Flip Out Your Skier with These Sweet Gifts.
How great is it that the ski season corresponds so nicely with the winter holiday season? Whether you recognize Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another late December celebration, the yuletide holiday season is a wonderful time of year, particularly if you have a skier on your list.
Holiday gift giving represents the true joy of the season. Or, as Snoopy of "Peanuts" fame told us decades ago, it is better to give and receive. It's all good. Even better are those moments when we can find perfect gifts that the recipients will not only like, but also use. Gifts that expand their horizons, allow them to push their personal envelopes.
My absolute favorites are those gifts that are either unexpected, or things I wouldn't normally buy for myself. So that's the approach I try to take when shopping for others. There's a wide, wide selection of ski- and snowboard-related items that would look great under the Christmas tree. The key is knowing who you're shopping for, and what his or her tastes and preferences are.
First, though, a caveat. Avoid big-ticket items, like skis, snowboards, boots, and even ski poles.
There's a very simple reason for this: Skiers and boarders are a notoriously finicky lot. They'll probably have a very good idea of the shape, size, and construction of the skis or snowboards they want.
The same goes for their boots. Are you willing to risk serious coin on these high-end items without being absolutely sure that they're the right fit?
I've seen the "buy a new board" approach work out exactly once. Years ago, my brother Mike, an expert skier, started dating a great gal who was athletic but had little skiing experience. "Kathleen" was game to learn, but Mike wasn't patient enough. Instead, he bought a pair of snowboards, so they could learn a new sport together. It was brilliant, as Kathleen and Mike both took to the new sport quickly, in lockstep. A true win/win. But that's the exception to the rule.
If you do insist on getting any of these items, be sure to keep the receipts. Don't have the bindings mounted to the boards. Once you do, you own them. And be OK if the person wants to exchange anything. After all, it's more about them being happy with your gift, right?
Boot and travel bags
OK, call us self-serving, but a ski-specific boot bag is a great addition to any powderhound's luggage collection. And Kulkea makes some of the best boot bags found anywhere. You don't have to take our word for it; Just Google gear reviews on Kulkea bags. Or ask a ski professional (instructor, ski patrol, First Aid, etc.). The feedback has been outstanding, across the board. The rugged Boot Trekker and the lightweight Powder Trekker have been long-time faves. The Speed Star is the ultimate kids bag and I would have loved having the spacious Tandem when my teenage daughters were younger.
If you're looking to pack for a week away, Eagle Creek's enormous-yet-featherweight No Matter What Rolling Duffel comes in a variety of sizes, with or without wheels.
I'm a big proponent of self-sufficiency, because few things can throw a wet blanket on you mid-winter outing faster than an equipment malfunction. More often than not, a little common sense and a multi-tool can put things right. Quickly. That's particularly important if you prefer to ski and board out of bounds, or in the backcountry. My personal favorite these days is the Leatherman Skeletool, a durable, compact multi-tool made of stainless steel, and featuring needlenose and regular pliers, hard-wire and regular wire cutters, 420HC combo knife, carabiner/bottle opener, and a large bit driver in a half-pound package. But there are plenty of worthy models available, including the Victorinox Swiss Army Signature Lite and the Black Diamond Binding Buddy Multi-Tool.
Similar to multi-tools, hydration packs really shine in the backcountry, where you really have to earn your turns. But they're great to have on your favorite groomers as well. Keeping well hydrated is one of the easiest, and best, ways to maximize your time on the hill, especially if you're at altitude. I've had really good luck with models by CamelBak, Dakine, Osprey, High Sierra, Gregory, ALPS, Ortovox, Burton, Mountainsmith, and Marmot. The ones I like most have expandable storage pockets and straps for everything from my helmet to glove liners to my neck gaiter and a PBJ sandwich.
If you've ever had the nerve-wracking pleasure of skiing in thick fog, you know the importance of being able to see where you're going. The also protect you from harsh winds, the rogue tree branch if you're in the glades, and dazzling sun. That's why I don't like to skimp on my goggles. Again, the choices are myriad. Look for breathability, comfort, lens quality, durability, and style. Top models include the environmentally friendly Bern Eastwood , the mid-size Marker 16:9, the dependable Zeal Voyager, the female-friendly Smith I/O, Ted Ligety's Shred Stupefy, POC Fovea or Lobes, Scott LCG Compact, the Bolle Carve, and the Zeal HD2 (with built-in camera). The ingenious Abominable Labs Abom features an invisible heater that works just like a rear-window defroster to keep the lens clear.
Yes, I'm Old School. I honestly don't "get" the whole infatuation with helmet-mounted cameras, because I'd rather be "doing" a particular activity that "watching" it. But I'm wise enough in my advanced age to know that not everyone agrees with me (starting with my teenage daughters). Plus, the prices continue to tumble, which makes them more attractive. For the YouTube generation, GoPro is still the standard bearer. But with action cameras becoming so popular, it's not surprising that other makes and models are flooding the market. Top models include the GoPro Hero4 Black, the Olympus TG-Tracker, the TomTom Bandit, the Veho Muvi K-Series K2 NPNG, the iON Air Pro, the Garmin Virb XE, the Sony FDR-X1000V, and the Drift Stealth 2.
Outwear is similar to skis and snowboards. People are particular.
Take Patagonia for example. My brother works for Patagonia, and they make exceptional clothing, from outerwear to casual wear. My Patagonia Nanopuff sweater and softshell jacket are two of my favorites. But Patagonia's outwear, in general, is cut too narrow for my broad shoulders and XL derriere. I prefer Arc'teryx and Mountain Hardware outerwear for exactly that reason. Their stuff simply fits me better. So it can be a difficult purchase.
