Sometimes you can get so caught up in making sure you have all the right gear for ski touring (beacon, shovel, probe) that the proper layering is an afterthought at best. And when you haven’t layered right, it can be supremely uncomfortable, with day-ruining potential.
Above Photo: Backcountry.com athlete Ingrid Backstrom getting ready to drop in.
Photo Credit: Re Wikstrom
I’ve made all the mistakes there are to make when it comes to layering for backcountry skiing, and I’m sure I’ll continue to be sweating off one body part while simultaneously freezing off another many, many more times. But here are a few things I’ve learned.
Look for baselayers and socks made with merino wool, a mix of merino and synthetic, or performance fabric with quick-drying technology. That way you stay warm even when you sweat. Antibacterial coatings or layers made with merino wool reduce the stink factor, which is a good bonus. If you run cold, you might want to bring a softshell for the hike up, since it provides a good mix of flexibility, breathability, and a little warmth. A puffy and a weatherproof shell (for stops and the ride down) are pretty standard.
Extra gloves (a thinner pair for hiking up, a thicker pair for skiing down), extra eyewear (sunglasses or goggles for hiking, a fresh pair of dry goggles for skiing), extra hat, extra puffy (preferably a packable, mid-weight puffy with a hood for when you stop at the top and when you ski down). Some people I know even bring an extra long underwear top. Hopefully your temperature will be so perfectly regulated that you won’t need that, but if you tend to hike hot and sweat it out, by all means, bring an extra baselayer. Extra means dry, and dry means warm.
I like to be chilly at the bottom–it’s darn hard to take that puffy off on a cold morning, but you’ll warm up fast, and it’s too easy to get it sweaty before you even realize it’s happening. If it’s a relatively warm day, I take off all top layers and just go in my baselayer top, with my shell jacket easily accessible (clipped to the outside of my pack). If it’s stormy or cold, I leave the shell on (that extra puffy is in my pack), and use pant and jacket venting, front jacket zipper, jacket hood, and balaclava to make adjustments if I heat up or reach a windy ridge. A hood pulled up over your head or buff pulled up over your ears can make a huge difference in body warmth, as well as something as simple as fastening jacket cuffs snugly over your gloves.
The second you gain the top of the hike, take your pack off and begin the clothing changeover. Ok, you can take one picture and maybe a sip of water if you’re feeling super hot, but don’t dally any longer. Put on the dry hat and gloves, slip into your puffy, and top it off with your shell. Now you can eat food, take your skins off, text your friends a picture of where you are, whatever. But those first few minutes are critical in maintaining that nice body heat you’ve worked up; it can slip away fast and be difficult to regain. If it’s the middle of your skin up and you’re taking a food or water break or waiting for people and you know it will be a few minutes, put your hood up, zip up all your vents, or slide your puffy on over your shell–just do something that’ll keep you from chilling out too much during the break.
Stay warm, stay safe, and have fun out there!