Ski Gloves – What Works and What Doesn’t

November 30, 2016 D'Arcy McLeish

There are a couple of pieces of gear that can make or break your day of skiing or riding. Sure, you need skis that work, waterproof jackets, layers, helmets, poles; all of those things are essential. But the deal breakers are boots and gloves. Both are critical to your interaction with the snow. Both, if not working properly, can turn an epic powder day into an epic nightmare. For this post, we’ll stick to gloves but boots are as important and can be read about in an earlier post here. 

The Hestra Army Leather Heliski. A guide's favourite. Warm, comfy and bullet proof. Photo - Hestra Gloves
The Hestra Army Leather Heliski. A guide’s favourite. Warm, comfy and bullet proof.
Photo – Hestra Gloves

Ski gloves are often overlooked. People spend lots of time shopping for the glory pieces of kit in their getup; skis, for instance. Then when it comes time to buy gloves, they grab whatever is on sale and make do. This is the first mistake. Having the right glove is critical for a few reasons. First, keeping your hands warm and dry helps makes everything a little easier. Wet, cold hands just don’t work as well as warm, dry hands.

The Flylow Gear Blaster Glove. One of my faves.  Photo - Flylow Gear
The Flylow Gear Blaster Glove. One of my faves.
Photo – Flylow Gear

Second, buying any old pair of gloves might mean limited function and dexterity. Gloves are handy if you can actually do things in them, like grip your poles, grab your skis, open your zippers, etc…Third, gloves have to fit. In the case of leather gloves, they will break in and stretch, so proper fit is essential. Which brings me to the most important point: what type of gloves should you buy?

You need good gloves for this... Photo - Caton Garvie
You need good gloves for this…
Photo – Caton Garvie

Aside from super light spring style or ski touring gloves(where synthetic materials can be a better option), I am a fan of leather. Sure, there are lots of synthetic options out there, some of which may be fairly good, but leather is the best. Period. Leather gloves can be waterproofed, break in nicely, provide a good level of dexterity, even in a thick, severe cold weather style glove and they last. Leather is tough and durable and if treated properly with waterproofing wax, it doesn’t freeze and stiffen up and will last several years.

An amazing option from Arc'teryx - The Rush Glove.  Photo - arcteryx.com
An amazing option from Arc’teryx – The Rush Glove.
Photo – arcteryx.com

There are a lot of choices out there for gloves. Some leather gloves incorporate a Gore-Tex membrane between the leather and the lining, providing more waterproofing. All leather gloves require treatment with wax compounds to make them truly waterproof. The Gore-Tex leather gloves are probably the warmest stye leather gloves, because even if the leather gets soaked, your hands stay dry. The glove our ski guides favour, which is a big gauntlet style leather glove available with a Gore-Tex option, is a good example of this.

the Black Diamond Kingpin Glove.  Photo - blackdiamondequipment.com
the Black Diamond Kingpin Glove.
Photo – blackdiamondequipment.com

As a ski patroller, I need something that can put up with daily abuse and only leather can do that. Synthetics last about a week on the job as they are just too susceptible to tearing from rough and sharp edges. Leather protects against all that. Some of my favourites over the years have been the Hestra Army Leather GTX,  Kinco Ski Glove, Flylow Blaster, Black Diamond Kingpin and the Arc’teryx Rush Glove. All are fairly warm and have proven to be tough, comfortable and if treated regularly, waterproof.

The Hestra Army Leather 3 Finger Glove. A good hybrid choice for very cold days.  Photo - Hestra.com
The Hestra Army Leather 3 Finger Glove. A good hybrid choice for very cold days.
Photo – Hestra.com

In cases of extreme cold, especially if you’re not doing a whole lot out there, your hands need mitts. Mitts are like having ovens on your hands. They are warm, comfortable and cozy. But they do lack dexterity. If you are thinking about mitts, though, the same principles apply. Get leather. Hestra even make the lobster claw gloves, which are a 3 finger hybrid between a mitt and a glove. It has a little more dexterity than a mitt and is waterproof. These are a good choice for very cold days when you still want to be able to grab things efficiently.

The Kinco Pig Skin Ski Glove. Pretty much the workhorse of professional ski patrols across North America, it's cheap, tough and comfortable. Definitely a favourite.  Photo - kinco.com
The Kinco Pig Skin Ski Glove. Pretty much the workhorse of professional ski patrols across North America. It’s cheap, tough and comfortable. Definitely a favourite.
Photo – kinco.com

In terms of fit, if you do decide to buy leather gloves, get them a little on the small side. Leather stretches, especially when it’s being used in a wet, cold environment. The liner of the glove, much like the liner of a boot, will pack out as well, so if you buy them large or “just right” in a few weeks they will be too big. So do yourself a favour and get them a little small and be patient with the break-in period. Once that’s passed, you’ll have a pair of comfortable, durable and warm gloves that can handle just about anything.

Be safe, ski hard and keep your wands warm.