Gearing up for the holiday ski season

After a sensational beginning to our snowsport season, the whole West Coast has experienced a truly unusual dry spell for December. This shows promise of changing very soon, so I think holiday skiing and boarding plans are still worthwhile.

I want to tell you about two other things that are worthwhile. One, if you want an early season “fix” to pump up your enthusiasm, take a look at the Whistler-sponsored video called “Embedded.” It profiles professional skier Mike Douglas, who camps out on the top of Whistler Mountain to welcome winter snows as the resort prepares for opening day. It is compelling viewing, broken into daily episodes; find it here:

Second, especially if you are in the market for new gear, with the holiday buying season now in full swing, there is a handy little website that will give you access to gear reviews. It is light on snowboards, but great with skis and boots. Check out and you can see reviews about models from Atomic, Dynastar, Elan, Fischer, Head, K2, Nordica, Rossignol, Salomon and Volkl, plus others.

Even if you are sure you are not going to get new skis right now, one of the benefits of browsing these reviews is you can see how things have changed since you did purchase your current gear. You might find, for instance, that you don’t need to be skiing those long boards anymore, and that the newer rocker or shaped skis are recommended in shorter lengths. Then when you are on the slopes, you will be more aware of what gear others are using and how it helps them make the type of turns they do. If nothing else, there is a small safety factor here that could be useful.

One of the reasons you might be in the market for updated gear is if you are thinking about getting your kids introduced to skiing, boarding, or just some regular, fun snow play. Toward that end, here are some tips to help your kids enjoy the mountain environment. Many of these ideas are wholly valid for adults as well.

Dress in layers. Layering accommodates the body’s constantly changing temperature. The layer closest to the skin should be polypropylene underwear, not cotton; it feels good, dries quickly, absorbs moisture, and retains warmth. For Washington temperatures, two more layers including a shell jacket, or a sweater and insulated jacket, should be adequate.

When buying skiwear, look for fabric that is water and wind resistant. Look for wind flaps to shield zippers, snug cuffs at wrists and ankles, collars that can be snuggled up to the chin, and if possible get a jacket with a hood for those snowy-rainy days.

It is really hard to board or ski if you can’t see. Always have eye protection; for the Northwest, goggles are better than sunglasses. For good vision, it is important to keep the inside of the goggles dry; show your kids how to put them on and off without dragging them over wet clothing.

Kids normally don’t like wearing hats or helmets, but they definitely should; an estimated 80 percent of heat loss is through the head. Moreover, wearing headgear helps keep goggles in place. Gloves and mittens are another absolute necessity. Make sure your kids know how to put them on, and how to keep them together when they are off. (Having one glove is a form of torture.) Look at their gloves when they get home to see if they do a reasonable job of keeping moisture out; kids can’t keep their hands and gloves totally dry, but they shouldn’t be soaking wet. In a pinch you can use duct tape on rips and tears.

Do your children a favor and write their name and phone number on the inside of all their clothing. You should do this with snowboards, skis, boots and poles too; use masking tape. Not only will this help track lost gear, but it is an easy way for someone to call parents should the child get separated from the group or need help.

Professional ski instructors agree that you shouldn’t start them too young. Every child is different, of course, but school-age children will do better than preschoolers. You will do the whole family a favor by leaving the young child’s instruction to someone else, like a trained instructor. There are lots of kids’ programs available, including some associated with the schools.

I used to work with the guy who ran the local Ski Wee program at Snoqualmie, John Mohan. He strongly advised to make the first trip to the mountains very short. He said to find a flat spot and then just let your children play around, first without skis, and then with skis. As soon as the child is having a blast, John said to pack them up and take them home. They might not be happy then, but they will be eager to return. He believes that some parental sacrifice at the beginning will produce happy ski trips later.

As recreation goes, mountain sports are actually conducted in a relatively friendly environment. You’ll be doing your children a lifetime favor to get them into the mountains and let them experience the freedom that snowsports encourage. In fact, all parents would be a better skiers or boarders themselves if they tried to see the sport through the eyes and heart of a child. Try taking a run down the mountain with your child after the lesson is over, and you’ll see what I mean. Have a memorable holiday.

John Naye is a Mercer Island resident and past president of the North American Snowsports Journalists Association, and knows how to keep his goggles dry. He can be reached by email at


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