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Buying Right: Alpine Extremity-Warmers

Outside Magazine, November 1994

Buying Right: Alpine Extremity-Warmers
By Bob Woodward

Check in with any eight-person ski-school class: Two students' extremities are warm and limber, those of two others are stiff with cold, and four pupils are wiggling their fingers and toes thanks to temperatures somewhere in between. Comfort thresholds are as variable as the myriad of ski manufacturers; in fact, depending on your circulation and metabolism, a skin temperature of 60 degrees can make for cold hands and feet, which means not only discomfort, but impaired technique. If your hands and feet are among the first in the class to suffer, here are some personal heaters to keep you flexible.

The simplest and least expensive warm-ups are disposable packets that you slip into your gloves or boots. The heat is generated by the oxidation of iron particles, which begins as soon as you remove the packet from its wrapper, exposing the contents to cool air. Grabber Warmers($2.25 per pair) are a good, quick fix for the hands: You just nestle the pouch in your palm until you're warm, then store it in your parka pocket--it generates heat for seven hours. Once it's going, by the way, there's no way to stop it until its time is up, so isolate it from your lip balm and chocolate stash. The same packs work great in boots if you don't have to move around much, but for skiing they're too bulky. Modified Grabber Warmers Foot Heaters ($2.50 per pair) and Heat Factory Disposable Warm Packs ($1.50 per pair) have corrected that with thinner, half-moon-shaped pads that fit inconspicuously under the toes. From Grabber Warmers, 800-423-1233, and Heat Factory, 714-472-8928.

For only a few dollars more, the Heat Solution Zap Pack ($10) is just as effective as the disposable packets--and can be reused for several seasons. Simply dropping it in boiling water or popping it in the microwave for one minute rejuvenates it. From Prism Technologies, 210-520-8051.

More sophisticated is Heat Factory's Heated Glove ($32), which has a built-in pouch on top of the wrist to hold a heat pack. It's more convenient than skiing with the pack in your hand, but it's also slower to warm you up; it takes time for the heat to spread from the wrist to the fingertips. For the feet, Heat Factory's Heated Footbed ($15) has a cavity at the toe that holds two packs securely and comfortably in place.

If you're in the majority whose hands go cold before your feet do, you might treat your upper digits to an electric warmer, such as the battery-powered Grandoe GCS Electro glove ($200). The advantage here is that you can turn the heat on and off to suit your comfort range. A single charge will keep you toasty for a full day, based on ample two- to three-minute shots of heat; then you plug your gloves in to the included battery recharger overnight. Disadvantages: At one pound, three ounces for the pair, the gloves are cumbersome for skiing. And there's the price. But if technology is your thing, these gloves work. From Grandoe, 518-725-8641.

The price (on top of your boot investment) might give you cold feet, but Winter Heat Boot Heaters ($130) will without a doubt warm your toes. From a battery attached to the rear of your boot, wires pass through a tiny hole (which a ski shop can drill for you in about a minute) to heating elements in a special insole. A control dial lets you select low, medium, and high heat settings. A few minutes on high gets your feet going during the first lift up, and then you can dial it back to medium or low for the runs. From Winter Heat, 800-346-2112.

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