Most of us like to picture ourselves enjoying the alps in sunshine and we do have our share of sunny days in Australia. However, alpine weather is unpredictable and a fine sunny day can quickly deteriorate into cold, wet, high wind or blizzard conditions. Your clothing, therefore, must be versatile and you should have ready access to protective clothing during your snow holiday.
Clothing can be divided into two layers:
• The inner, insulating layers;
• The outer, windproof and waterproof layer.
In cold weather these are the most important layers. Several thin layers that trap air and are made of material that will stay warm, even when wet, are better than a couple of thick bulky layers. The number of insulating layers you wear depends on the weather and the activity you are participating in.
Wearing thermal underwear will also help insulate against the cold. Wool is a good natural fibre but manufactured fibres such as polypropylene and fibre pile are even more effective. Wherever there is a reference to wool, these new fibres will do just as well or better. A cotton skivvy or undergarment performs poorly in cold and wet conditions even when covered by a thick woollen sweater.
Staying dry and reducing the effects of wind chill are important, therefore your jacket and overpants should be waterproof and windproof. The outer layer also helps to insulate by trapping warm air next to the body. If you don't have your own windproof and waterproof outer clothing you can hire them from most ski hire outlets.
It is important to wear a woollen hat as significant amounts of body heat is lost from the head. Woollen socks and gloves or mittens should also be worn. On wet days, large rubber dishwashing gloves over woollen gloves help to keep hands warm and dry.
Skin and Eye Protection
Sunburn can be a serious problem, even on cloudy days. In addition to protective clothing, always use a good sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) to protect skin exposed to direct or reflected sunlight. To protect your eyes from the glare off the snow (which can lead to ‘snow blindness’) the use of high quality sunglasses or goggles is essential. On sunny days if you are not wearing a helmet, a peaked or wide brimmed hat is advisable.
If you are dependent on spectacles, carry a spare pair, in case you lose or damage your glasses while you are in the alps.
Alpine conditions create snow and ice often making walking difficult and slippery. It is essential to wear appropriate footwear with soles having substantial grip.
Helmets may make a difference in reducing or preventing head injuries. Many skiers and snowboarders are choosing to wear them. However, helmets do have limits and users need to be aware that wearing a helmet does not eliminate the risk of head injury. In addition to offering an added degree of protection, snow sports helmets are now designed to be lightweight, comfortable, warm & fashionable.
Snow sports helmets are insulated for cold weather and provide better coverage and impact protection than other sports helmets, such as bicycle helmets. Be sure that the helmet you choose meets current recognised snow sport helmet design standards.
There is no substitute for responsible behaviour on the slopes. Adhere to the Alpine Responsibility Code and consider wearing a helmet. It's a smart idea. For more information, contact a ski area or visit a helmet manufacturer's website.