Cross Country Ski Racing Apparel in Cold Weather

Suggestions on dressing for cold weather and best practices for cross country ski racing apparel.

Cold weather is always a shock to the system when the weather has been drizzly all fall and into winter. Even after cross country ski racing for 31 years I have to take extra time to make sure I pack everything I need for a cold weather event.

Cross country ski racing apparel of course requires a lighter layering of clothing because our goal is to dress JUST RIGHT for our effort put forth. Who has time to unzip a jacket the middle of a race?! When cross country ski touring, consider these suggestions and add an additional layer or two. Of course there is no exact description of what works well for all the different bodies out there, but I will offer useful suggestions learned from years of experience. See what works for YOU.

Take note, these suggestions are from one female perspective. Every body is different and we all run at different temperatures. Some of us seem to have internal heaters which cancel much of what I suggest for the average overheated guy (or gal!). Also know your materials! When choosing base layers, remember that wool is usually the warmest fabric and thicker does not always equal breathable. Many light layers work better than one thick one. Base layers should cling next to skin to wick moisture away from skin. Baggy base layers need to be replaced by all the nice new next-to-skin fabrics out in the market.

So from toes to head, here it goes:

Feet: Wool socks (one layer) because two layers should make your nice fitting race boots just a little too tight. Add toe heaters for additional warmth if needed. Check to see if there is enough air/space inside the boots to activate the toe warmers . Try them out and be sure the toe warmers won’t cause your feet to sweat or burn your toes, otherwise sweaty feet = cold feet. Additionally, or instead of toe heaters, an overboot will help keep the chill at bay. Overboots will not ‘heat up’ your foot but work as an additional layer over toes to keep cold out. When purchasing an overboot, get it one size larger than your ski boot. Then you can easily pull it over the boot shell without breaking all your fingernails in a frantic attempt to cover your boot right before a race.

Legs: Use a thermal base layer covered by a race suit. If windy than consider race tights with 4-way stretch windproof protection for the front of your legs. If super cold (like the old Pepsi challenge races), I would forgo wearing matching race pants in exchange for donning warmer wind pants/tights over a base layer. Or, Swix sells windproof base layers for men AND women that work well under a race tight. For me, a cold wind will strip my leg warmth and therefore my leg strength on the downhills so I need to keep my thighs warm.

Core body: In cold weather I add an additional base layer in form of a VEST, either on the outside with a windproof barrier or next to skin such as a wool baselayer without arms. Adding an extra layer to cover just my core keeps me very warm where I need it and allows my arms and shoulders to move more freely. I might choose either a Smartwool tank next to skin, under another full base layer, followed by my race top or a full base layer, then my race suit top covered by a tight fitting outer wind vest. Again certain baselayers have a wind front sewn in it and then adding an additional vest may not be needed. Layers depend on the temperature, wind conditions, and the effort you put into skiing.

HANDS! Lynne Cecil and I like to think we are the cold hand experts! Us women at Gear West have tried every mitten made for Nordic. Mittens are essential (vs gloves or lobster mitts) if you have cold hands . Liners under the mittens are usually needed to combat very cold temps and for coaching. Handwarmers are often necessary too. Just be aware that handwarmers can bunch up midway thru a race and end up in little hard lumps at the mitten tips and get caught around the pole shaft when double poling (that happened to me at Seeley) So I ditch handwarmers right before the race begins (in a coat pocket -- don’t litter!).

Neck: Be sure to keep all zipper pulls away from your chin, otherwise you will frost burn any exposed skin that touches the zipper. I LOVE BUFFS. Wool, or lighter, these easy pullover neck warmers stay where you put them (over the ears and head), you can breathe thru them reasonably well, and you can readjust as you warm up. The buff which is taller than a traditional neck warmer, also covers earlobes and earrings so you won’t frostbite those fleshy tender areas.

Hat: Hats are personal, self-explanatory, and are a window into your fashion sense☺ Unless its cold! Then I pull a buff over the hat and have a glasses strap over that. Express your Seeley support by wearing the Seeley race hat☺ but there is NO fashion awards when dressing correctly for cold weather; you will look like a warm lump.

Eyewear: Super important! I and many others have frozen a cornea through cold winds. Painful! Wear a goggle that covers the eye from front and side winds. Make sure the lens adjusts to different lighting or use the appropriate colored shield. Try out the glasses before a big race so you know how your face fits with the lens and if the glasses will fog. A good pair of glasses will allow your face to relax and not squint; it’s a subtle thing but noticeable and a nice feeling over a long race.

Exposed Skin: Cover the face! Frostbite will haunt you in the future. Use Warmskin, Dermatone, mole skin... just get it covered.

Other stuff... Exercise induced asthma? Try a cold weather breath inhaler such as AirTrim to warm up the air before it hits your lungs.

A few other tips: Don’t over dress. Avoid anything down. Unless you are planning just to stand, any exertion will produce moisture that has nowhere to go other than becoming cold wet rivulets of water down your back. Dress to be a bit cold at the race start. If not, you will soon overheat as your body warms with effort. Warm up in warm-ups. Don’t take the jacket off too soon. Have a plan the night before to minimize the pre-race scramble and avoid missing crucial items such as eye and face protection. Don’t drop your mitts in the porta potti (be sure to take them off and place in a safe place!) Lastly, don’t freak out about the weather. Relax. If you dress with thought and knowledge, you will enjoy the event, appreciate the cold weather snow sparkles and acquire colorful stories afterwards to tell near the fire.

- Jan Guenther

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