In homage to not just the greatest movie ever made about dog shows (perhaps the only movie ever made about dog shows, but that’s OK, as I often introduce myself as the greatest FasterSkier gear reviewer ever — the fact that I’m the ONLY gear reviewer ever usually doesn’t seem particularly pertinent), I am very proud to present the latest feature in our ongoing search for truth and light: Best in Show (BiS).
What exact is BiS? I’m glad you asked. It is a bit of a departure from our earlier gear reviews in that this in an overview of what we believe to be the best offerings from all of the manufacturers for any given temperature range. We will not be performing our usual, lengthy, painstaking analysis and comparison of several different products, presenting all of the pluses and minuses. Rather, we will be doing all the behind-the-scenes work of that same lengthy, painstaking analysis, but simply presenting you — the loyal reader — with the best outfit for a 35-to-45-degree rollerski, for example.
Let’s dive right in. To kick things off, we’ve put together the BiS outfit for the dreaded 35-45 degree run or rollerski (or as Zach Caldwell likes to call them, “whap sticks”). Now, no bitching about this first outfit recommendation being too late in the year, as I recently returned from the USA Nordic Sports and USSA meetings in Park City and on the few days I did manage to squeeze in a workout (despite Billy Demong’s long, rambling PowerPoints), 35-degree rain was the condition that I encountered almost every day.
If you know anything about Billy Demong, you should know three things: he has an Olympic gold medal, if you train with him on whap sticks, there is a very good chance you may die, and he is trying to kill me. Following on the theme of that last point, Billy managed to shame me into a rainy whap-stick roll, (FBD shaming is serious problem facing society today, but that’s a story for another day), so trust me when I tell you that these outfits were tested in some of the crappiest conditions known to man. If it is now warm where you are, rock on in the Daisy Dukes and keep these little tidbits tucked away until fall. Not to fear, we’ll also be doing warm-weather stuff very soon, too.
When it’s this cold and nasty, you’ve really gotta nail it if you want to be survive three hours out there in that crap. That’s where we come in.
1. TOP: Arc’teryx Norvan Jacket
This one was easy: as usual, Arc’teryx KILLED IT. Those crazy Canadians sent one and only one top, the Norvan Jacket and quite frankly, it blew everything else away in this category. It is light, breathable, warm, dry, and the cut is perfect. The attention to detail is spot-on and every little feature works perfectly.
For example, instead of no-armpit ventilation like many other products in this class, or clunky, heavy, pit zips, The Bird has clever armpit vents that are the perfect size (see Figure 1 below). The length of the cuffs is also slightly offset (Figure 2), providing just a touch more coverage on the outside, which again, is perfect. The color, styling and overall fit are also dead on the mark, so this was an easy pick for BiS.
2. BASE LAYER: Brynje
Always looking to build a better mouse trap, I immediately wrote these folks after receiving the very favorable feedback about this brand in the comments section on my base layer review, and low and behold, they were kind enough to send a few thousand different pieces. Long story short: the stuff is awesome.
They sent everything but the kitchen sink, but the piece that really stood out in these conditions was the thin wool top. It was perfect, so thank you to all of my loyal Norwegian readers for this heads-up. These products are available in the U.S., too, thanks to the magic of the Internets, just point your browser to www.brynje.no and tell ’em Fast Big Dog sent cha. I don’t think that will save you money, but it sure does sound cool.
3. HAT: L.L. Bean Waterproof Baseball Cap
The Toyota Tacoma pickup of rainy day gear is a good hat: neither may be sexy or the first to come to mind, but each are subtle in their perfection. A good hat is indispensable in bad weather, so it should come as no surprise that L.L. Bean — a company that made its name on practical, no-nonsense gear — offers the BiS in this category.
This baseball cap is light, breathable and, most importantly, waterproof. Keeping rain out of your face helps SO much in overall comfort and psyche, that I tip my hat (sorry) to Bean on this one. Good under helmets and solo. Excellent piece.
4. SHOES: Salomon SpeedCross Pro
This is a bit tricky as shoes are very personal, since fit is very individual. Having said that, I know a lot of World Cup skiers who run in Salomon and they seem to fit a wide range of both men’s and women’s feet very well. For a wide variety of reasons, I try to do most of my running on trails, so the ask here is reasonable: light, grippy, stable shoes.
