Ski Fashion and Dressing for the Hill

ski fashion

Ah yes, ski hill fashion. If we look back on tattered and yellowing pictures from Smokey's early years, it's a pretty low-key vibe on display. The 1970s were marked by lots of polyester, enormous pom-poms on toques, and yes, there was the occasional red and black plaid lumberjack jacket paired with some worn jeans, seen on the hill. Fast forward to the 1980s and popped collars, Sun Ice ski jackets, Vaurnet sunglasses, and Beaver Canoe sweatpants ruled the slopes, and everything, I mean everything, was emblazoned with bright neon. For those readers too young to have been there the first time around, a quick viewing of 2010's "Hot Tub Time Machine" would be in order - just not at work. Or school. Or with impressionable children around.


As the go-go yuppie excesses of the 1980s faded into the rear-view mirror, we started to see the baggy clothes of skateboard culture seeping its way onto the hill as snowboarding took off in popularity. With grunge rock dominating the airwaves, it was no surprise that darker colors and haphazard combinations started to pop up on the ski hill. Not that ski hills universally embraced these wild and crazy snowboarders, with their baggy clothes and shaggy hair. Even after snowboarding joined the Olympics in 1998, some resorts resisted allowing the one-plank set on their slopes, with three U.S. resorts still banning them to this day!

But clashes between skiers and snowboarders aside, the fashion cross-pollination of these two groups really started to hit its stride as we entered the new millennium. Nearly 25 years on, the only rule now when it comes to ski fashion is that there are no rules. All things old are new again, and this winter, we are seeing more of the crazy fashions and blinding colors of the seventies and eighties in all of their retro glory. With kids wearing fashions from before they were born and moms, dads, and everyone in-between wearing whatever they want.


Far be it from us to make any fashion recommendations to anyone - ever. But the two most important pieces of advice that we will hand out are this: dress to be comfortable and dress to be warm. Okay, maybe three pieces of advice, also, dress to be prepared for anything. So what does this all look like, literally and figuratively speaking?

For starters, there is no "normal" weather here at Cape Smokey. There are days that are mild but overcast and snowing, and there are days that are bitterly cold but with a sky as clear and blue as anything found out in the Alberta Rockies, and everything in between. Sometimes, if you visit often enough, you'll get to experience multiple types of weather all in the course of one day!

For the first-time skier or those that maybe haven't hit the slopes in a while, what are some things that you should keep in mind? Even experienced skiers from away that are visiting us could probably do with a few tips and reminders as well. Let's start from the ground up and go from there.

From the ground up in this case is your feet, and specifically, your socks. This is a case of trying to find that elusive "Goldilocks" sock - one that isn't too thick or too thin and one that doesn't go too far up your calves or too far down. While modern ski boots offer more padding than their ancestors from decades past, they still aren't the most comfortable things in the world, so a little extra padding will go a long way to alleviating uncomfortable boots. It should probably go without saying (but we're going to say it anyways), but ankle socks are a really, really bad idea. A close second in the bad hosiery idea sweepstakes is any sort of dress sock; they are too darn thin. Just save those for the office, gentlemen. But it IS possible to have too much of a good thing, and while there is no doubt a little voice in your head saying; "if a medium thickness, calf-length sock is a good idea, then a really thick, calf-length sock is an even better idea!". It is not.

Ski boots are hard enough to get on and off and tighten up without making an already hard task even harder. So a good medium thickness, calf-length merino wool sock is really your best bet. And why a merino wool sock, you ask, and not some super cool, hi-tech artificial fabric sock? Stinky socks, that's why. Well, there are actually a few good reasons, such as its ability to regulate moisture and the natural breathing of the wool and its ability to trap heat effectively. But first in our books is the fact that merino wool has natural antibacterial and odor-busting qualities that artificial fabric socks just don't have. And really, do we want the entire lodge at Cape Smokey filled with the damp, dank odor of smelly socks? We don't.

Moving up from our feet, we have the issue of what type of pants to wear - notice that we said what TYPE of pants; there wasn't a "no pant" option anywhere in there. Pants are mandatory, except when they're not - but those are special circumstances, and we'll deal with that later. Again, we caution against going too thick or tight when it comes to your leg coverings, and layering is certainly key here.

