Don't let a bad purchasing choice ruin your ski holiday...
There are a lot of decisions to make when you commit to buying new ski gear. How much should I spend? How do I allocate my budget? Should I buy the pair of bright green boots that I’ve had my eye on for weeks…
While we may not be able to answer all of your pressing questions (though feel free to email us), we’ve listed five tips that we feel are the most important when purchasing ski gear for the first time. Follow these, and you’ll be well on your way to a drama-free ski holiday!
Find a good boot fitter
If we had to rank the importance of each piece of ski gear, ski boots would be right at the top of the list. And that’s not to suggest that you go out and buy the most expensive pair on the market. The most important factor in selecting a pair of boots is getting the right fit.
A properly fitted pair of boots will benefit your skiing immeasurably (arguably far more than a pair of skis), and will also mean that you don’t get half way through a ski holiday with feet so sore that skiing becomes more pain than pleasure.
That said, matching your feet with the right pair is a difficult task, and best left to a specialised boot fitter – ideally someone with a background in podiatry. We suggest asking your local ski school for a recommendation, and to get the name of the specialist rather than just the name of a shop.
Keep in mind that in a shop with walls lined with hundreds of options, there may only be a pair or two that are right for your feet, so try not to think about colours, brands or styles. Even once you’ve been matched with a boot, there is a strong likelihood that they will need modifications of some sort. This can take days, so don’t plan to visit the shop the night before you head off on holiday.
It’s worth mentioning that the feel of the boot will be vastly different in the warmth of the store than it will be outside in minus temperatures, so put trust in your boot fitter to do the job. And if they do, we guarantee it will make your time on the slopes a whole lot more enjoyable.
Find goggles that work
Another critical piece of kit that you should allocate plenty of your budget and attention to. Skiing is a visual experience, and it sounds blatantly obvious to suggest finding a pair of goggles that allow you good vision.
But inexperienced skiers will often prioritise the purchase of skis, boots and poles (usually in that order) – often giving minimal thought to finding a good pair of goggles. The $40 pair that seem fine in the shop are, in almost every situation, not going to hold up when the weather gets tough. Anyone who’s spent a day on the slopes with constantly fogging goggles will understand the frustration we refer to.
We have two suggestions on finding a decent pair. Firstly: don’t go cheap – there are other items that you are better trying to save money on (see below). The quality of the lens in top-end goggles is generally far superior to the one found in goggles at the other end of the spectrum, and the difference is not worth the saving in cost.
Secondly – like your ski boots, fit is very important. If you’re going to be wearing a helmet, make sure you bring it to the shop to try with the goggles. The goggles should form a seal around your face, and there shouldn’t be a sizeable gap between the top and sides of the goggles and the helmet.
From there, the secret to fog-free vision is all in your treatment of your new goggles. Avoid touching the inside of the lens at all costs and do your best to keep the goggles dry. If you do experience fogging, make sure that the vents of the goggles are not obscured and that your head and body are not overheating. A 5-minute café stop to let the goggles dry out is always a better option than a hastily scrubbed lens, which can do irreversible damage.
Buy skis fit for the purpose
Skiing technology has improved a great deal over the last decade, and one of the major changes has been rise in popularity of powder skis. Virtually every major brand has a powder model, which is essentially just a very wide ski (100–130 mm in the narrowest part of the ski).
The result is that many skiers, who may have seen photos of the pros taking on powder in planks close to the width of a McDonald’s tray, follow their lead and end up with skis far wider than they need.
The truth is that powder skis are built for a very specific purpose (float), and unless you’re planning on a backcountry trip to central Hokkaido where deep powder is the one and only aim, you’re going to be better suited to a piste or all-mountain ski. Even all-mountain models at the wider end of the spectrum can be too much ski for a resort skier.
If, like many skiers, you plan on an even mix of piste and off-piste skiing, a good quality all-mountain ski is the way to go. There will be many options to consider (ask your ski shop assistant about the different types of camber, for example), but as a rough guide, look for a ski with an underfoot width of around 75 mm to 90 mm and a generous side-cut. Beginner skiers and anyone planning to spend all their time on groomed runs should look for piste-specific skis with a waist of around 70 mm to 80 mm.
Note that if you’re on a budget, skis can be a good place to try and save a few dollars. Look for discounts on previous seasons’ models, which often remain unchanged from one year to the next.
And don’t be afraid to buy second hand if you know what you’re looking for. Just be aware that skis do have a limited lifespan, so look for the holiday ski that has only been used for a few weeks over its lifetime rather than the ex-rental pair that have been on snow for 200+ days. Also watch out for damage to the edge of the ski or scratches in the base that penetrate the core.
Invest in a good gloves
Comfortable boots, clear vision and warm fingers. If you can nail those three then you’re well on the way to a fantastic day out on the slopes. With that in mind, we strongly suggest investing in a good pair of gloves or mittens (mittens are best for children or adults who tend to feel the cold more).
Gloves should be made of leather or a high-quality synthetic. Also be careful not to buy gloves that are too tight, as they can limit circulation, making fingers cold and/or numb.
Clothes for all conditions
The secret to successful dressing on the ski slopes is quality layers. Even if you’re someone who really feels the cold, resist the urge to buy a thick, heavy ski jacket. Instead, purchase an all-weather Goretex shell (thin, but tough), and pair it with a synthetic or woolen base layer and a fleece (your mid layer). If you get too hot, drop the mid layer.
On the bottom, a good quality base layer and a pair of regular ski pants should suffice. Jeans or tracksuit bottoms under your ski pants are an indisputable “no”.
The one major exception to the layers rule is when it comes to socks. Never double up, even on the coldest days, as it can cause loss of circulation and actually make your feet colder and more uncomfortable. In fact, if your boots have been fitted correctly, there won’t be much room for an extra pair of socks anyway.
Have a question about buying new gear that wasn’t answered above? Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.