Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Skiing. What's that All About?

And so begins a new chapter of relatively expensive geekery.

I have been lucky enough to have been invited along on a ski holiday with some family members who have been buggering off to Canada on a regular basis.

Having never skiied before, I felt it was important to learn as much as I can about the equipment needed, what to buy and what not to buy, how skiing works and, most importantly, how to have a good time.

Now, I've seen moving pictures on the television of people hurtling down very cold looking mountains at breakneck speed, people breaking their necks and people standing around in the cold, having a good time and watching other people breaking their necks. I've also seen pictures of my family larking about in the snow and looking relatively comfortable.

I larked about in the snow once (not too much of that in London) and I got very wet and very cold, very quickly. It wasn't fun.

So, it made sense to do a little research into how I could have fun, too. Thinking logically, this means keeping warm and dry. And it turns out, keeping warm and dry whilst up a mountain in sub-zero temperatures is fairly easy, if a little expensive.

The first thing that came to mind was that I would need a jacket. I thought buying a suitable jacket would be easy.  So, I joined a forum (well, what did you expect) and then started googling.

I was so, so wrong.

I swear, the first jacket, on the first website I looked at, cost nearly six hundred pounds!
There is no need for this sort of silliness.
Taking a look round the discount sites eased my heart rate somewhat and it appears that a great many skiers buy end of line or last season's gear as it tends to be a great deal cheaper.
I saw jackets for thirty quid in TK Maxx near where I live, but as soon as I touched them, I knew they were not going to suit my needs.  They do get decent stuff in, so it's always worth popping in to see what's new.
It turns out there are different types of jackets, too.  Heavily insulated, lightly insulated and non-insulated, which is called a shell jacket.

Underneath your jacket, you will need to wear things (layers) that will help to keep you warm.
More on that when I buy some.

Keep in mind that not all brands are equal, as I have discovered.  To be on the safe side, I tended to look at well known outdoor brands.  The North Face, Helly Hansen, Oakley, Salomon and a lesser well known brand, Trespass.

There are those that would argue what I was doing was wrong, but, hey-ho.
You pays your money, you takes your choice.

So, what did I look for in a jacket?

A jacket needs to be waterproof.
Yes, it's a case of stating the bleedin' obvious.  When you're surrounded by snow and it could rain at any time, you need to be protected.  It would follow, therefore that almost all the jackets I looked at were waterproof.

Strictly speaking they should be called water resistant, but that's a whole other argument.

There are many different materials available with different levels of water resistance.
The industry standard for measuring the fabric's water resistance is to place a column of water on the fabric and increase the length of the column of water, increasing the water pressure to find the point at which the water starts to permeate the fabric.
The column of water is then measured in millimetres to give the fabric's water resistance rating.
For example, a jacket may have a 14000mm rating whilst another may have a 5000mm rating.
The higher the number, the better the water resistancy of the material.

It's also worth noting that the seams of the jacket (where the stitching is) need to be sealed. This is done with a resin or glue.
So, a "fully seam sealed"  jacket is better than a "critically seam sealed" one.

Easy, no?

Then it turns out that the jacket needs to be able to breathe.  WTF?
This is because when you sweat, the moisture produced evaporates. But if you don't allow the moisture to escape, you will get wet. A bit like a sauna. I had a coat once that used to keep me really warm, until I started to sweat. Because the moisture couldn't escape, it made the inside of the coat wet, which then made me cold.

Silly, really.

I'm still not sure how breathability is measured, and there is no agreement on how it should be measured, so as long as it says breathable on it, it will probably do the job.

Here's a quote from Ski Adventure Guide :

How do we measure breathability?
This is a little more difficult than measuring waterproofness.
All the countries cannot agree on standard methodology.
Three tests being utilized are;
a/ upright cup test-measures water or vapour transmission
b/ inverted cup test-measures amount of water absorbed by the fabric
c/ sweating hot plate-measure moisture loss due to heat application, similar to our skin heating up to influence rate of evaporation of vapour.
One outcome is a mathematical figure which tells us how many grams of water vapour have diffused,or passed through a 1m2 of fabric in the time of 24 hours .
In other words how much in this case vapour will pass through a section of a fabric in 24 hours. This figure is quoted as, for example, 10,000 gm / m2/ 24hrs.
For recreational use, choose fabrics with minimum breathability as shown above. Be mindful however,that a breathable waterproof jacket which has a very high waterproof rating of 20 plus, or even 45, being usually triple layered ,will not attain a very high breathability, usually less than 12,000 gm / m2 / 24hrs.
Another outcome of performing the above testing ,is the RET figure (resistance of evaporation of a textile).
This figure is quoted as ie RET= 60. Since we measure resistance, the less resistance we have the better. So RET = 60 has better breathibility than RET =90.

