Skiing :: the Gear Post

I have been going though the logistics of skiing with Toddlers. Constantly we are asked the burning question “HOW do you do it?” as we have spent at least one day a week at the mountain with 3 girls 3 and under. The first post can be found HERE. This is installment #2 :: Clothing and Gear.

We have found the big, essential keys to making skiing work is being adequately prepared. If the kids are uncomfortable, cold or wet, it makes the entire experience miserable. Because we have committed ourselves to pursuing this sport as our main family activity, we have therefore also committed ourselves to providing them with the appropriate and safe gear to do it in. Yes, that means a financial commitment, but it also is a commitment of discernment in sorting through what children’s gear on the market is actually worth spending money on. My biggest complaint with Children’s outdoors gear is that the vast majority of what is out on the market is completely substandard for children to be actually using for extended periods of time (just search Amazon for ‘Toddler Gloves’ and you get a ton of stuff that wouldn’t last them 2 minutes in a blizzard). There is very little good quality gear that I would purchase if it were to be for myself, simply wouldn’t because the item just wouldn’t cut it for very long. It’s like manufacturers (and parents too) expect kids to somehow get by and be less affected than us adults. Why is it that nearly ALL the snow jackets out there for kids are only Water Repellant? What, like a kid’s not going to get as wet as an adult simply because they have less surface area? Additionally, that gear is most often times overpriced and purchased in times of desperation (take Arctic Blast 2008 when the entire stock of crappy kid’s mittens and hats at Target was sold out in half a day). Rather we try to set out a timeline and strategic planning as to what will be needed, when it will be needed, weighed with when to buy it.

Typically, we spend the most money on gear BEFORE the beginning of the season (when they are clearing out all of Last Years Products, which are in 90% of cases exactly the same as the coming year’s) or after the season ENDS, when everything goes on sale. We avoid purchasing anything November-January timeframe (with a few exceptions I will outline below) because that is when products first come out and are at their highest prices. Plus, we are nearly always on the look out for ski gear, ‘cuz sometimes you just find it at unexpected places at unexpected times.

I should also note, that no matter how good the gear is, it can (and does) still get wet, lost, forgotten, peed in, hot cocoa spilled on, whatever. We have both backups and backups to the backups, which have totally saved our butts on numerous occasions.

Below I will go through the three key layers of how we dress our kids, from base layer to outerwear. I will try to site my sources and prices where I remember and note some additional products we either have or have on our list.

:: BASE LAYERS ::
Good Base layers for Babies and Toddlers are really hard to find. Additionally, they are incredibly expensive. The first year we skied with Araiya a friend and I ended up making our own sets of Micro-fleece long underwear for our kids (we still have those sets and use them as back-ups). However, we found a wicking base layer served us better. REI is a great resource for this, they have some great products in their own line. Patagonia has an extensive children’s line as well that we have been really happy with. Avoid cotton, as when it gets wet it stays wet. A wicking layer pulls moisture away from their skin, so even if they get a little wet or sweaty, they won’t feel wet and cold.

dressing1

1.) Patagonia Capaline Set, $45 retail (Patagonia has an annual huge sale right after Thanksgiving. As PSIA certified instructors we get special pricing we can extend to friends and family at that event only instead of just being restricted to Pro-Purchase only for ourselves, so we got these for about half off)

2.) Molehill Toddler Polartec Top, $19.00 (we have two sets of these- one in a 2T for Tallis and one in 9-18 month size for Pia, they are awesome)

3.) Molehill Toddler Polartec Bottoms, $19.00 (plus, we bought them at an online store with no tax, free shipping and found a coupon code. Currently they have some at the REI outlet for $16)

4.) Patagonia Capaline Set, again

5.) Smartwool ski socks, found at the REI outlet, $5 each

(not shown: Pia’s Molehill long undies and baby Smartwool socks, plus hand-made micro-fleece backup long underwear)

