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Fashion on the Slopes

by Kathryn Boughton

The history of skiing stretches back some 8,000 years into prehistory. The first known skis were found at a Chinese archaeological site and date from 6,300 years BCE. They are long, heavy slabs of wood, undoubtedly useful for getting around a snow-enshrouded landscape, but it is only within the last century that the most dramatic changes in ski technology have occurred.

Since the late 19th century, when skiing became a recreational activity in the United States, steady progress has been made in making skiing more thrilling, more comfortable, and definitely more fashionable. Both on the slopes and in the lodge, skiing has become a place to see and be seen.

In the tristate region Kenver Ltd. in Egremont MA, the most venerable ski equipment provider, has observed nearly half the history of recreational skiing. Established in 1959 by the late sportsman and skier, Ken Vermeulen, Kenver Ltd. remains a family owned sports store for urban dwellers and rural residents alike. In 2012, it was named “Best of New England” in the Ski, Snowboard and Cross-Country Shop Awards, singled out for its retail support, growth and innovation in the New England marketplace.

So who better to ask about changes both in equipment and fashion for the slopes? According to Lucinda Vermeulen, Kenver president, boots are light-years away from the heavy work boots slathered with animal fat favored by Norwegian farmers in the Midwest in the 1880s. They are even a far cry from the first fully modern boots that appeared in the 1970s—with their removable and customizable inner boot, external-tongue closure, and hinged cuff with a high-back spoiler.

“Boots are warmer and cozier, better fitting and heat moldable,” she said. “The biggest design change is that the boots can convert to a hike mode making them easier to walk in when your skis are off.”

When it comes to fashion over function, manufacturers have that covered, too. They are coordinating colors to match bindings and skis or offering complementary colors.

And when it comes to silhouettes, European manufacturers go closer to the body with their ski apparel, while Americans tend toward fuller cuts. “The American companies tend to be fuller in cut, though there are exceptions,” said Vermeulen. “Pants, generally, are getting narrower and many more suppliers are using stretch insulations and base fabrics for full range of motion and comfort. These amazing fabrics are waterproof and windproof. In skiwear, the technology is amazingly advanced from even 10 years ago and you definitely get what you pay for.”

She said there is “an enormous trend toward more versatile styles,” ones that can be used in many ways: skiing, out to dinner, shopping, and the like. “Layering has become more and more important as people realize the individual layers can be very versatile and provide flexibility for a wide range of weather conditions.”

Go to ski fashion websites, and it appears that haute couture in ski apparel is trending strongly toward smart whites, blacks and grays, but there is a strong counter movement apparent as well, in wildly psychedelic colors and patterns.

“Our best-selling colors always are greys, blacks and winter whites mixed with pops of colors, with rich tapestry colors for mature folks and bright, fun pop for younger people,” said Vermeulen.

Kenver always offers clothing chosen for quality, functionality and current fashion, she said. While ski apparel is a seasonal focus, the store also stocks casual clothing with chic touches by artisan designers. “At Kenver, we carry lots of sportswear, yoga wear, base layer. Anyone who gets cold will find what they need here,” Vermeulen said.

It’s fine to be au courant when it comes to fashion, but it is even more important to be safe and comfortable. Many accessories are available for those who play in the snow—from sports socks for skiers and bikers, crafted in spirited colors and patterns, to heated gloves, to stylish sunglasses and goggles.