Evidence from cave paintings suggest that people began skiing in some capacity over 5,000 years ago, and the archeological record from Russia includes skis from as early as 6000 BCE. Skiing for sport, as opposed to transportation, really began in the mid-1800s, with the first public ski competition taking place in Norway in 1843. Since then, skis have changed from wood to metal to fiberglass, and the shape has changed from thin and long to curved and flexible.
As skis have evolved so has the gear skiers use to stay comfortable on the slopes, and those innovation and improvements have been updated annually. Here are some of the best upgrades for the 2018 spring ski season.
1. Telescoping Poles
For backcountry skiers, trekkers, and people who just hate having their poles smashed between the ski lift railing and their body, Leki has created a telescoping high-performance ski pole that can attach to your glove. It quickly shortens to as little as half-length with the flip of a clasp (making it easy to stash in your trunk as well). While you can buy other telescoping poles for as little as $10 at Wal-Mart, Leki's (which retails for about 10x that), are the ones used by top ski racers such as Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsay Vonn. What makes them really exceptional is not the ability to change length but the "Trigger S grip system" they integrated into their Trigger Vertical glove, which uses an elastic band within the grip that lets you change positions quickly without having to click out. This innovation lets you switch to various gripping/palming positions seamlessly. Once you see how secure and flexible this two-pronged system is, it is hard not to look at straight poles dangling akimbo from loose wrist loops and just feel sorry.
2. Thin Balaclavas
Balaclavas are great for keeping your neck and face warm on chilly ski days, but the fleece ones do not fit comfortably under helmets and the moisture can quickly make your face feel swampy. To solve this problem, BUFF has created a line of balaclavas, tubulars and neck warmers, that in addition to coming in very stylish patterns, are made from a 70% recycled material that is 4 times warmer than microfiber and super fast-drying. They are also much longer than the normal balaclava, so you don't get cold air seepage on your neck. They represent two big upgrades in one new design.
3. Eco-Wool Thermal Underwear
Thermal underwear is often made from synthetic materials, which are not very breathable and hold moisture close to the skin. REI notes that these materials also can get quite stinky when worn for several days. Natural materials, like cotton, are better, but not always as warm and even cotton production, unless it is organic, is not great for the environment. If wool does not irritate your skin, it can offer the perfect solution. While Smartwool continues to be the official supplier (of socks anyway) for the US Ski Team, Ridge Merino's new line of adorable and soft base layers are a notable addition to the market this year. Their products are made from merino wool, which is sustainably sourced from select responsible sheep farmers in Australia and New Zealand. The Merino wool is an entirely natural, renewable and biodegradable fiber and the company donates a percentage of every sale to environmental causes through their partnership with 1% For The Planet.
4. Eco-Down Jacket
Synthetic material does not breathe well, but people who care about animals have a hard time buying traditional down. The good news here is that more quality ski clothing is being made under the guidance of the Responsible Down Standard (RDS) than ever. The RDS is an independent, voluntary standard that was developed and revised over three years, with the input of animal welfare groups, industry experts, brands and retailers. The standard recognizes the best practices in animal welfare, and excludes those that violate the animal's well being.
RDS ensures that down and feathers come from ducks and geese that have been treated well (e.g. live healthy lives, express innate behaviors, and not suffer from pain, fear or distress). The standard also follows the chain of custody from farm to product, so consumers can be confident that the down and feathers in the products they choose are truly RDS.
Some large companies like the North Face now use RDS down, and Outdoor Research is a great example of a company committed to using RDS for top shelf ski apparel. They recommend pairing a down layer as a mid-layer with a waterproof layer on top for cold wet days. According to the reviews, ice fishers are raving, and when it comes to ice and cold, they can't be wrong.
5. Glove Dryer
No one likes the feeling of slipping day-old wet gloves back on for day two of skiing. Yes, it is nice if you are staying somewhere you can warm you gloves by the fire, but what if you are in a hotel without such a thing? Karen Smoots, a working mother and avid skier, has created a clever and completely green invention to dry out her boys' things after a long day on the slopes. The Green Glove Dryer is basically a set of six hollow plastic tubes with little holes all over them held together with a floor mount that fits perfectly over a floor heat register or attaches to a wall heat register. This design funnels the warm air up through the nozzles and into the gloves, hats, shoes or other wet gear, drying the out quickly without using any additional energy. It is so effective, that even very wet gloves are usually dry within an hour - so if you are willing to store this device in your locker on the slopes, you could even dry out your gloves in between morning and afternoon runs.
While these new ski technology upgrades are not inexpensive, they price tags are reasonable for a sport that costs as much per day as a trip to Disney World. For those looking to upgrade to the best and most eco-friendly ski equiptment, 2018 is a great year.