Another huge storm just rolled across the west, dropping up to five feet of snow in the Tahoe area, and a couple across the Rockies, from Colorado to Utah, Wyoming and Montana. At many of the nation’s best and biggest ski resorts, it’s the best start to the season in 30 years, and several mountains have already surpassed a third of their annual average – and winter has not even started yet! Every major ski resort in the West – and Midwest – is expecting more snow for Christmas, and at this rate, even if the precipitation slows down, bases are so deep the skiing is virtually guaranteed to be good for a long time. This all comes on the heels of the nation’s busiest ski and snowboard season in history – 61 million skier days last winter.
The bottom line is if you have any interest in skiing or snowboarding at all, you will likely be out there this winter, because it just doesn’t get any better than this. So while you probably have the basics, like a jacket and pants, and you can always rent skis or a board, it might be time to upgrade some of your key accessories, which can do everything from keep you warmer and more comfortable to make your winter travel easier (If you are lacking the basics, check out this 2022 Holiday Gift Guide to the Best Ski Jackets For Men & Women).
Sweet Protection Helmets: The gold standard in protecting your head, Norway’s science driven Sweet Protection also has the best ventilation, lightweight designs that are warm and comfortable, and include the must-have MIPS technology to reduce the force of impact, along with every other safety advent available. Many extreme and pro athletes trust Sweet Protection safety gear to protect them, and while I am not in any need of body armor, it’s the helmet I use, and more tellingly, the one I got for my wife. She also has a Sweet Protection bike helmet.
Safety and comfort are the two biggest considerations in picking a helmet, but Sweet Protection also excels at all the rest of the important little details, with a snap-in lining that is easily removable and washable, a one hand turn dial fit system with height adjustment, adjustable ventilation, they come Audio Ready for music lovers, and feature the brilliant Fidlock Magnetic buckle for safety and ease of operation, even with gloves on. As a proven company with proven quality and technology, this pick is easy, and I like the Switcher MIPS, but they have several top models to choose from, new or updated for 2022-2023, for men and women.
Eddie Bauer Heated Gloves & Mitts: Everything from electric cars to smartphones have benefited from big advances in batteries and technology, but for winter sports fans, heated ski boots and ski gloves are game changers that can end the two biggest discomfort complaints in the sport: cold toes and fingers. Heated ski gloves have been around for years, but the technology has always been iffy in terms of both effectiveness (how much heat and where it is deployed) and durability (both my wife and I have both trashed pairs from leading glove brands in less than two seasons, and these gloves can run close to five hundred bucks, and for that price, I think you should expect more durability). To date the best I’ve found are from niche high-tech heated glove-only specialist Chaval. I really like their products, and if anything they are too warm, a bit on the bulky side and run $425.
Now another favorite brand of mine has jumped into the fray. Eddie Bauer is one of the nation’s oldest, most acclaimed, and most reliable mountaineering and outdoor gear companies, and its new Guide Pro series is extremely promising. The new gloves are part of its top tier technical First Ascent lineup, tested by its all-star lineup of professional climbers and athletes in the world’s harshest conditions (like Everest). The price is right, $100-$150 less than most peer competition, and the features are as good or better. Most gloves let you set one, two or three heat levels. The Guide Pro uses a smartphone app like a thermostat, you set the temperature you want, from 68-95°, and it regulates it based on the weather, body heat and your activity level. The AI-powered gloves continually adjust. The non-electric part of the insulation is my favorite, high-efficiency PrimaLoft Gold, which unlike down works even if it gets wet, but it won’t get wet because these gloves are also waterproof and breathable with a best-in-class Pittards leather shell over the waterproof fabric for rugged durability and extra protection. These are the first in the country using the clim8 intelligent heating technology, they have full gauntlets to keep more of you warmer (wrists) and keep snow out, and they come in three unisex models and an impressive five sizes for perfect fit. There’s the Guide Pro Heated Gloves ($299) for warmth plus dexterity, the Guide Pro Lite ($249) with all the same features in a slimmer, even more tactile design, and the Guide Pro Heated Mittens ($299) for ultimate warmth.
