Bundle up for Summit: At 9,000-plus feet, there’s no bad weather, only bad gear
You’ve touched down at Denver International Airport, rented wheels and climbed up and over the Continental Divide to your hotel or vacation rental for the annual family ski trip. No matter where you’re from, how laborious your trip was or how many times you’ve been to Summit County, you’re here to carve up the ski resorts. And you’re going to shred it hard!
But first you’re going to need to make sure you have the right gear not only for your time out there on the hill, but for your time roaming around town as well. As many of us say here high atop the Rockies: “There’s no bad weather, just bad gear.”
With that, we’re going to go from the head, down to your shoulders, and eventually your knees and toes to make sure you’ve either packed everything you need, or realize that you’ve forgotten something and need to pick it up.
Keeping your head and neck warm
As with really any piece of garment you’ll wear during your time in Summit County, it’s best to stay away from cotton in the depths of a Summit County winter. That’s because cotton absorbs moisture. With that many local recreators here in the High Country have a saying for this specific fabric: “Cotton kills.”
Though you may avoid that kind of grave danger down in town as compared to being deep in the backcountry for, say, an alpine touring or winter mountaineering adventure, choosing noncotton headwear and neckwear will suit you best as you try to find something versatile to both wear on the hill and on the streets.
For your head, maybe go with a “Chicken n Waffles” beanie from Rocky Mountain Underground at 114 S. Main St. in Breckenridge. For $29, you can choose either a rustic or navy-colored waffle-textured beanie that will keep any steam you need from rising off the top of your dome.
As for right beneath your headpiece, a buff, neck gaiter, turtle or balaclava is a must. A scarf might do the trick anywhere else, but you’re here, and you need something flexible that can be zipped beneath the top of your coat when you’re flirting with tree line. A polyester fleece or merino neck gaiter provides wind-resistant and water-repellent fabric that can also stretch a bit to cover up any exposed skin. Feel free to roam Main Streets in Frisco or Breckenridge for your preferred style and aesthetic, as you won’t find a shortage of supply with everything from silly, animated-buff designs to more plain-looking turtles and balaclavas, if you’re looking for something that you can also wear beneath your helmet.
At 9,000-plus feet, there are three things that matter if you want to keep your core cozy: Layering, layering and more layering. Now, bundling up like the endless peels of an onion may not be the way to go. Rather, a strategic approach to your layers is crucial for full-day versatility whether taking a face shot full of pow on Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 10 or a face shot full of Breckenridge Distillery whiskey once you reach the bar at the bottom of the mountain.
Again, cotton long johns are the last thing you want to be wearing if you plan on sweating or soaking up the pow. Instead, the easiest base layer to build off of may be ski-specific tights and a tight top made of synthetic, breathable and moisture-wicking fabrics. Considering you’re in Colorado, a homestate product such as a Smartwool zip thermal and Smartwool leggings bottom would not only fit you nicely, but also provide the kind of 100-percent merino wool protection that’ll keep you cozy doing most anything.
For your mid-layer, the main thing you want to do is pack on more protection and more warmth without adding too much weight. With that in mind, a down and/or synthetic jacket or vest should do just the trick, and there is no shortage of stores on-mountain or on Main Street to pick one up for $100-$250. But if you’re looking to wear what the Summit County locals wear, take a trip up to Leadville and snag a Melanzana. Now, Melanzana makes other products, but when someone around town is referring to a “Melanzana,” they’re likely referring to the company’s popular light, microgrid 100-percent fleece polyester hoodie. The fit is slightly loose for easy layering and multi-sport versatility and, perhaps most noticeably, it’s super-duper breathable.
When it comes to that top layer, or “shell,” waterproof protection is paramount, but don’t underestimate the importance of breathability and shielding yourself from what can be chilly, howling winds while on the lifts. On top of that, it may be worth your while to invest in a jacket that has a storm hood that works well for you.
Mittens over gloves
You may notice many locals prefer mittens to gloves. That’s because with bone-chattering winds possible at a moment’s notice, mittens provide more warmth because the heat from each of your fingers isn’t isolated.
The cliche local’s joke here in Breckenridge is that out-of-towners “ski in jeans.” Don’t do that. And not only because cotton kills. Instead of the constraints of your favorite old pair of blue jeans, pair the perfect ski pants or bib overalls with your Smartwool leggings base layer. When looking for your pant, try to stick to a heat-retaining fabric that also has thermal-reflective lining. Water-resistant cargo pockets are also crucial for keeping any electronics or valuables safe when riding like the powder keg you are. As for how transferable overalls are to Main Street, you may never find a place where a bibbed-pant is more fashionable.
These boots are made for Breck
Layering cotton socks may work for winter conditions back home, but that won’t cut it up here. Instead, invest the best $25 you’ll ever spend in merino wool-padded, over-calf socks, such as Darn Tough. The padding provides shin protection against your ski boot tongue and the price ensures warmth.
As for your walking boot, the main thing to ask a Summit County shop service member is the temperature rating. Don’t be tempted by anything with a rating over zero degrees Fahrenheit.
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