packing for snow
The author and Delano Lavigne prep for a day of unpredictable weather near Canmore Kananaskis.

Layer Up: An Ode to Snow Gear 

Dispatch by Lena Desmond

Photos by Sergio David Spadavecchia

The Rockies didn’t just hand us a mixed bag of weather over the last few days—it handed us a mixed bag by the hour. 

There were many times I imagined a lone desk with some gear engineer toiling away like a mad scientist, wiry hair standing on end as he burned the midnight oil, looking at the latest weave of merino wool under a microscope, attempting to flood new waterproof technology or destroy weatherproof zippers. 

When playing in the alpine in good weather, we can be impervious to the discomfort that can come from weather systems that cause temperatures to suddenly drop or precipitation to wallop you out of nowhere.

Being unprepared in the alpine can kill you. No hyperbole.

You only make gear mistakes once… Okay, well, you hope you only make gear mistakes once. 

On our whiteout chairlift rides today, Delano and I traded stories of times when we found ourselves unprepared. He told me about an ice-climbing trip where he got the “screaming barfies”—hands so cold they make you want to scream and barf, bringing even the most cold-loving mountain man to the brink of tears. I reminisced about a weekend when the water resistance of my hiking boots failed and I ended up with wet, frozen feet for one unbearable night.

Warm, dry and cozy within our layers—even as the sky unloaded on us—we were able to enjoy our last turns with toasty hands and feet. Had we failed to be properly equipped, the day would have been sucked of its stoke. Not to mention the fact that being unprepared in the alpine can kill you. No hyperbole.

prepping to ski
Lena Desmond prepping during the first night of Team Outpost in Canmore.

With a robust, lightweight layering system, you can bundle up when cold weather moves in fast and layer down if you’re skinning up a sunny slope. In case you’re looking to create one, here are a few must-have pieces to add to your outdoor play kit. 

Base layer (women's / men's): Long underwear, top and bottom, which fits close to your body. Choose a merino-wool pair for their moisture wicking and anti-stink properties.

Mid layer (women's / men's): This is your fleece layer. Depending on temperatures, a mid-weight fleece should do the trick.

Insulating layer (women's / men's): A warm jacket with a hood, typically either down filled or synthetically insulated. While long parkas are great for cold cities, you’ll likely want a light weight, breathable 800(ish) down fill, which means the jacket is highly compressible, and thus packable, but doesn’t compromise warmth. This jacket should be sized to fit over your other layers.

Outer layer (women's / men's): If you were a turtle, this is your shell—your protection. There’s no insulation in this layer. It’s a straight-up shell, one for your top and one for your bottom. You want this layer to be waterproof and using technical fabrics that are light and breathable but will keep you dry when conditions turn sour.

Soft-shell layer (women's men's): For some activities, such as climbing, hiking and any outdoor activity where you’ll be going uphill or exerting a lot of sweat, a soft-shell layer is great to protect you from less harsh exposure. They’re far more breathable and comfortable than hard shells, but you should note they’re weather-resistant, not weatherproof. Soft shells allow you to exert yourself and sweat without sealing all that heat on the inside.

Delano and I were lucky to have learned from our mistakes. On both of our ski days, we found ourselves more than prepared with all the necessary layers. When it got hot, we layered down. When it got cold, we layered up. No screaming barfies today. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?

If you want to follow our expedition live using #opxCanmore, check us out on social media:

Want to read more? Check out our full expedition to Canmore Kananaskis: 

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