Editor’s note: It’s here! For the second-straight year, we’re presenting another 12-day holiday gift guide, brought to you by the one and only “FBD”, our gear-review guru. Kicking the series off, recommendations for recovery gifts to keep you and your ski buddies on the trails and injury free.
Day 2: Training Clothing
OK, we got after it pretty hard yesterday, so we’re going to take a piece of our own advice a chill a bit today. Just like it’s a mistake to rip out intervals every day (I’m looking at you, JUOM)…
… it’s probably also a mistake to charge that hard on gear for 12 days. I think we’ll all go crazy if we hit every day as hard as we hit it yesterday, so we’re going to dial it back a bit today in our coverage of training clothing.
Don’t get me wrong, this topic is as near and dear to my cold heart as recovery is, but inherent in its very nature is a more subdued, less-scientific approach, so this should allow for the presentation of today’s offerings with minimal lecturing and wild pontification (please keep in mind, these are all very relative statements). There is most certainly some good science and technology behind clothing, in particular these days, but don’t worry, I’ll do my best to not cite any peer-reviewed studies. Today. This won’t be easy on any of us though, for who doesn’t love a good randomized, double-blind, peer reviewed research paper? Don’t fret though fellow data nerds, I have plenty more science up my sleeve down the road.
Part of what makes the ski community great is the, well, community. I was talking to Brian Gregg after his SuperTour win last Sunday and I told him that it was nice to see a good guy win. His response was excellent too, as he asked me, “Thanks FBD, but honestly, are there any guys out here who aren’t good guys that you wouldn’t want to see win?” This is such a good point and it goes to show you that even at the highest level in the sport, those fighting tool and nail for a chance to represent our country at the highest and most prestigious level of international competition, the Olympics, still have the utmost respect and admiration for their competitors. THIS is the nordic community. Brian’s comment got me thinking, too, have I ever met a nordic skier that I didn’t like? No, I really haven’t. It’s amazing, when you think about it. There are plenty of people who don’t like me, but that’s another story. Plus, I have a column and they don’t, so there. Go peddle your hate elsewhere, you hatey, hate mongers.
Following up on this thought (the positive one, not the FBD-hater dealie), I wanted to offer up this first product in the spirit of supporting our great community — a hat from a local shop that does so much for the nordic world, Freeheel and Wheel in West Yellowstone, Montana. They are in the awkward position of having thousands of very needy, nordic nerds descend into their shop for one week per year, yet they must balance this with what, let’s just say, is a bit more moderate traffic flow the rest of the year. Being scalable enough to accommodate these enormous fluctuations in activity speaks volume about the strength and flexibility of this shop. Sure, you can get a hat anywhere, but why not cruise up to the West Yellowstone Ski Festival next year for some of the best early-season skiing anywhere in the country and support this awesome local secret with the purchase of a beanie, wax, and some coffee. Local love. Pay it forward.
$30 – $99
Ah, warm hands — this is where the rubber meets the road, er, the tracks. This is the one thing that seems to befell sooooo many skiers, making this topic literally a year-round passion for me. I fly to Eagle Glacier, Europe and South America in the summers with bags full of gloves for testing. It is a labor of love and one that you, the loyal reader, gets to reap the rewards. Truth be told, I greatly enjoy this process as well, as nothing is more rewarding than helping someone find a comfortable glove after years of suffering and nothing is more priceless than the look on the customs official’s face when he asks why I have 15 sets of winter gloves in my bag in the summer. The discussion goes something like this: I tell him I have all of these gloves because I’m going to South America. We then stare at each other for 30 seconds of incredibly awkward silence while I wait to see if he can remember that the seasons are opposed in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, so “our” summer is “their” winter (quotes provided as I consider myself essentially a local Argentinian). Tensions rise as he gets increasingly nervous and annoyed from my smug and confident stare, because deep down he thinks he remembers hearing something about something called the equator, but he doesn’t really remember exact what he/she/it actually does. He does know enough to know that my answer is somehow relevant, he just has no idea how or why. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times now and it never ceases to amaze me. A word to the wise though, tread lightly here, as even though you may have the high moral ground and a superior understanding of basic Earth science, he has handcuffs and a gun. Let it drop and move on you way to begin slamming beers for the gut-wrenching 11-hour flight.
