by Chris Weiss
Skiing underwear is probably the most underappreciated piece of clothing in the sports world. Everyone can get stoked on a new shell or a new pair of feature-filled pants, but base layers? Just throw on whatever’s clean and forget it.
Despite their lack of glamour, ski base layers are some of the most important parts of your ski day. They serve to keep you dry, warm and comfortable throughout a sport that has an uncanny ability to cast soggy misery on its most loyal participants. A new generation of ultra-plush, functional base layers has been making its way to market and giving you intriguing alternatives to classics like polypropylene and merino wool. Here’s a look at some base layers that will keep you as comfortable as a pair of silk pajamas.
Ortovox Supersoft Merino
Yeah, yeah, everyone wants to convince us that merino is “supersoft.” Sure, it’s less scratchy than thicker wools, but it’s still a long way from silk or cashmere. But Ortovox’s namesake is no hyperbole— Supersoft Merino is just that.
Instead of your standard full merino or merino-polyester blend, the Supersoft blends Lenzing Modal fibers into its merino. Lenzing Modal comes from beech wood cellulose, which sounds more scratchy and uncomfortable than any type of wool. It’s actually one of the plushest, softest blends that you’ll find. This stuff is almost as soft and comfy as cashmere but offers the traditional benefits of merino.
I tested the Supersoft quarter-zip shirt throughout last season, and it fast became my go-to base layer. It’s very comfortable, manages moisture well, holds up against stink and is just plain enjoyable to wear. I’ll leave it at this: The Supersoft is the only base layer that I’ve ever been inclined to wear on a cool fall afternoon with no intention of skiing—I literally look for an excuse to throw this shirt on.
On the con side, $120 is a steep price to pay for a base layer shirt.
Polarmax TransDry Cotton
Whether you prefer boxers or briefs, sleeved Ts or wife beaters, the majority (if not all) of your non-sport undergarments are probably cotton. It’s cool, soft, comfortable and inexpensive—everything underwear should be. Unfortunately, cotton in outdoor sports has long been a major faux pas. Because it absorbs moisture instead of dissipating it, cotton is a no no. In short, cotton kills.
Polarmax XTRdry cotton base layers turn that old adage into an old wives’ tale. The “wicking cotton” gets moisture management technology, which allows it to keep moisture on the outside of the fabric, where it evaporates rather than soaks in. Polarmax claims that the upgraded cotton dries in a fraction of the time of traditional cotton. The garments also include anti-microbial treatment to cut the stink.
While the XTRdry tech does a lot of behind-the-scenes work to keep you dry and warm, it still feels like good-old, loveable cotton. So you finally get to wear your comfortable cotton base layer without worrying about soaking like a matted dog.
After testing a quarter zip made out of Polarmax’s first-generation wicking cotton called Transdry (XTRdry is a newer version), I can say that the moisture management works, and the shirt is every bit as comfortable as any cotton T. It’s an excellent combination and much cheaper than the aforementioned Ortovox SuperSoft. The men’s crew XTRdry shirt retails for $50.
Alpaca is another up-and-coming base layer fabric that has a lot of potential. It is similar to merino wool in its advantages but offers a feel that’s more like a split between merino and cashmere. Like wool, it has both natural moisture wicking ability and warmth. According to Alpacas of Montana, it’s twice as warm as wool, allowing garments to be thinner and more comfortable.
It seems like alpaca is slowly gaining acceptance as an outdoor fabric. Right now it’s available primarily in accessories like socks, hats and gloves, but Alpacas of Montana sells a line of heavier men’s and women’s alpaca sweaters, and a company called Woop! Wear offers alpaca base layers.
While I haven’t tested alpaca shirts or pants, I have used Dahlgren Sno Comp socks on the slopes. The socks are made from a blend of merino and alpaca and are ultra-thin and super-plush. They are also plenty warm for some of the coldest days.