:: INSULATION LAYER ::
The insulation layer is where most of the warmth comes from. I am a huge fan of wool, though wool for Babies and Toddlers is incredibly hard to find, and if you do be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for it (Old Navy had infant merino wool suits, it was like $35 a piece for top and bottom set, ouch). I have gotten around this by making my own wool sweaters. I pick up some old Thrifted Cashmere or Marino Wool sweaters in big Adult Sizes, then I felt them in the washer/dryer (essentially it shrinks them, making it denser yet still really soft, then I can continue to machine wash the kid’s sweater without fear of shrinking it further), then finally I sew them into kid-sized sweaters. I think Wool does the best job of providing the most warmth without bulk. Plus, even if wool gets wet, it doesn’t feel wet and is still just as warm. Ski pants are a key item, this is an area we have chosen, as they get older, to ensure a good product for the girls.

dressing2

1.) REI fleece Vest, found in the bargain basement for $3 (missing the pull tab on the zipper)

2.) Repurposed Cashmere sweater, made by Mom from one of my old sweaters

3.) Marino Wool Sweater

4.) Target Ski Pants, $20 (we bought these several years ago for Araiya and were really surprised by Target. Since, we have gone back to buy another pair, but they only have them for a short period of time in the fall, so missed that window one year. The following year we went back again, but were really disappointed with the changes they had made and the poor quality in comparison to these older ones. Plus they run really big- Tallis is wearing 18 month-size pants and these will last her for next year too).

5.) Burton Mini Shred Pant, $69.00 (found these at REI Outlet when we had a 20% off member coupon for the outlet so they came out to like $40. These are totally awesome pants. I highly recommend them. We got these in a 4T so Araiya will be in them next year too)

6.) Note these pants each have a powder guard/gaiter at the ankle. We won’t buy pants without this because it ensures the kid’s won’t get snow up the pants and into their boots.

(Not shown: misc. extra sweaters, Pia’s Pink REI Down Suit which she wears with a hand-knit wool sweater and knit leggings as I don’t feel the suit is very warm, plus we have had to treat it repeatedly with waterproofing products because the material is far from even water-resistant)

:: OUTERWEAR ::
This category has been one that we have purchased gear for at the oddest times of the year simply because we have found good deals randomly. I would say the jackets in particular come with mixed reviews, as they don’t perform as well as the tags claimed, particularly as far as waterproofing goes. Oddly, the no-name brand one we picked up for Tallis at a ski swap does a better job than the carefully selected REI one of Araiya’s. We have the most number of backup’s that actually get a fair rotation in the jacket category as well. 

dressing3

1.) Fleece hat, $3 at a consignment shop (this was a totally random find in a totally off season. I nabbed it because it has sleek functioning velcro straps to go under the chin and a little flap visor that can be tucked up or under. It stays on and Tallis has a hard time taking it off, so we can ensure her head stays protected and warm. If I could find more of these I would buy them for all my friends with kids. The color is the only real down-side)

2.) Turtle Fur fleece neck Gator, mine from who-knows-when (looked at some kid’s ones, but they were all horrible patterns and expensive, so she just uses one of mine when needed)

3.) Sunglasses, gift (Eye protection is an absolute requirement. My girls are not allowed outside without something over their eyes. These yellow ones are great for cloudy days, as they cut out the UV and glare but increase contrast in the snow. Both the girls have goggles that we use most of the time)

4.) REI Toddler Jacket, $30 (We bought this using our member Dividend one year, so it was somewhere around $20. Supposedly you can release some extra stitches in the arms and length so it grows from 2T-4T, however, Araiya is already grown out of it, because the constraining factor is not length but width around the middle which can’t extend. Plus, the outer material has lost it’s waterproofing and stains really badly, the zipper comes un-done from the bottom up and you can’t remove the hood. I am actually wondering if I should return it to REI. Also, we have a second jacket EXACTLY like this. A friend found a Pink one for us in a bin at the Goodwill Outlet which cost her $0.50, no joke. Commonly in one day Araiya will switch between the Purple and Pink because one has gotten too wet. Next year we will be going with something different, I am thinking Burton or Patagonia)

5.) Toddler Jacket, $15 at a ski swap (I got this jacket as a backup simply because it is really cute and really insulated. However, it is pretty awesome so it is now Tallis’ primary jacket. It should fit her next year too. I am impressed with the quality of the zipper and details around the collar for a no-name brand. It isn’t super waterproof, but a coating of Nikwax this year took care of that.)

