I've been skiing East Coast slopes for as long as I can remember, from slushy Virginia valleys to frostbitten Vermont mountains, and I know that rainy winter weather comes with the territory. But when that dreaded wetness turns my gloves into ice-cold sponges, I long for an early retreat to the lodge so I can dry my fingers, and my gloves, by the fire.
I'm certainly not the only one who's been subject to a soggy glove. The trick for manufacturers has been to create handwear that is both waterproof and breathable. Without breathability, your body heat and moisture are trapped inside. Once your body temperature lowers, say, when you take a break or hop onto a chairlift, the moisture that's trapped inside will chill. W.L. Gore supposedly solved the problem in 1980 by creating seam-sealed Gore-Tex glove inserts boasting "micropores" that are small enough to block liquid water but large enough to let sweaty vapor out. While the material may have been sound, the construction sometimes was not: Even the last pair I bought in the mid-'90s started leaking right out of the gate. I resigned myself to the fact that waterproof ski gloves were simply out of reach.
Then a few months ago I heard a tantalizing rumor: "Waterproof" gloves had finally achieved truth in advertising. I called my trusted local ski shop, the Ski Chalet, and threw down the gauntlet; the manager promised me that today's best ski gloves are "totally waterproof."
Eager to pit gloves against each other from across the cost spectrum, I tested eight pairs from six brands: Columbia, DAKINE, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, the North Face, and Spyder. With a handicap for price, would an unheralded competitor snatch the gold medal? Let the Ski Glove Invitational commence!
Since leakage was the bane of my ski outings, the testing required a trial by water. I filled the kitchen sink, threw in a few trays of ice cubes, and dunked my gloved hands up to the wrist for five minutes. To make conditions more grueling, I wiggled my fingers and made fists.
After the gloves had air-dried, I stuffed them into my backpack and hit the slopes. During descents I studied each pair's comfort, quality of grip on the poles, and heat exhaust. Windy chairlift rides offered chances to compare hand warmth. I tried jotting down comments while wearing the different models as a dexterity test, but I abandoned the idea after a few doctorlike scribblings.
Instead, I conducted time trials at home to see how quickly I could gear up for an imaginary descent. Each heat involved the following steps: donning and adjusting the gloves (back-of-the-hand buckles, for example); fastening the Velcro cuffs on my ski jacket; fumbling to get the main zipper zipped; and throwing on a knit hat and goggles.
Then I reloaded the backpack and drove out to the batting cages for a swinging durability test. In addition to simulating extended wear and tear, retasking the skiwear as batting gloves was handy for checking breathability and comfort. Plus, picking up and finagling tokens into the slot was an instructive, if frustrating, feat of dexterity. Finally, I gave the gloves another five-minute dip in the icy sink to find out if they were any worse for wear.