Ski Wear: Warmth--And Style

Ski bums have always grappled with the vexing question: how do you look cool while staying warm? These days there are plenty of options. Highly sophisticated synthetic fabrics, first used by mountain climbers and extreme adventurers, are now available for the weekend skier in garments ranging from outerwear to accessories. Sold under the category of "temperature management," these extremely lightweight materials, manufactured by companies like Schoeller, Polartec and Outlast, regulate body heat better than ever. Basically, they keep you warm without the bulk--so you can cut a trim, elegant figure swooshing down the trail, rather than resembling the Michelin Man.

Conventional wisdom says the more layers, the better. Not necessarily, says Chris Denny of Stanwood and Partners PR of Jackson Hole, Wyo., a firm that represents apparel manufacturers. The trendy new "soft shell" jackets are breathable--meaning that they vent continuously, so the body can release the heat it produces while skiing. At the same time, they can shield you from the cold nearly as well as down. And soft shells are extremely comfortable; they have plenty of stretch, so they move with you. "There was a time when you'd have your under layer, then your base, then your thermal layer and then your shell," says Denny. "Now it's shifted."

The main drawback of soft shells is that most are water-resistant, not waterproof--an important distinction when it's snowing sideways. Their usefulness depends mainly on where you're skiing, says Neide Cooley, who teaches a class in outerwear at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. In drier climates, like the Rockies, a soft shell can work fine. But in wetter regions like the Alps and New England, it helps to have a waterproof "hard shell" as well. "Ninety percent of the time a soft shell satisfies all your needs, but that other 10 percent of the time you need to be prepared," Cooley says.

Arc'Teryx and Mammut are two rock-climbing apparel companies that now offer soft-shell ski gear. Helly Hansen's soft-shell Sequence jacket ($200) uses a woven inner lining that expels moisture outward, so sweat does not accumulate inside. And if you're looking for a cool pair of trousers to match, try Salomon's denim ski pants ($179.99).

As for accessories, helmets are a common sight these days. They're also great for keeping craniums warm; Boeri's Rage helmet ($140) incorporates microfiber technology originally developed for NASA to maintain constant head temperature, absorbing warmth as the skier heats up and releasing it as he or she cools down.

The trend in gloves is a blend of Home Depot and haute couture: leather on the outside, temperature-management fabrics inside. Marmot makes a glove ($80) with treated tan-leather fingertips and palms, and a synthetic down liner for warmth. ScottUSA is bringing out the Perimeter Glove ($48) and other rugged hybrids of leather and thermo-regulating style.

Ski goggles, too, have been wildly updated. The Cascade Turbo C.A.M. by Smith ($190) boasts a battery-operated mini-electric fan that produces a constant flow of air inside the goggles to reduce fog. Less high tech but just as stylish, Smith's Fuse Regulator ($65-$85) is equipped with small air vents and coated with a hydrophilic product that absorbs moisture before fog can form. Its straps can easily fit on a helmet. So gear up! Even if you don't know a T-bar from a Power Bar, at least you'll look like a pro.