6.) Target Toddler ski pants (note that these pants are not designed to be ski pants, the outer cuff is too small in radius to fit over her ski boot cuffs. My huge complaint, but since she isn’t skiing a whole lot it hasn’t been that big of a deal, we will see what happens next year)

7.) Burton Pants (again, awesome)

8.) Toddler ski boots, size 17.5- the smallest they make, $20 or under. (one pair came from the REI bargain basement, the other a ski swap. These are fine for their first pair of ski boots. I am pretty sure these boots will both still fit next year.)

Not shown:
  :: Columbia backup shells- We have rain shells for the girls, totally waterproof, but they don’t have insulation. Because they are lightweight, we carry them in case it is a really wet snow day and they need a true hard shell to keep the water off. Mostly we use these at home in the rain, though.
  :: Smith Toddler Goggles– Each of the girls have small goggles we picked up at ski swaps for around $10. Goggles are way better than sunglasses when it is snowing because they protect from wind, snowflakes, and don’t fog up. 
  ::  Extra hats: Both girls have other beanies too, given as gifts, picked up at ski swaps or made by mom
  :: Pia has a pink hat similar to Tallis’, though the chin straps are thinner, it stays on well. I bought it at a consignment shop for about $5. She also has a pair of Baby Bandz sunglasses which were $15.
  :: Gloves: Each of the girls have two pairs of mittens. I believe they all came from REI. I have to say I am still in search of better mittens or gloves, as both the girls’ hands got cold and wet in bad conditions and we would often switch out gloves at lunch. However, it is hard to find a big difference between decent $20 and some of the primo $60 gloves as far as quality and materiality is concerned. The ones we have work for what we are doing now, but I know we will be upgrading gloves as the girls get older and more into it. I can say that backups are a big must in the glove department. Even Matt and I have several pairs of backup gloves as well.
  :: Mittens: All the girls have a pair of Patagonia Pita-Pocket Fleece Mittens. I cannot speak high enough of these, we wear them all the time, even around home going out for walks. These are amazing, actually stay on, are thick and can often be found for $10-13. It’s worth having multiple pairs and the size range covers newborn-kids.
:: Snow Boots: Our girls often want to put their ski boots on in the car when we get to the parking lot. But we also have regular snow boots for them. Essentials here for Waterproofness and Warmth. The first pair oddly enough came from Old Navy, which we never found again. The rubber soles are thick, the upper material is uber durable and feet have never gotten cold in them. I am still very impressed with these boots. This year we got Araiya a pair of Sorels, which are equally as awesome, if not better for snow play as they cinch down and keep snow out far better. We bought ours on Amazon, where if you keep an eye out deals can always be found.

:: Skis ::
The first pair of kid’s ski’s we bought are a pair of 78cm blue skis that came in a package for $130. We thought we were getting a deal at the end of the year. Even knowing better, we bought skis that were a bit too long for Araiya’s size two seasons ago (she was 18mo old). Even this year, those skis are still a tad bit too long. Last Fall, we found an even smaller 67cm pair with bindings at a ski swap for $50 and decided to buy them, thinking they would be for Tallis. But Araiya has used them all winter long except when the girls are skiing together. There has been a bit of contention over who gets the “Pink Skis” so I am thinking I will sell the Blue ones on Craigslist and get Araiya another pair of Pink ones at this same ski swap in the Fall (They have a TON of kids stuff, it happens annually just outside of Seattle, more info HERE if you are in the area). Sure we will have to eat the lost money, but in hindsight, we could have done a lot better than those Blue skis. The pink ones, shorter, more sidecut, have allowed Araiya to move and steer with far more ease. A lot of parents attempt to buy stuff to grow into, but that doesn’t really work with skis. If the ski is too long, it just becomes a hinderance to move the tool effectively on the snow, so their ability and learning will be restricted. Luckily, we have three girls who will be using whatever we buy for a succession of years, so I don’t mind outfitting Araiya well and then know her sisters will likely be using the same stuff for the next handful of years. Plus, ski swaps are really the way to go here.

