I've often wondered why there isn't more hoopla about cross country skiwear. I'm not talking about the suction suits worn by the cross country ski racers; I'm referring to the recreational garb, which is versatile, functional, and fashionable. Currently, I cross country ski wearing items from Craft, Sporthill, Swix, and others, but what is important is that the products that I select to ski in fit a number of personal parameter preferences. Of course, skiers need to heed the weather by wearing layers (base layer underwear, pants and tops, and outerwear) and when its colder, thicker layers are necessary.
The Craft AXC Touring Pants that I wear have zippers along the entire length of the legs and at the ankle there is an elastic area closed with a zipper and a snap. I feel that this pant ankle set-up is the most significant aspect of the pants because it tightly fits around the boot and keeps snow out of the shoe top to avoid getting wet socks while skiing. And if you've ever lost a set of keys, the zippered side pockets are comforting to lock away your valuables. The comfortable lined material of the Craft pants is also enough to stay warm with or without a base layer underneath. There are other pants that I use that are lighter and have similar accoutrements.
Sporthill, Craft and Swix jackets have most everything I want in a jacket, except few have pit zips to provide an extra way to cool off and transport perspiration away. These jackets have a mesh liner and material that are comfortable when you have to zip up the collar on a very cold day. I've used the packable hood on the jacket quite a few times when it suddenly got cold out on the trail, and it was a valuable asset. The high-hip fit keeps you warm and the zipper side pockets can be closed to avoid losing pocketed items. The jacket arms might have extended fleece cuffs, which are a nice touch to keep snow out of your glove. The inside chest pocket has a zipper and a hole for an IPod and earbuds for the times that I want musical accompaniment on solo trail outings.
Socks, gloves, shirts, and base layers are an entirely other matter that will need to be covered in a separate article. In short, parameters for selecting socks include thickness, spacious comfort for your toes, and height of the sock on your leg. Expect to pay as much as $25 for quality socks these days.
I have a few different pairs of gloves so I can adjust to the temperature ranging from heavier insulated three-fingered gloves for the really cold days to lightweight gloves for springtime. I also have baselayers in various thicknesses to correlate to warm and cold days. Moving perspiration away from the body is very important and I use very lightweight underwear on those nice winter or spring days, but on the coldest days I use a heavier or thicker baselayer pants and a top that has a turtleneck.
Former Director of Research Kelly Davis at SIA (national trade association) says that there are three different demographic types who purchase snow sports apparel as casual wear, and her synopsis fits the cross country ski apparel market very well. The "urban woodsman" is a hip male style that touts outdoor authenticity. The "young urban male" is an athletic-influenced style, and women especially in the suburbs are buying snow sports styles for around town and even work.
Further, Davis cites that 80% of snow sports apparel spending comes out of women's wallets. They make decisions for the whole family, so it is important for manufacturers, product designers, and retailers to consider and focus on women's preferences. One of the challenges that confronts cross country skiing apparel availability is the fact that there is such a limited inventory of these products in retail outlets. There are too few sales in the stores, and retailers react by purchasing fewer items offering less selection in the following year. To break this cycle, we've got to go out and purchase more cross country skiing apparel!