Classics: The Wool Ski Sweater

Review: Hardware and Software, January 1997

Classics: The Wool Ski Sweater

By Scott Sutherland

Chemicals do make our lives better. Hexamethyldisilazane, chlorinated phenyl methyl polysiloxane, polypropylene--wonderful stuff all. But sometimes you want to snuggle up against something other than abandoned plastic soda bottles respun into a polyester fleece vest. Thus the enduring popularity of the wool sweater, nature's cozy gift to the skier.

When it first appeared, the wool ski sweater's net effect was to lend its wearer a puffy, sheeplike silhouette. "The first ski sweaters were coarse-gauge wool, worn as the primary source of insulation," says Tori Olson of Demetre, America's original ski sweater maker, which observes its 75th anniversary this year. Bulk aside, wool possessed supreme utility on the slopes, staying warm when wet and moving with the skiing body.

Chemists, of course, rendered the things almost obsolete, or at least unfashionable, when they Bunsen-burnered up a whole catalog of whizzy synthetics, piles and fleeces and the like, stuff that could be endlessly layered to provide insulation with options.

Chalk one up for patience, though. These days, the wool ski sweater is rebounding, trimmed down some and refashioned in pleasingly nostalgic styles like Burton's Racer ($80; 800-881-3138), a Starsky-and-Hutch-meets-Olaf wonder that's thin enough for layering but warm enough to hold its own against the elements. A certain backward look also informs Demetre's offerings, including its Falcon Ridge ($115; 206-623-4194), which sounds like a heady chardonnay but is in fact a lightweight wool blend topper of the classic jacquard pattern. Perhaps the most remembered of these classics, though, are the still-bulky, crew-necked sweaters that look like they were decorated by exploding a herd of caribou nearby. Such is The Trondheim by Dale of Norway ($156; 800-441-3253). Ersatz snowflakes. Angular pine boughs. Zippy little design around the collar. Put one on and Cary Grant breathes once more. Now get out on the slope and kick some chemist's ass.

Copyright 1997, Outside magazine

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