I would emphasize too purchasing CURRENT and relatively NEW skis and bindings. Technology has changed so so much in the past 10 years, and not necessarily that a child couldn’t learn to ski just fine on the same skis I learned on as a kid (which consequently we have a pair in our basement, ehem), but there comes a point where old, straight skis, old bindings, dull edges, depleted bases all become a hindrance and potentially unsafe. I would rather ensure the gear functioned well, was current and allowed my child to learn the sport with ease. Also, when learning the sport, the ski-snow interaction is so very important, so we have ensured to put our kids on REAL skis, not toy strap on skis or even riding on Mom & Dad’s skis. Unfortunately, toy skis have no edges, no real abilty to glide or turn and no real bindings to transfer the child’s movements into the ski effectively. They would be fine for playing in the snow in very young Toddlers, but as soon as my girls were able to walk a little bit in skis they were ready and able to start gliding and holding a wedge, it made no sense to not have them on the real thing.

Buying skis: Watch ski swaps, go in with some friends and share Toddler skis if you aren’t going to go that much, or search for deals in the off season. Evo Gear has some really amazing deals right now, like ridiculous deals (especially on adult stuff) as does REI and Sturtevant’s Ski Mart. Another option is Seasonal Rentals if you know your kid will need to upgrade each year.

:: Helmet ::
Totally forgot this in the original publish of the post, so am editing it in. Slap on the wrist for leaving this out, it is uber important. Matt and myself do not ski ever without a helmet on. Helmets are a requirement for us. Having said that, I also know what a pain it was as a kid (and even into my teens) getting me to wear a helmet. Now I have seen too many injuries, near misses and have totally lost any sense of invincibility in youth. So we had to find something Araiya would actually wear, not mind wearing and be excited about. I remember the first heavy, heavy helmets that made your head feel it was about to topple over. We found the Giro Kid’s Ricochet, which must be the most perfect Toddler helmet ever. We are buying one for Tallis next year too. It is incredibly lightweight, actually by a long shot compared to other youth helmets we looked at. It is comfortable, well padded and well insulated, with warm, secure ear covers (they even have really good vent-thingies in them so she can still adequately hear, a feature even my helmet doesn’t have). The absolute BEST part about this helmet is the ‘Ricocheting’ adjustable feature in the back, which allows you to click the size of the helmet up or down, completely fine tuning the fit to your Toddler’s head and they can grow with it. I see this as both a huge safety and comfort aspect, as the helmet fits properly, won’t slip around, fall off or be too tight so will perform and protect as it is intended. Poor fitting or improperly worn safety equipment don’t help protect us when we need them to. I can’t remember how much we spent on this helmet, somewhere in the $30-$40 range, but it is worth spending double that on this product when we get a second this year. In fact, I want one for me.

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~ by gdesign on April 10, 2009.

3 Responses to “Skiing :: the Gear Post”

  1. We got a pair of Lands End “Snow Flurry” boots for Micah at goodwill for $3 that have been awesome. They are warm, stay on, and are very easy to remove (by an adult). The regular price is in the range of $20-30, in fact they may have some on sale now. For Patagonia stuff, and people who don’t have the discount that you do, we have jumped on the twice-yearly sale right when it starts on the web in order to get good deals. Recently we have found awesome deals at Sierra Trading Post on a variety of outdoor brands. They have good prices and a lot of coupon codes/discounts that they email to you. The only thing I found missing in this article is helmets, do you have any good advice on those? We won’t go out without them. Given the variety of falls/concussions I have had in my life, it’s mandatory!

  2. We still use the long underwear we all made almost 3 years ago! And like you, I also felt wool sweaters and transform them into warm woolies for our babies.

    With 3 boys who are each about 2 years apart, we plan on investing in good quality gear every two years. We’ve been really happy with fleece from Patagonia, coats from REI and Hanna Anderson, and everything made by smartwool. We buy lots and lots of hats and mittens, as these items seem to get lost or wet frequently.

    Reminds me…we were going to order a kids ski helmet online…

  3. Can’t believe I forgot HELMETS!! I just updated the post, thanks for catching me!

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