Now, all that said, I absolutely love buying my wife outdoor gear. It reminds her that I want her with me when I venture outside. Just keep your receipts, and be flexible in case the jacket or pants "aren't exactly" what your significant other, or kids, want. That's OK. Remember the thought behind the gift. That's what matters most.
This item is borderline, because helmets can clearly fall into the same category as clothing for the particular skier or rider. But there are exceptions. I think buying a helmet for a loved one who has never worn one is a great present. It tells them you care for them, and want them to be safe. And if you wear one yourself, you already know how lightweight and comfortable the newer models are. Much like cycling, I now feel like something's missing if I'm skiing without a helmet.
In short, there's really no good reason for your loved ones not to protect their melons. But the helmet needs to be comfortable if you want to encourage them to wear it. There are several exceptional brands – including POC, Smith, Giro, Bolle, Anon, Marker, and Briko – making great powder lids. Features to consider are ventilation, shell design (including hard and soft ear pieces), goggle integration, audio compatibility, and whether it has a brim (which can help with sun protection, but can also interfere with your goggles). I have two favorites that have served me well over the years: The Giro NINE MIPS and the Smith Vantage. Both are light, exceed all industry safety standards, have soft-sided ear pads, and come in multiple sizes with adjustable retention systems to ensure a snug fit.
Now we're talking. Gloves are one of those items that we rarely give enough thought about until our digits are freezing. But the reality is that when our extremities – fingers and toes – are happy, chances are we're happy. I'm particularly fond of leather models, like the Flylow's Gear Blaster, Hestra's Narvik Wool Terry, and Eddie Bauer's First Ascent Guide Trigger, because they typically give me a better grip on my poles. Other highly recommended makes include Manzella, Scott, LL Bean, Arc'teryx, Outdoor Research, Spyder, Marker, Marmot, Helly Hansen, and Gordini. In New England, with its wild temperature and weather fluctuations, I also look for gloves with removable liners. The Seirus HeatTouch Torche is one of the best heated gloves on the market, with a price tag ($395) to match.
Windproof neck gaiter/balaclava
Our faces and necks are two of the most susceptible areas on our bodies when faced with winter's biting chill. And, of course, they are the two areas we usually forget to cover. Fleece is always good start (yes, avoid the cotton handkerchief). But getting a gaiter with either a Gore-Tex Windstopper or waterproof liner is even better.
A very under-rated garment, the right socks can help keep you warm, prevent blisters, and even help keep your legs fresh. I like my boots snug, so I can feel every movement between my feet and my skis. So I prefer a thin sock. Wigwam has a number of excellent ski-specific models with wicking materials (merino wool being a favorite) that keep my feet dry, and therefore warm. For longer days on the hill, I may opt for Tommy Copper compression socks, which aid in circulation. Darn Tough Vermont's Yeti Over-the-Calf Ultra-Lights are not only seamless (for a great fit), but also antimicrobial. And they've got a lifetime warranty.
Base and mid-layers
Much like socks, good base and mid-layers are critical if we want to stay comfortable on the slopes. The umber of quality base-layer brands are too numerous to mention individually, but there are some general rules to follow. Avoid cotton at all costs. You can still go natural, with wool, but whatever you choose make sure it has good wicking properties. Solid choices include Patagonia, Pearl Izumi, Duckworth, Obermeyer, Terramar, Kenyan Polarskins, Kraft, North Face, CW-X, SmartWool, Under Armour,
I also love onesies, provided that I have, um, access to everything in case I need a bathroom break. Icebreaker's Zone One Sheep Skin is a super option. As for middle layers, this is where my pals at Patagonia shine. Yvon Chouinard's Better Sweaters and Nano Puff sweaters, vests, and jackets are among the best in the business. I'm partial to vests, since those give me the most freedom of movement. Also check out Nørrona, Terramar, Arc'teryx, Marmot, Mountain Hardware, REI, Columbia, Rab, North Face, Black Diamond and Dynafit.
For your grommet who loves spending time in the terrain park, or if you're venturing into the glades, consider a little added protection (which ultimately is going to be cheaper than a visit to the Emergency Room). Crash Pads (crash-pads.com) make a variety of padded items that will protect just about everything not covered by your helmet. Featuring high-density foams bonded to compressions tops and bottoms, Crash Pads can take the sting out of any yard sale.
Give the gift of skiing. Gift cards from outfits like Liftopia.com never, ever get old. Pre-paid lift tickets also tend to be more of a bargain. Just don't get locked into specific dates.
Hand and foot warmers
These little pouches of chemical heat are a "must have" for any skier or snowboarder, providing that extra measure of protection against the elements.
Admittedly, I'm not a big jewelry guy (much to my wife's chagrin). It's just not on my radar. But there are some fun baubles out there that won't break the bank, including necklaces and pendants from outfits like Powder Addicts (powderaddicts.com) and Shine On (shineon.com). Of course, you can spend a fortune on real "ice" – diamonds – but I'd rather invest that money in making turns. Vive la difference.
Given the cost of cell phones, a good case is always a good investment. Skiers will want one that can help your precious phone survive a drop from the chairlift. Consider a waterproof, shock-proof model from Ballistic, Otterbox, Tech21, LifeProof, Ranger Fone, and Trident.
Finally, one quick personal note. Sharing gifts is one of the great traditions of the holiday season. So is spending time with loved ones.
If you're going to hit the brick and mortar shops, please don't go on Thanksgiving. Please don't fall prey to those ridiculous "early bird" specials on Turkey Day and before 9 a.m. Black Friday. They are cheap marketing stunts, and the antithesis of what holidays ought to be about.
Remember, if you're shopping, people are working. And people shouldn't have to work in retail during those insane hours. Let them enjoy their family time as well. Please.
Photo Credit: Brian Nevins
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