For most folks, a good pair of sweatpants, maybe paired with some long underwear, is more than sufficient, but really, any properly layered sweatpants, tights, or yoga pants is just fine. For all of you hipsters out there with tight skinny jeans and 15 oz. raw Japanese denim (you know who you are), these are not good pant choices. In fact, these are epically bad pant choices, as they will never, ever get dry once they've gotten wet and will make getting ski boots on a near impossibility. Don't say that you weren't warned.

Moving up the body to above the waist, the same rules apply; layer, layer, and layer again. While three layers maybe a bit of overkill, it does let us address a few of the climatic realities of winter here at Cape Smokey. For those folks who call Atlantic Canada home, you can skip the next few paragraphs and rejoin us further down when we get to the bit on toques and spring skiing fashion do's and do not's.

One of the biggest climatic factors that needs to be taken into account out here is that it can sometimes be very humid, and this humidity can have some real bearing on how you perceive the temperature. Just as desert dwellers will proudly boast that even though it's 110 degrees outside, "it's a dry heat", it works the same way here with the cold. A bone-dry minus 20 on the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies can often feel much more pleasant than minus five or ten Celsius out here.


Fortunately, not every day is a high humidity day, but when they do happen, the best defense is lots of thin layers, not one thick layer.

Before we get to the part about the importance of having a really cool toque with an enormous pom-pom on top, we should probably take a few moments to address what may well be your most expensive clothing investment - your ski jacket (and to a lesser extent, your snow pants). All joking aside, the world of ski jackets is so complex, and there are so many choices and things to consider, that it is probably a topic that could fill an entire blog on its own.

Broadly speaking, ski jackets can be grouped into three categories: hardshell, softshell, and insulated, with the latter forming the bulk of what you will see on the slopes. Often the first two are paired together, with the hard shell offering the highest degree of waterproofing and wind-proofing and the soft shell offering a layer of added warmth - though it could certainly be worn as a standalone piece for spring skiing and later in the season.

An insulated jacket, especially if it's equipped with the breathability and water wicking of Goretex, is a great one-stop solution. With some going to the waist and others with a longer cut, there is a whole galaxy of styles (and price points!) out there to explore.

As we near the end of our journey, from your toes to the top of your head, it is probably a good time to remind out-of-province visitors to Cape Smokey that in Nova Scotia, it is mandatory to wear a ski helmet when on the slopes, and this applies equally to children and adults. So, even though your head may be covered by a helmet, it wouldn't hurt to have a thin beanie or ear band to help cushion your ears and give an added layer of warmth as you hit the slopes, and depending on the weather, if it's particularly windy or there are ice pellets in the forecast, a neck gaiter or full balaclava will do wonders to protect your face and neck.

Speaking of protecting your face and neck, there is one last layer that needs to be added to finish off our full skiing wardrobe. As you may have heard, the weather prognosticating rodents of North America were unanimous in their declaration that an early spring is on the way. Who are we to disagree with the likes of Shubanacadie Sam, Fred La Marmotte, Wiarton Willie, and Punxsutawney Phil? Or their non-rodent counterparts, Leia the Aardvark (Louisiana), and Bob the Armadillo (Texas)?

Yes, spring is coming soon, which means spring skiing, which means spring skiing sunburns if you're not careful. Just because it's only a few degrees above zero, the sun reflecting off the snow can make for some surprisingly bad sunburns for the unprotected. So keep those cheeks and noses and whatever else might be exposed well-covered in sunscreen.  

So, as the season moves into spring and the mercury rises, there will be the temptation to indulge in more "questionable" fashion choices, i.e., Hawaiian shirts, shorts, bathing suits, t-shirts, and the like. All well and good, but just remember to slap on the sunscreen and be forewarned that falling on crusty spring corn snow can be a particularly painful experience. Or so we've heard. Remember, there are no fashion rules when it comes to Cape Smokey and our amazing ski hill. So dress up, come out, and have an awesome time!


Plan your visit


Stay in touch