Clear as mud.
Or maybe I'm just not very bright.
It certainly doesn't help that different brands use different ways of telling us how breathable their jackets are.

Many of them look like an accident in a paint factory.
Seriously, what are these people taking?
I've seen what could only be described as multi-coloured abominations.
I have no no doubt that the ability to be spotted from the air when trapped on a mountain will appeal to some, but I wanted something a little less garish.
Luckily there are some plain ones, which is good, because I intend to wear mine down the pub and on the high street.

The jacket will have any number of extras built in.
Pockets seem to be a popular extra.  You can have a goggle pocket, an audio pocket, a utility pocket, a lift pass pocket, a GPS pocket, a secret pocket, inside pockets, outside pockets, zipped pockets, big pockets, small pockets, fleece lined pockets, Polly Pocket and a Pocky pocket.

I may have made that last one up.

A snow skirt seems to be a popular one, too.  It sits inside the waist of the jacket and you do it up.  It stops snow from going up your jacket, which can only be a good thing.  Some are removable, too.  Which is nice.

Hoods are good, too.  They go over your head.  Some of these are removable as well.
Not the heads, the hoods.

Vents are also a good one to look for.  If you begin to get a bit too warm, these can be opened to help regulate the temperature inside the jacket.

Stretch panels, articulated sleeves, pant connector systems, wrist gaiters... the list goes on and on.

Choosing my jacket.
I read endless forum posts and blogs and adverts, trawled through countless pages on seemingly endless online ski stores and, when I had screwed my head back on, it boiled down to this:

The jacket needed to have a decent water resistance rating.  I wanted a minimum of 10000mm.
It had to at least say it was breathable.  I guessed if it was a reputable brand with a decent water resistance rating, it's breathability would be acceptable.
It needed to have a fair amount of insulation, two or more pockets, a removable hood and a snow skirt.
It had to be fairly plain, preferably black.
It had to cost less than £200.

Going shopping.
As well as trawling the internet, I went to Covent Garden and visited the Trespass store along with the Snow & Rock store and The North Face store.  Here I discovered that some staff are very knowledgeable and some aren't.  I also discovered that I would need a small size, which was helpful as I was sure I would end up buying online.  The difference between brands is difficult to work out, but at least I got a good idea of how my jacket should feel.  Not too tight, not too baggy, warm but not overly so and overall, some just felt better than others.
The tickets attached to them extolled all sorts of virtues on the the jackets, many of which seemed superfluous so I learned to look at just the water resistance number and then try it on.

In all honesty, the only thing I came away with was a headache.  But I now knew what size to buy.

And then I went to John Lewis and...


The Helly Hansen Brevent jacket.  It costs £190 and it does exactly what I wanted it do.

It's water resistance rating is 17000mm and fully sealed seams so it should keep me nice and dry, whatever the weather.
Breathability is rated at 12000g, but I have to admit that the number here doesn't really mean much to me.  This is all provided by a Helly Tech Performance layer.

It's insulated.  According to the Helly Hansen website, it has "insulated two layer construction".
The site also speaks about "Warmcore by PrimaLoft" which is a water resistant thermal material.
Either way, after adding a layer or two underneath, I know this will keep me warm.
Vents under the armpits will help to regulate the temperature if I get too warm.

Pockets!  The waist pockets, where you would normally put your hands, are nice and big and have a fleece lining.  There's a chest pocket with a sort of seal over the zip to stop the elements getting in.  A pocket on the left sleeve below the elbow for your lift pass. I've never even seen a lift pass so I don't know how much use this will be.  Inside the jacket on the right, A rather large, zipped pocket, marked "Utility Pocket" and another smaller one on the left, marked "Comms Pocket".  No Pocky pocket, though.

There's a snow skirt which buttons up out of the way when not in use and a hood which is removable.  The hood has a sort of stiffened panel at the front.  I'm sure this is useful.

Adjustable cuffs also feature and a good job too, as these cuffs are as wide as Gandalf's sleeves.  Should be good for getting gloves on, though.

Black is what I wanted and black is what I got.  The photo above makes it look like a very dark grey, but it is black.

And there you have it!
It wasn't an easy choice, but I got what I wanted.  Whether or not it's what I needed is another matter and I will only find this out come February.

Next, I will be mostly looking at trousers... and installing the new Linux Mint "Lisa" when it arrives.

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