This geographical obtuseness is sadly not limited to surly customs agents who clearly were the last kids picked for teams at recess in elementary school, though. Unfortunately many people have no idea what happens outside their zip code. Travel people, travel. Or, in the very least, pay attention in junior high.
Let’s put aside under-educated and overly-dictatorial TSA and customs agents for now and return to our roots of supporting our community. Another key pillar, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum from a small local shop, is Toko. Despite being one of the industry big boys, Toko probably has one of the best “boot on the ground” presence of any of the nordic soft goods companies. Lurking around the expo at the West Yellowstone Ski Festival, I personally witnessed the Toko team looking after athletes at ever level: they help support many U.S. Ski Team (USST) athletes, as well as non-USST athletes like Olympians Noah Hoffman and Brian and Caitlin Gregg (who each have national titles, have represented the US of A at the Olympics, have raced numerous World Cups in Team USA gear, and even have a World Championships medal between them), development teams, regional teams, high school teams, masters, you name it.
This is all well and good, but this would be a nice, though somewhat shallow, gesture if their products weren’t good, but they are good. Really good. A particular FBD favorite is the new Toko Thermo Race Glove. Full disclosure, the FBD was blessed with extraordinary foot-and-hand circulation and my problem (well, at least in terms body temperature regulation, I have dozens of other Great Dane-related problems that I’d rather not go into in this forum), is that I generally get too hot, not too cold. In our base layer review last year, the entire test team was amazed at how much less I wear on both training and race days than the rest of the team. The point here is that I don’t get cold very easily, so just the temperature range in which I wear these gloves will likely differ slightly for you.
With that caveat duly noted, even though these are technically “race” gloves, I personally find them perfect for training in all but the absolutely coldest conditions. They also have a very useful pad on the fingers that makes them touch-screen compatible, which is key when you take as many selfies as I do. I was a little slow off the line in the selfie game due to bad form, but thanks to extensive coaching from U.S. Ski Team Special Jumper Casey Larson, I have modified my stance, angle of approach, and overall bad attitude, so I am very pleased to report that my selfie game is now on point.
Now where was I? Oh yeah, gloves. These rock. Get’em. Be a good ‘Merican (Isn’t it ironic how much that contraction looks an awful lot like “Mexican,” especially considering the political outlook of the people most apt to use it? Food for thought) and go for the “Stars and Stripes” color-way, just like this dude, badass former U.S. Biathlete, Zach Hall. After all, it is an Olympic year. $49 on Tokous.com
I know, I know, I’m confusing everyone with my nomenclature and greatly flouting well-established conventions in the process, as I just finished talking about training in a product called a “Race Glove,” so if we’re wearing a race glove for training, where the hell should you be wearing training gloves/mittens? FBD, what are you doing to me?!?! How did this all get so confusing? Next, you’re going to tell me that it’s currently summer in Argentina, and we all know that is clearly impossible, as it’s HOT in the summer, dummy, and right now it is cold where I am sitting, ergo it must be cold everywhere in the world.
That very precent point aside, as noted earlier, the FBD “runs hot,” most likely due to a seething inner rage fueled by extensive time in domestic airports, East Coast traffic, and repeated, nonsensical texts from Josh Smullin. Thanks to a highly sophisticated understanding of the Krebs cycle, cellular metabolism and mammalian energy production, I have been able to channel this apoplectic fury into good instead of evil, and use my overall contempt of modern society to keep me warm in bad weather.
If people’s inability to not block the jetway off the airplane in their futile quest to find the enormous sign indicating the direction of baggage claim doesn’t drive you insane, you can probably have a normal reaction to cold and can just buy the same weight gloves as everyone else. If, however, the inattentiveness and complete disregard for the world around them of most people enables you to ski in your Speedo and forego most layers of insulation, have I got some suggestions for you.
Not to beleaguer this point, as my glove selection is spot on for me, but I’ve noticed over the years that a conversion factor is necessary for most people. You know, normal people. People who don’t sit alone in a cabin for two weeks and test gloves. And no, I am not kidding. I have issues. Two weeks. Two freakin’ weeks.