The Salomon SpeedCross Pro fits the bill perfectly. Most of my preferred courses are serpentine singletrack with lots of rocks and roots. Given the preponderance of rain we’ve had in Steamboat, Park City and Philly, these shoes are absolutely perfect. It’s also nice to support a brand that supports our community. Am I perhaps a bit biased toward ski brands? Perhaps, but maybe this is because we are all skiers? Even with this, they are still clearly the BiS for shoes.
5. SOCKS: Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light
What’s a good pair of shoes without good socks? You’re out of your frickin’ mind if you’re rockin’ cotton for the wet, sloppy trail run or cold, nasty whap-stick roll — “Cotton Kills.” Solution? SmartWool PhD running socks. ’Nuff said.
6. FUNDIES: Smartwool PhD Wind Boxer Brief
Now that you know how bad cotton is for your feet, you aren’t actually training in cotton undies, are you? Do you have a death wish? Or perhaps you made a flight to Europe in coach next to a crying baby and you’re thinking you’re going to invest in your future with the ol’ DIY frostbite vasectomy. If that’s your M.O., keep on truckin’ w/ those tighty whitey BVDs. I also understand that if you’re a male nordic skier, you probably haven’t had a date with a girl in quite some time, perhaps ever, but don’t panic — at some point you’ll work up the courage to ask out a real, live woman (not an avatar or inflatable model) and if that goes well, you’re going to want everything working properly “downstairs,” so buck up now for some decent wool man-panties: SmartWool PhD Boxer Briefs.
For what it’s worth, I’d had a few pairs of these for years and they are trusted travel companions for all European adventures: comfortable, odor resistant, quick drying for laundry in your hotel sink — in other words, perfect. The new model fits better under tights, so it’s perfect for training, we’ll see if it stands the test of time like its battle-tested predecessors.
7. GLOVES: Toko & Salming
For rollerskiing, I like Toko’s Rollerski Glove 2.0. They’re breathable, yet solid which for me is quite important, since as I wrote earlier, Billy Demong and gravity both regularly conspire to try to kill me, so durable gloves are a must. Since my self-preservation game is strong and I have no shame, I will use any object in my immediate vicinity on a rollerski in a largely futile attempt help abate my speed: radio antennas on passing cars, roadside vines, power lines, barbed-wire fences, you name it, so my braking/balance techniques often resemble this.
As such, my rollerski gloves must be borderline indestructible and these gloves are that good. If you’re silky smooth and easily roll over FBD-killing, near-invisible rocks, glide gracefully around off-camber, rain-soaked corners and haven’t felt the embarrassment and humiliation of a high-speed, whap-stick yard sale into traffic, then you can kiss my ass and buy whatever glove you want. If you know the thrill of unplanned encounters with concrete and danger lurks around every corner of the dreaded Billy Demong “Park City Loop,” these babies are for you.
For running, I found another great brand with Nordic roots, Salming. They’re lightweight, reflective and very comfortable. Can you run in your ski gloves, sure you can, but then you’re THAT GUY and you don’t want to be that guy, now do you? Fork over the $30 Scrooge for the sweet running jawns; you’ll thank me when the cute girl/guy compliments you on your gloves (which happens to me all of the time).
8. TIGHTS: Patagonia Velocity Running Tights
Don’t be fooled by the fact that tights are last on the list, as they are still plenty important. Goof up this step and you’re totally hosed (I bet all of the ladies out there got this one), so I’m pleased to report that this category had another clear winner: Patagonia. Their Patagonia’s Velocity Running Tights are superior. It seems like this would be hard to get wrong, yet so few people seem to get it right. These babies are tight in all of the right places, yet not too tight. The fabric is light and breathable, yet still warm. Remarkably, they’re also quite thin, which makes it perfect for wet training days.
Now you’re out of excuses, so get out there.
Oh yeah, and if you see me screaming (literally and figuratively) down some god-damn 60 mph downhill in Park City, Lake Placid or Steamboat with Billy Demong gracefully weaving his way through obstacles, do me a solid and carefully position your vehicle near me for some type of elaborate car antennae reverse slingshot maneuver. Sure, this won’t work, but this way when you stop to pick up your broken antennae, you can give me a ride to the hospital.