- Posted February 4, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Winter Olympics 2014
A beginner’s guide to dressing up for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing
“Most of my friends from the hiking group do snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing during winter,” he said. “Some of these bonds with my friends were so strong that I did not want to stop seeing them as often as I am used to. That prompted me to try winter sports and when I did try, I got all kinds of advice and guidance from my buddies. It is a passion right now.”
These photos were taken by four of his friends from his winter sporting groups.
Oberoi has been watching the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. He’s been most interested in the competitions for ski jumping, cross-country skiing, curling and more, he said.
- zdan, CNN iReport producer
A beginner’s guide to dressing up for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing
Mandeep S. Oberoi*
If you are not usually exposed to high metabolic outdoor winter sports in sub zero weather, then this article may help you to understand how and why to dress up differently for winter outdoor activities. Once you get started, you will find yourself having a lot of fun doing winter sports.
It is important to understand that you have to dress differently if you are doing more than just moving from your home to the car or simply going to the office or the gym. For those short exposures to cold, you need really thick winter clothes.
However, if you are involved in high metabolic outdoor sports such as hiking, snow-shoeing, or cross country skiing; and need to remain outdoors for longer hours, you need very thin, breathable garments broken into 2 or 3 layers. The breathability of the garment will allow the sweat to dry. The premise is that you sweat more while pursuing winter sports. And that poses a two dimensional challenge. If you sweat a lot, your clothes become wet and thus instantaneously frozen and cold. Therefore, you should NOT wear any cotton at all in your body since it absorbs and retains sweat for very long.
On the other hand, if you are involved in sports such as down-hill skiing and ice-skating where your feet are not moving a lot, you would need thicker, more breathable clothes.
My first experience with winter sports
I have recently started to pursue winter sports. I was so naïve earlier. Last year a close friend at my French-English language exchange group enquired about my shoes and I proudly told him that my brother had bought these Redbacks from Australia and they had steel toes. He warned me that a steel toed boot would make my feet very cold. Phew – that explained to me why my toes get so cold. So there has been a long learning curve.
How I got started
I have been part of multiple hiking meet up groups in and around Montreal in Canada. I had discussions with the hiking leaders and fellow hikers to build up on my knowledge. I did numerous visits to the Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Poubelle du ski, Play it Again Sports, SAIL Outdoors, Winners (Marshalls in the US), Yeti, Atmosphere, Sports Experts, Military Surplus Stores, and so on. I have also checked the website for the U.S. store REI many times as a reference.
I would recommend for beginners to enquire for return and exchange policy of the store after you have used the equipment few times.
Breakdown on how to dress-up for winter sports
One of the top reasons for Germany’s defeat from Soviet Union in the Battle of Stalingrad was a lack of good winter combat boots, among other supplies. You have to wear shoes that are waterproof, insulated to trap the warm air from your body heat, and breathable to allow sweat to dry.
At first I had bought shoes that had -37 deg C rating. I wore a sock liner and thick Marino wool socks with these. Consequently, my feet were ready to deal with -40 deg C cold weather. However, when I went out snow-shoeing in the Laurentians in early January, the temperature was only -12 deg C. Because of this, I was sweating during the whole car ride on the way to the mountains. I saw that another experienced hiker had brought a change pair of socks that she changed right before the hike.
I would personally think that one should NOT go for -37 deg C rated shoes. I currently have a pair of leather shoes that have Vibram sole, waterproof and breathable Gortex membrane, insulation, mild ankle and toe support, and leather re-enforcement in the back to support snowshoes bindings. These shoes are not rated for very cold weather, but with a pair of sock liners and thick Marino wool socks, they have been working fine for me.
I would prefer brands like Salomon, Northface, Merrell, Columbia, Vasque, and Keen, in the order.
Socks liners will protect you from blisters, absorb your sweat, and bad odor to help you keep your feet dry. These are very thin socks made up of materials such as polyester (85-97%), spandex (3-15%), and nylon (1-2%). Higher percentage of spandex (up to 15%) will add more comfort and durability to the garment.
For winter, I would recommend Marino wool socks with high percentage, say 75% of wool. They need not be very thick, or else you will start sweating inside the shoes. Also, carrying extra pairs of socks in your backpack to change into is really important.
Base layer underpants and undershirts
Same logic applies here – NO COTTON for winter. A combination of polyester, spandex, and nylon would work. Please make sure that base layer garments are skin tight, but you should be comfortable wearing them.
For snow-shoeing, I usually wear my Nike track pants that have a thin polyester under-layer. They are waterproof, breathable, and very thin. But for down-hill skiing and ice-skating, you may need thicker pants with more insulation.
You can use a layer with polyester or wool but NO COTTON. It should keep you warm and absorb your sweat. They should offer some wind, water, and thermal protection.
These have a very thin shell that break the wind, are waterproof, breathable, and have a hood to completely isolate your body during rain and snow. Preferably, they should have zip-lined vents below your arm-pits that you can open when you start becoming hot inside for the sweat to dry. Good quality jackets will have “sealed” zip liners. You will be able to use these also for summer hikes if it rains on the mountain.
It’s NOT really necessary to buy more expensive one’s with Goretex, though Goretex is rated as the most breathable and waterproof fabric. I have bought three top layer jackets – one Merrell, one Outdoor Research, and a Columbia. None of my jackets have Goretex and they all work fine.
Facemask, hat, scarf, hiking poles, mittens, glove-liners snow goggles, gaiters, backpacks with multiple isolated compartments and straps for chest and waist can be handy. A Marino wool jersey or a down jacket with a hood could be handy as they can pack up in smaller space as compared to their polyester counterparts. The down does not work when exposed to humidity or water.
A thermos, Z-seat, head lamp, whistle, and first aid kit inside your backpack will make your excursion enjoyable and safer. A GPS will be a luxury, though trail maps could do the trick. Please carry your sandwich, trail-mix snacks, nuts, and fruits.
Selecting snowshoes was interesting. Good snowshoes will have features such as crampons all across its edges and not just center, heel raisers that could be easily raised and put back while wearing them, meant to do mountain trails with possible tail add-on for backcountry, and so on.
Cross Country Skis
The length of the cross country ski depend on your weight to ensure you get a glide while on the tracks. I would recommend waxless, fish scale ski bases for beginners.
Involving myself in winter sports has been very exciting. I had my initial fears and feelings of paranoia about extreme cold weather and dressing up appropriately; that took me few years to realize and overcome. It’s February and will be very cold, down to -35 deg C with wind chill in the mountains in Central Canada. I will be looking forward to learning more during my upcoming and newer expeditions.
*Mandeep S. Oberoi is an outdoor enthusiast. He is an intermediate hiker, kayaker, camper, poet, and writer. He has ventured across Laurentian Mountains and Eastern Quebec townships in Canada, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier in the West Coast of USA, Scottish Highlands, Toco Range in the Caribbean, Swiss Interlaken Mountains, and the Himalayas, among others. He works professionally as SAP financial services consultant for his firm Dexteyra Consulting Group Inc.