Style and substance collide on the ski slopes. It's one of the few places where every piece of clothing on your body simultaneously makes...
Style and substance collide on the ski slopes. It’s one of the few places where every piece of clothing on your body simultaneously makes a statement and serves a purpose.
Next time you’re stuck in a lift line, look at the skiers around you. You’ll find everyone has a “look.” There’s the fashion plate in fitted pants and a fur-trimmed jacket, the practical Joe in an oversized parka, the jokester in a helmet with the unicorn horn sticking out on top.
But the outfits that often stand out the most are those worn by the mountain pros — the instructors, the ski patrol, the lift operators. They seem to combine form and function in bold yet simple uniforms in primary colors that always look weather-appropriate.
This is no accident. Many major ski resorts have deals with fashion and outdoor-gear companies to dress their pros in a way that will help with easy identification and branding while keeping their employees warm and dry all day long.
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But ski instructors and their brethren aren’t simply walking billboards. They offer input and insight into what they want from their clothes. The benefit for the rest of us is that the manufacturers then take those tips and incorporate them into the skiwear they offer to the public.
Patrick Wiederkehr, the director of the St. Moritz Ski School in Switzerland, has offered technical feedback to Italian fashion house Prada since a collaboration was formed in 1999. The result? A ski suit that has shoulder reinforcements to make it easier to carry skis, a pocket for first-aid kits and adjustable hems on sleeves and pants to prevent water penetration.
Designers relish the expert advice from those who know best.
“Any time you get to do a uniform, it’s special. It’s what someone is going to earn their living in,” says Steve Rogerson, senior design director of accessories for RLX Ralph Lauren, outfitter to the pros at the Aspen Skiing Company in Colorado’s Aspen and Snowmass mountains for eight years. “It’s the ultimate test and the ultimate recognition of how your design functions in the real world.”
Among the biggest challenges, Rogerson says: creating clothes with a limited budget that can function under an endless list of conditions.
The Ralph Lauren fashion credentials were evident, though, when it came to cutting a slimmer silhouette. “One of the most distinctive things about the uniforms are the fit,” Rogerson says. “I can look at it in a photo and say, ‘It’s one of ours.’ “
Fred Prescott, L.L. Bean vice president and merchandise manager overseeing outerwear, says the Bean design team works with the American Skiing Co. pros at Mount Snow and Killington in Vermont and Steamboat Springs, Colo., to build an outfit using many layers without becoming bulky.
Prescott says flexibility is key to a design’s overall wearability since ski professionals are on the slopes in the sun, snow and rain — sometimes all in the same day — and their uniforms need to withstand the elements yet remain largely the same.
Here’s a glimpse at what the pros are wearing at three mountains with different climates, different clients and, certainly, different fashion sensibilities:
St. Moritz, Switzerland, wears Prada’s brand-new Freestyle Collection
THE LOOK: Prada puts the pros here in a dark blue outfit with a single red stripe on the chest, as they do for the instructors in Megeve, France. For those in Selva di Val Gardena, Italy, however, Prada outfits them in yellow with a silver stripe.
Miuccia Prada has final creative say for the ski gear just like anything else produced by the brand, but the emphasis is on the technical details. The fashion elements are the small touches, such as leather around the zipper or fox-fur trim, which is being offered this year to consumers in the Classic Skiing Collection while they wait for the Freestyle prototypes to be fully tested.
THE DETAILS: Uses a Taslan nylon fabric with padding. Prada says the parka and pant are waterproof, comfortable and breathable — an important trait for skiers sure to work up a sweat but then face a fast cool-down. The pros also get a lighter-weight jacket made of ripstop nylon, a fabric that Prada often uses in its fashion collections.
The fastenings are waxed and heat-sealed, and drawstrings at the sleeves and legs help make the outfit fully waterproof.
WHAT THE PROS LIKE: A special pocket for a first-aid kit on the bottom of the jacket, padding on the shoulder and an avalanche protection system — essentially a tag in the sleeve or trouser (like that white plastic security tag that department stores use) that will allow rescuers to find lost skiers. The system produced by Recco uses harmonic radar.
WHAT THE REST OF US GET: The next generation of this collection — after tweaks are made based on the ski instructors’ comments — will be sold for 2007-08. (Retail prices are unavailable since the line is not yet available to consumers.)
Aspen Mountain in Colorado wears RLX Ralph Lauren
THE LOOK: In the fashion world, Ralph Lauren often offers the elegant and understated alternative when fellow designers embrace bells and whistles. Same thing goes on the slopes. The uniforms created for the Aspen and Snowmass pros are just a bit more sleek and chic than what everyone else is wearing. True, the outfits might not be as fashion-forward as those on the backs of other skiers in this very style-conscious community, but they get the job done.
THE DETAILS: Designers worked with Gore-Tex and others to make breathable, soft and waterproof fabrics for the outer layer. But, thanks to Ralph Lauren’s fashion roots, the colors chosen could stand up to being in the sun, snow and other elements for 150 days. The company says it didn’t want a red jacket in December to become a pink one by March.
IN THE MIDDLE: The overall look is intended to be carried through the layers, so RLX provides an underlayer piece made of Malden Power Stretch, which has a brushed outside, smooth inside and wicks moisture. The pros get a half-zip pullover and tights, which fit close to the body and don’t add bulk.
WHAT THE REST OF US GET: The Aspen Instructors Jacket is a version of the pros’ jacket that’s available to the public. It’s without the logo and offered in different color combinations. Some RLX skiwear in stores are made of lighter weight fabrics. On the Polo Web site, the men’s Instructor’s jacket is $595.
Mount Snow, Vt., wears L.L. Bean’s Mountain Pro line
THE LOOK: In traditional New England, you get what looks like a traditional ski jacket. The top of the jacket, covering the upper arm, collar and chest is one color, a thin stripe of another color runs just beneath, and a third color covers the body. The instructors’ color combination is silver, green and royal blue.
THE DETAILS: The shell of the jacket, as well as the pants, is a waterproof and windproof Gore-Tex laminate and all the seams are sealed to keep out wind and wet snow. Primaloft is the jacket’s insulating layer. It’s a synthetic version of down that maintains down’s light weight, adaptability and warmth but is also moisture-resistant. (RLX also uses Primaloft, and almost all serious outerwear makers use Gore-Tex.)
WHAT’S UNDERNEATH: A Polartec 200-weight, long-sleeve fleece jacket.
WHAT THE PROS LIKE: A Neoprene lumbar pad built into the jacket keeps the back warm and cushioned on long chair rides. And bib-style snow pants held up by suspenders eliminate a tight waistband and keep pants from sliding down when you bend over to help beginners get in their skis. The pants also are cut with articulated knees, so they’re always in a sort-of bent position and will fit properly instead of pulling when skiing.
WHAT THE REST OF US GET: Aside from the mountain-specific color-ways, the entire Mountain Pro collection is sold to consumers via L.L. Bean’s Web site or catalog. The men’s jacket costs $249.