As skiers, we’re constantly out in temperatures well below freezing. We often spend days at a time in places where there’s no source of external warmth, nowhere to hang out but on the snow. We learn strategies for staying warm, layering, using down insulation to stay toasty when we’re no longer generating heat through movement.
I’ve always felt the cold badly, and had serious difficulties keeping my extremities warm. So it wasn’t a big surprise when I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s a few years ago. It was, however, a huge problem: the circulation issues that I experience in my fingers and toes aren’t ever going to improve, and in fact will – and have – increase as I get older. And I’m a skier. I can’t have a condition that could, eventually, jeopardise my ability to spend time in the mountains.
I haven’t found the cold feet to be as serious an issue in the backcountry, where I’m warming up substantially on climbs rather than cooling down on a chairlift between runs, but over the past year or so the condition of my hands has become grim. Transitions, especially if I need to remove my gloves, are particularly hard. There’s a point where the cold in my fingers becomes incredibly painful, and promises a good case of the screaming barfies when they eventually start to thaw. Plus these repeated chillings to the point of intense pain can’t be doing me much good in the long term.
Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve tried many strategies for dealing with this. Hot pockets, better gloves, layered gloves, thermoses of hot tea, wild windmilling. Everything helps a little bit, but not really very much. And so I started to explore a possibility that I’d previously ruled out due to cost: heated gloves.
I have to admit, I was hesitant. Firstly because I’d read really mixed reviews of some of the products on the market, secondly because of the expense, and thirdly because it seemed…well, kind of wussy to be a backcountry skier with battery-powered warming gloves. But needs must, and my hands are not getting any better.
And this has been a gamechanger.
I’ve taken my Chaval-XRT gloves out every day since I got them, including one resort day. For the resort day they ran steadily from first chair to last, and my hands never started to feel chilled in spite of the bitter wind that whipped around us on the chair.
Conditions in the backcountry have been tremendously variable. On a couple of warmer days I thought I wasn’t going to need the gloves at all, but then got careless on the transitions and chilled my fingers badly. I put them on for the downhill, kept them on through the second transition back to touring mode, and kept the heat on until I’d warmed through fully from the climbing. Then I was good to turn them off till the end of the next transition. This kind of intermittent warming worked really well; there was still lots of power in the gloves for the final run back to the car as darkness neared, but I was able to keep my hands at a good temperature throughout the day with minimal demand on the battery.
On the most brutally cold day so far this winter, they were amazing. At the end of our initial climb we stopped to dig a pit on a section of the ridge where the windchill was around -20, and as we took turns shoveling I grew colder and colder. By the time we ripped skins and switched to ride mode, my hands were blocks of ice. But once I’d turned on the gloves, it took just a few minutes for life to trickle back into them and by the end of the first descent, they were fine. This time I kept them on right through the climb up and subsequent runs. I was actually comfortable enough to be able to remove the gloves completely to fiddle with a couple of buckles at one point, knowing I could put them right back onto my chilled fingers. This level of performance is honestly something I wasn’t expecting.
The great things about these gloves: firstly, they’re really good gloves. On milder days when I don’t turn the heat on, they’re still better than the gloves I was using previously.
Secondly, the heat regulation is excellent. I was a little concerned that, unlike other models, they didn’t offer an option to adjust the temperature. But the heat delivered is perfect. It’s never particularly intense, so it doesn’t lead to undue sweating; it’s just a steady trickle through all four fingers and the thumb that keeps the fingers from ever getting too cold.
Thirdly, they’re really easy to use. Hook the connectors together, and then all it takes is a simple press of one good-sized, well-positioned button to turn them on and another to pause them. Get home, uncouple the connectors, and plug one into the wall to charge and dry the gloves.
A couple of very small negatives: the thumb doesn’t stay quite as warm as the fingers. (Caveat: even the XS gloves are very slightly large on me; a snugger fit might address this.) And they are bulky. This doesn’t particularly bother me, and certainly isn’t a concern when they’re on the hands, but weight weenies or those with limited pack space might find it an issue.
However, these are tiny gripes. The main thing, for me, is that I’m finally spared torturous hand pain during my ski days. My only regret is that I let the cost put me off getting these for a couple of seasons. If I’d known how much difference they would make, I would have gotten a pair much sooner.