CEP Compression Ski Socks: Compression underclothing became the darling of professional athletes years ago when studies suggested it could help with everything from reducing fatigue to shortening recovery time, and since modern ski boots are all designed to be used with very thin socks, it’s a perfect choice for skiing. But compression socks require a special manufacturing process to make, and most ski sock manufacturers don’t bother making them. Furthermore, “compression” is a largely unregulated label term, and anyone can slap it on, regardless how effective it is. CEP has long been the leader in all things medical-grade compression, which is what you want, and makes only high-quality, true compression wear. For the ski socks they also use merino wool, which is best in class and what all the top ordinary ski socks are, so you get the best of both worlds. I’ve used their socks for other outdoor activities but especially for flying long haul, where experts recommend compression socks to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis, a risk when flying. CEP also happens to make excellent compression ski socks, I wear them, and while you probably won’t see them at an average ski shop, they are worth seeking out.
Cardo Communication System: Families and friends trying to stay in touch across a mega-resort have traditionally had to rely on some sort of walkie talkie, or phones, both of which have drawbacks in coverage, clarity, use of hands and multiple participants. But the technology of group communication networks has gotten massively better, and the state-of-the-art solution now is Cardo Packtalk Outdoor. Cardo Systems has a history as the leader in wireless communications systems for motorcyclists, and was the first company ever to release a Bluetooth motorcycle communicator. Since then, they have been the favorite of on and off-road enthusiasts, and now the system has been optimized for skiing and snowboarding.
The Packtalk Outdoor is thin and light and designed to fit on the earpiece of a ski helmet, allowing wireless group communication that is totally hands-free and doesn’t require Wifi or cellular service – often spotty in the mountains. The tiny twin speakers are made by leading acoustics specialist JBL, the entire thing is IP67 waterproof so you can also use them for kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, even surfing, and it also works great for mountain or road cycling. But for skiing or snowboarding, simply snap a unit on the outside of the helmet earpiece, pair it with the other units in your group and that’s it. Imagine talking to each other in the entire group just like you would in person around a table, while skiing, without stopping, without hands. Communicate, converse, give directions, warn each other of potential danger or give instructional tips in real-time with crystal clear audio. It’s an always-on group intercom that uses mesh technology and allows you to connect up to 15 people in your private network in seconds. Range is about 1 km (.6 miles) between each unit (the more you have in your group the better it works), battery life is up to 8 hours talk time in cold conditions, you can also stream music directly from your smartphone, answer or make calls while your phone stays in your pocket, and the volume is automatically adjusted based on speed and wind noise. Packtalk Outdoors units are sold individually and come with all the necessary accessories ($249).
Thule Roundtrip Bootpack: If there is one absolute must-have piece of hardware to take on your ski trip, it’s boots. You can rent great skis – probably the same ones you have – poles, helmets, even jackets, but rental boots are never going to as good as your own, especially if your boots have been custom fitted (and they should be, this is the best gear investment you can make in skiing and will immediately improve your performance and comfort). When I fly on ski trips, I take my boots on the plane, because everything else can get delayed and I can rent or borrow and get by, and there’s no better way to carry your boots than the Thule Roundtrip. Thule is well known as the leader in both car sports storage and rack systems and increasingly, for its high-performance luggage, but this is one of the best pieces. It has plenty of room (60 liters) for boots and lots more (you can also get a helmet in there and gloves, goggles, socks, etc.), it can be worn as a very comfy backpack, carried like a duffle, or attached to Thule or other rolling bags for easy moving around. It has features you’d never think you needed until you use them, like a special mat that rolls out for you to stand on if you want to change your boots in the parking lot without getting your socks wet. The bag itself has drainage grommets so if you put snow covered boots in at the end of the day, the water will drain, there’s a crush proof a safety compartment for goggles, glasses, camera or smartphone, external lash webbing to attach clothing or other stuff, the zippers are lockable, and the internal storage and access are perfect. The last boot bag you will ever buy! ($170).
Dakine Fall Line or Boundary Ski Roller Bag: I have tried lots of ski travel bags from lots of manufacturers, and the one I use for my own high-end skis is the Dakine Boundary. The Fall Line ($180) is the well-known company’s best seller, and easily holds two pairs of skis, perfect for a couple, trips that might need fatter powder skis in addition to an all-mountain model, or for those bring both alpine and alpine touring skis. It also holds a pair of ski boots in a removable zippered pouch that fits perfectly, which can alternatively be used for clothes, plus a removable laptop/tablet sleeve. There are two external zippered pockets that can hold gloves, socks, or other stuff. It features premium quality and materials, opens easily and fully in clamshell style for the best access and easiest packing/unpacking, it is flat and stable and rolls easily on its two tough wheels, and allows for other bags to be added for one handed rolling. It features 360° protective padding, a lockable YKK heavy duty zipper and compression straps for tight packing even if you only carry one pair of skis. The Boundary ($280) is basically the same bag in a slightly larger, heavier-duty, more expensive version, and adds a removable ventilated outerwear bag. The Fall Line is enough for most ski travelers, but if you maintain frequent flier elite status and have increased 70-pound free checked luggage weight limits, you might as well go Boundary and stuff it with ski clothes.
