OK, downhillers. It's time to tell the truth. Are you a true, dyed-in-the-wool skier? Or do you just like to hang out at the slopes looking great and hoping to meet some heavenly ski instructor?
Used to be, you could tell the difference by the costume. The skiers dressed for warmth and function, while the groupies dressed for flirting. And a different kind of warmth.
But with advances in fabric technology and the mainstreaming of skiwear as a fashion inspiration, it's become more difficult to separate the athletes from the amorous. Bulky layers have been replaced by body-conscious skiwear made from "smart" fabrics that can keep a skier warm and dry while allowing him or her to show off a slopes-toned anatomy.
"No matter how funky or fashionable skiwear becomes, it still must perform," says Ann Stables, director of advertising and sales promotion for Roffe, a skiwear manufacturer. She advises skiers to look for clothing that includes such features as multi-zippered pockets and knit cuffs inside the neck to protect against snow, wind and water.
David Jacobs, president of Spyder skiwear manufacturing company, adds that oversized snaps and zipper pulls make it easier to get into pockets on the slopes. And he suggests looking for clothes with inside wallet pockets, since many skiers spend the day on the slopes and don't want to hassle with returning to their rooms for lunch money.
Visibility is important; even if your primary purpose is interaction, you don't want any unplanned collisions. Which is one reason skiwear is often neon bright and graphically patterned.
For the 1990-91 skiwear season, favorite colors include peacock blue, teal and purple, plus such eye-popping combinations as pink and yellow or pistachio and red. Black is often used as a "grounding" color; it makes brights look brighter. And some manufacturers have started offering a smattering of neutrals particularly white, icy gray and taupe as alternatives to wild color combinations.
Shapes have softened, as well, primarily as a result of fabric innovations. The predominate silhouette: a tapered-waist jacket over slim, often stirruped ski pants. The new stretch pants are so popular that manufacturers now offer long underwear with stirrups to wear beneath. Ski pants may come with a removable shell for added warmth. Jackets often have zip-out lining or zip-off sleeves.
"We use the new Thinsulate insulation, in part because it drapes so well in garments," says Bob Hamilton, advertising director of Serac skiwear. "The material isn't stiff, so you never get a 'tin man' effect, and there's warmth with slimness."
In addition to thinner, more efficient insulation, manufacturers are using futuristic fabrics that heat up with the sun's rays or change color when the temperature drops.
The solar-absorbing materials use tiny metal particles to convert the sun's rays into heat, which can raise fabric temperature by as much as nine degrees on the slopes. On the inside, some of the materials use lightweight coatings of ceramic particles to trap and hold body heat, as well.
Trade names of the solar materials, which may be found on skiwear content tags or hang-tags, include Solar Alpha, Sunlock and OptSensor.
A new fleece, called elastrotech, dries quickly and retains warmth when wet, making it an ideal fabric for under-layers.
Other new fabrics, like Spyder's Sway, start out one color and change to a different color or pattern when the garment is exposed to cold temperatures. Some start changing below 60 degrees; others require temperatures to dip to 48 before the chameleon effect occurs.
This material is especially popular with children, according to Eliot Peyser, vice president of David Peyser Sportswear Inc., which manufactures children's outerwear under the Freezy Freakies label. The material is used for hidden logos and designs that become visible as the child skis or plays outdoors in cold weather.
This technology doesn't keep the skier or the child at play any warmer or drier, the manufacturers admit. It's really just for fun.
For our money, that's what skiing should be about, anyway.