BY KIM BLACK, Divas Snow Gear Ambassador
As the daylight fades and we roll into winter, the possibilities for this riding season seem endless. I’m an optimist, and even when the weather gurus predict a warmerthan-normal winter, I recognize that Mother Nature has a sense of humor. With visions of untouched powder and bluebird skies, let’s discuss gearing up for riding this season.
If you’ve spent any time in the outdoors of Alaska you are probably aware that temperatures can fluctuate drastically in the span of a day. Beckoned by falling snow and the opportunity for adventure, I have found myself a time or two unprepared for the weather. The result is frostnipped toes, mild hypothermia and a renewed determination to be more prepared. Being prepared begins with protective riding gear and accessories.
Can fashion and function really coexist in riding gear for women? If you’ve followed this sport for any length of time you can see that female riders are growing in numbers and demanding just this. Manufacturers are listening, designing, and producing gear specifically for ladies that appeals to the feminine palette, using softer colors and fun patterns.
Manufacturers are also offering options to match the apparel to the backpacks, helmets, and in some cases, her sled wrap.
Let’s take a closer look at what any sled diva will need to be prepared for riding in Alaska’s backcountry.
Megan Trainer was right, it really is all about that base. But seriously, base layering is the foundation to cold weather preparedness. Base layers are now being made with wicking material that deflects moisture away from the body, keeping you dry, and in turn, warm. If you are thinking about putting on your favorite cotton T-shirt underneath your riding gear, think again. Cotton will soak up moisture in a hurry, leaving you cold. Your second base layer should be a moisture-wicking pullover or light jacket, this will provide additional warmth — that is until you work up a sweat, in which case you can easily shed it.
Depending on your riding style, there are many options for that outside layer. If your preference is backcountry/mountain riding you will need gear that is waterproof, wind resistant, abrasion resistant, breathable, and lightweight. Manufacturers have targeted these key points for backcountry riders, especially the lightweight fabric giving the rider improved mobility, and the results have been impressive. Gone are the days of bulky riding gear. You may have been warm, but the heavy fabric fatigued riders and made for shorter days on the mountain. Trail riders will want many of the same features as mountain riders when it comes to the outer layer, but they will need thicker insulation and heavier weight fabric.
When the temperature drops your body naturally will direct your body heat toward the core, leaving your hands and feet susceptible to cold, this makes boots and gloves especially important. The top choice in footwear in Alaska hands down would be the popular bunny boots, a military designed boot that’s appeal is that your toes can stay warm even when your boot is submerged in water. The drawback to the bunny boot however is its weight. They are heavy, and lugging those babies around can get old really fast. Footwear companies are vying for this market and are putting out a great selection of quality boots for riders that not only keep their feet warm, but give them maneuverability on their sled.
Electric hand warmers on your sled are an effective way to keep your hands warm while riding, but not everyone has that feature. If you are planning long trips in inclement weather, the best option is mittens with gauntlets. If your sled has hand warmers be sure the mitten fabric is thin at the palm so the hand warmers can effectively do their job without fighting through layers of fabric.
If you are technical riding, mittens won’t do because you need the dexterity only available through gloves. They allow for better throttle control and finger flexibility. Manufacturers offer a variety of gloves to choose from, but keep in mind you will need them to be waterproof, insulated,and moisture wicking. Always carry an extra pair of gloves or mittens with you in your pack, in case of an emergency.
When it comes to helmets, there are many different options from which to choose. Open-faced helmets are the more popular among riders, and they come in various brands with many colors, sizes and weight options available. The newest carbon-fiber helmets are uberlight and reduce neck and shoulder fatigue while riding. If you choose an open-faced helmet, couple it with goggles to protect your face and eyes while riding.
On the coldest of days modular helmets are a good option, designed to reduce fogging and to keep the rider warm. Wearing a balaclava underneath your helmet will protect your skin from wind and cold exposure and is a must even if it makes your hair stand on end when it is removed. Pack a couple hat options with you on trips for when you arrive at your destination. It will cover up the dreaded helmet hair and keep you warm.
Function is essential, but what about fashion? This is the day and age when people want to be noticed on and off the slopes. Brilliant colors, intricate designs and maybe even a little bling are all options women want in their riding gear.
Matching accessories and sled wraps are trends that are gaining momentum and topping off the appearance of a style-conscious female rider. At the end of the day we all want to look like a million bucks and we all want to be warm and comfortable doing it.
So, if you are still borrowing your boyfriend’s boxy jacket for riding, hang it up for good. Are you wearing cotton leggings and can’t seem to keep warm? Pack them away. If your mittens are cold or your helmet makes you resemble a bobblehead, now is the time to upgrade. Research and invest in female-specific riding gear that will protect you from the elements, increase your safety and make every head turn as you ride through in true snow diva style.