill over synthetic insulate when it’s time to get serious about warmth. The Arcteryx Cerium LT is a great layer to throw under a shell. “Efficient and versatile, and providing exceptional warmth for its weight, the Cerium LT down hoody functions as a mid layer or standalone piece in cool, dry conditions. Premium 850 fill-power down is resilient and warm, the Arato™ 10 shell provides lightweight durability, and Down Composite Mapping™ strategically places Coreloft™ synthetic insulation in moisture-prone areas. Articulated construction moves with the body, and the insulated StormHood™ provides coverage without compromising range of vision.” (Arcteryx.com)
Outer-layer Cozy (on the up)
If I need a thinner layer on top and if it’s snowing or a bit windy, I will put the Arcteryx Atom SL over top of of my base. It cuts the wind and is a warm, great quick dry piece.
Outer-layer Cozy (on the downs)
I also have fallen in love with the Arcteryx Airah Jacket in cold weather. It’s easy to layer underneath and keeps the bite out. It’s designed with the female body in mind and hugs all the right places to give you flexibility and warmth throughout the jacket.
“A single-layer solution providing comprehensive backcountry protection with exceptional breathability, the Airah combines waterproof GORE-TEX performance with air-permeable Polartec® Alpha® insulation. The result is a warm jacket for rest and descent phases that also manages heat and humidity on ascents. About 30% lighter than conventional layering systems, and far more packable, the Airah has a full set of features including a helmet-compatible StormHood™, pit zips and powder skirt.” (Arcteryx.com)
I frequently wear the Arcteryx Sentinel LT shell. It has tons of space to layer up and cuts the wind and wet out completely. It’s longer silhouette covers my hips and the powder skirt keeps the snow out. It’s my go-to shell.
“The Sentinel LT Jacket is a highly versatile big mountain jacket built for weather protection in a progressive design. It is equipped with a full set of features specific to freeride touring: helmet compatible StormHood™, RS™ zipper sliders on chest and hand pockets and an RFID pocket, pack compatible WaterTight™ pit zippers for venting, integrated powder skirt,with Slide ‘n Loc™ attachments for compatible pants, an internal laminated pocket and an internal mesh dump pocket. N80p 3L GORE-TEX fabric with GORE C-KNIT™ backer technology is quiet and comfortable movement through wet and winter weather. The longer length gives extra protection from the elements on deep storm days.” (Arcteryx.com)
I have a pair of, 3 year old, Arcteryx Sentinal bib pants that I always ski in. The Shaska Pant is similar and I highly recommend going for a full bib to add some warmth. “A women’s backcountry touring pant leveraging the advanced comfort of GORE C-KNIT™ backer technology, the Shashka delivers full waterproof protection with superior softness and breathability. The low bib helps keep out snow, and the ingenious TouringCuff™ simplifies boot buckle management without sacrificing protection from snow entry. Side vents facilitate heat dump on ascents, and articulated e3D patterning elevates freedom of movement on traverses, uptracks and steep descents.” (Arcteryx.com)
On the uphill, I wear a thin, merino glove to protect my hands from the cold. Check out the Gothic Glove.
For years I had cold hands no matter the temperature. I just couldn’t find a mitt that could cut the cold out. Until I found the Mercury Mitt. Goodbye cold hands! These mitts trump all. They are super comfy, flexible and warm even below -20. Fully waterproof and prima-loft insulated.
I’m a huge believer in a neck warmer/buff tucked under my hat or toque when skiing. It protects my cheeks and neck from the wind or falling snow and adds that little extra bit of warmth. I usually wear a merino Buff and a toque over top. Tip: Keep the buff on your chin and sides of your cheeks when doing long hikes, it will keep it from getting wet and freezing – when its time to descend, you can pull it up over your nose.
I recently discovered Dissent Labs Ski socks!I bought the Ski GFK Compression Hybrid DLX – Wool. They offer superior comfort and warmth in your boots when touring. I swear by compression socks for skiing and these ones are the best I’ve tried.
They also have some extra cushioning at the sides which offers protection against rubbing in the toes when skinning. They have a wide range of options and fit pretty true to size with no bunching. I’ve never had socks that I don’t sweat in on the uptrack until now. Give these a go!
Tips & Tricks
On those super cold days it’s hard to get motivated when it’s time to stop moving and rip the skins off or have a bite to eat. Some motivational tricks I use are:
– Putting hand warmers in my mitts that sit in my pack for the way down. When I swap out of my thin gloves and put on super warm gloves it gives me a little boost of joy!
– Thermos of tea. Warm liquid will go a long way to keep your happiness metre on the up! I use a Hydro Flask to keep my liquids hot for hours.
– An extra base layer top. I always bring an extra merino top for if I have sweat a bit too much (sometimes unavoidable). It might be cold when you swap them but then you will be feeling great in a few minutes.
– Try not to stop for too long. If you can pack an easy lunch that you can grab quickly, it will save you from getting too chilled. Things like wraps or sandwiches instead of soups or other time consuming meals.
– Chocolate. I don’t really need to explain this. Chocolate is happiness in any temperature.
– Try not to buy things like Cliff Shot Blocks or Energy Jelly beans. They are going to freeze and break your teeth.
Try and bring things that are easy to warm up and will give you some nutrition to keep you going. I love the Pro Bar Superfood Almond Butter pouches. They are filled with goodness and you can stick them in your jacket for a minute to soften up.
If you can get your layering perfected, you won’t let the temps stop you. Spend some time testing what works for you and keep that sweat controlled!