REKS Interchangeable Lens Ski Goggles and RX Goggles: Ski goggle technology has improved dramatically in recent years – and prices have climbed alongside this. With top-of-the-line interchangeable lens models now over $300 for leading brands, you might consider a great value proposition -without sacrificing any of the most desirable features. REKS is a direct-to-consumer manufacturer of high-quality active sunglasses that are shatter resistant and come standard with with anti-reflective coating and 100% UV protection. They recently added ski goggles to their performance eyewear lineup, and the value proposition is hard to beat. REKS goggles feature the fastest and easiest method of swapping lenses, magnets. They are full frame models with spherical lenses for the widest field of vision and best peripheral vision, and each model comes with two lenses for varied conditions, which you can pick (many companies pick for you) from six color options including mirrored finishes. All feature color-boosting lens technology from Essilor Sun Solution, a global optics leader, which enhances colors while maintaining a high level of sun protection and includes built-in UV, blue light absorption, and color equalizer. Triple layer foam with a top layer of moisture wicking fleece insures a snug fit with maximum comfort. A pair with two lenses is now just $140, but there is currently only one size and model.
REKS also has a long history of doing prescriptions and for its ski goggles, offers inserts that lock into the inside of the goggle so you can still swap lenses quickly. Single vison is just $140 and progressive $210, which is a steal. Full featured goggles with quick swap lens and progressive prescriptions cost a third of what I pay for regular progressive glasses, and all Rx inserts include anti-fog coating. U.S. Parallel National Champion Garret Driller wore REKS goggles in a recent World Pro Ski Tour event in difficult conditions and said, “My most important criteria for goggles are having good lenses and having no air going through the gaps between your helmet. I could tell the quality right away. These are awesome. I like the ability to change lenses on the fly. I didn’t even need to take off my gloves. These lenses pop out and pop right back in. It’s a much easier method.”
Julbo’s Best One-Lens Goggle: Personally, I’ve moved away from interchangeable lens goggles because the original models were a pain to swap out, and even though that has gotten much easier, you still have to carry the extra lenses while skiing, which are easily damaged. Instead, I’ve taken the lazy approach and switched to photochromatic lenses that automatically lighten or darken based on ambient light conditions, and I’m not the only one – in this year’s best gear guide for Outside and Ski magazines (shared guide), the testers who tried photochromatic for the first time were wowed and said they loved the simplicity and were not going back to lens swapping. The good news is that like everything else, technology keeps getting better and better. For the last few years, I’ve used the Skydome model from France’s Julbo, the world’s best-known manufacturer of mountaineering eyewear (for 130 years!), and mine cover light condition 0-3. But the newest crop of Julbo goggles (several models) feature the new Reactive 0-4, their best photochromatic lens ever. It changes faster and spans an amazingly broad range, up to 5-83% Variable Light Transmission (VLT), taking the place of a whole case of lenses. They are made of Trivex, the material used for helicopter windshields, optically superior to industry standard polycarbonate, and the photochromatic treatments cannot wear off like some, so the lenses have lifetime guarantees. The Skydome with Reactiv 0-4 are around $270. NOTE: While the new models are on the market and available from brick and mortar and online retailers, the new lens tech is so new that Julbo’s slightly outdated site does not make it easy to find products there.
Skida Headwear: There may be no company is all of skiing more beloved than Vermont’s Skida, and you will see their hats, neck warmers, balaclavas and accessories everywhere, from Aspen to Jackson, Stowe to St. Moritz. The lightest hats are perfect under helmets for the coldest days, but the regular alpine hats are the gold standard for après ski and ski town wear, while the neck gaiters warmers and balaclavas are all the extra protection you’ll need to brave the slopes in the most frigid conditions. On and off the mountains, the instantly recognizable colorful patterns and signature cozy materials and style makes Skida pop, and there is something for everyone, men, women, kids, even babies. Want to step it up? They also have a full lineup in cashmere. The non-bulky alpine hats are multi-use lifesavers that stash very easily in an inside jacket pocket, and many Skida aficionados have several in different colors and patterns to rotate.