More specifically, I tend to scale 10-20 degrees colder than the “average” skier (i.e., what you’d wear on a 40-degree day, I’d wear on a 20-30 degree day). And before the haters out there get all huffy, I don’t view this as a positive or a negative, just the reality of the situation. I only bring it up to contextualize these recommendations and to optimize them for the unwashed masses. That’s you people.
So how does this all translate to you, the “normal” skier? For most people, in particular those whose fingers chill easily (not to be confused with Netflix and chill, which is something altogether completely different), I strongly recommend the Toko Toasty Mitten for average-to-cold training days. My hands would ignite if I wore these on any day over 10 degrees F, but for many skiers I talked to, they are the perfect choice for most winter days. Regardless of where you slot in on the cold tolerance index, we’re all out there on days that we think are “cold,” (whatever the hell that means to you) and these things are perfect for cold days. So get a pair for days that you perceive to be cold and please STFU about your Raynaud’s syndrome. You don’t have that — you just have crappy gloves and base layers (more on the latter shortly). $35 at Tokous.com
Speaking of spontaneous appendage combustion, the last offering in today’s installment of how to not lose your fingers to frostbite is the LL Bean Men’s Ultralight 850 Down Gloves. Unless you’ve lived in the desert your entire life and have blood with the viscosity of air, these gloves are WAY too hot for any sort of aerobic activity. Where they shine however is on your way to and fro the tracks. Even though that crafty Chinese hoax seems to be killing winter, it can still cold in the morning when you go to scrape your windshield, set up the biathlon range, or stand motionless on the race course giving splits. For all of these activities and more, you want this glove. It is warm, yet not so bulky that you can’t grab ahold of your disobedient Great Dane’s collar as he is running to knock over your neighbor coming home with delicious smelling pizza. (photo unavailable of the Great Dane pizza “incident,” as relations are currently a little frosty with that particular neighbor)
Save your relationship, and your fingers, and buy these now. $49.95 at L.L. Bean
It has occurred to me over the years that perhaps another one of the reasons why I don’t get cold hands or feet is that I pay particular attention to my base layers. I give considerable thought before each sesh as to not only the projected temperature during the ski, but also factors like the sun, wind, and the prescribed intensity level of the scheduled workout. Doing intervals on a -2 C day when it’s sunny, with no wind and low humidity requires a very different set of choices than going easy on a +2 C day when it is windy and rainy.
Being the spoiled, gear prima donna that I am, I am in the envious position of having literally dozens of options when I’m at Fast Big Dog Racing HQ (FBDRHQ, or Faabidoorahick, as we say “around the shop) in Steamboat, but as anyone who follows me on Instagram knows, I am a man of the world and part of being pro is bring only what you need on trips and absolutely nothing more.
Since I am a wily veteran of the travel game and no-one is more pro than me (I’m looking at you, Taylor Fletcher), I can go minimalist with the best of them and the lynchpin of this entire concept is being able to select multipurpose garments that are functional over a very wide temperature range. For example, did you know that wind briefs can be repurposed as a buff, headband, or in a pinch, even a cold-weather mask? It’s true. I’ve seen Ollie Burruss execute the latter on several occasions and he went to Harvard, so he’s smart. But I’m getting off-topic. Focus FBD, focus.
One of my favorites base layers this year is this offering from Bjorn Daehlie, the Airnet, their new wool training top. It is Merino wool, so it is warm in a wide variety of temperatures, maintains its insulation properties well when it is wet, offers excellent wicking, and perhaps most importantly, resists odor magnificently, which is key on those long training camps. $79.95 on Backcountry.com
$100 – $299
Clearly designed for pre- and apres-ski, this jacket is warm, light, comfortable and at $250, one helluva value.
Continuing today’s theme of “community,” it’s important to point out that this isn’t just a great jacket, but like Toko, L.L. Bean is a great company. They are an official supplier to the U.S. Ski Team, they have excellent products, and they do a great job supporting our athletes. If you are looking for a new puffy to strut your stuff around town on your way to and from the ski, shovel the driveway, or walk the stupid Great Dane, this is your jam, as not only do you get a great coat at a great price, but you’re also supporting a company that supports our community. Pay it forward. $249 at L.L. Bean