Women's gear, up first
Darcy Conover couldn't find the ultimate base layer, so she ended up designing one herself. I've been testing her women's piece for the past few months and can verify that it is indeed a stroke of genius.
Darcy Conover envied her husband, Adam Moszynski, every time they skied together, but not for his skills. Both are professional ski mountaineers, and Conover has summited prominent objectives around the Western Hemisphere, including 92 of Colorado’s Centennial Peaks, the 100 highest peaks in the state. What Moszynski had was a one-piece base layer that outperformed anything in Conover’s closet. It taunted her: why couldn’t she get something awesome like that?
As a pro sponsored by such brands as Kästle and Marmot, Conover tests and wears all manner of top-shelf gear, but she still couldn’t find a base layer she truly loved. “The stuff that functioned well was so unflattering,” Conover says. And the good-looking pieces from companies like Lululemon and Athleta didn’t deliver the performance she needs for high-stakes climbing and skiing. So, in 2012, Conover and Moszynski founded their own company, Corbeaux, and began producing U.S.-made base layers with function and flair. Conover’s pet project: a women’s onesie.
It’s not the first women’s onesie. Patagonia makes one, too, but with heavyweight Capilene that Conover deemed too warm for most pursuits. Others, like the Airblaster Ninja Suit, had unflattering cuts. And none of them hit all the points on Conover’s wish list: three-quarter-length tights to prevent bunching under her boots, easy bathroom access, warm yet breathable fabric suited to high-output activities in the cold, and a hood cut big enough to accommodate a ponytail.
All these elements had to come together into something that genuinely looked good. Conover sometimes felt like she was chasing a unicorn. “We spent a lot of time obsessing over where the seams should go on the legs,” she says. “It’s amazing how if you move a seam just one inch on the butt, that change can make your butt look way bigger.”
She recruited a team of real-life models with a range of body types to stand for hours while Conover and her Minnesota-based designer drew and redrew leg seams until they landed on tailoring that flattered pretty much everyone. Adding ruching to the chest seams also proved to be a universal winner: the gathered fabric helped accommodate a range of bust sizes.
Corbeaux’s first run of the Shandoka 1Z had everything that Conover wanted, but she fretted about the zippered bathroom access. The opening across the back was functional, but the zipper pull was tricky to operate with cold fingers or gloves, and Conover worried that any zipper would eventually fail. It also made the waistband more rigid than she wanted.
She spent the next two years reengineering the drop seat, eventually replacing the zipper with elastic that’s snug enough to keep deep snow out of your pants. “We didn’t want a dumpy, saggy butt,” says Conover. She exchanged the bamboo-blend fabric, which didn’t stretch enough to accommodate various body shapes, for a recycled polyester-spandex blend. Conover also axed the original version’s built-in mitts (too bulky when not in use) and transformed the front zipper into a jauntily angled zip.
The current version—the Shandoka 1Z 2.0—is Conover’s vision, perfected. “I’m psyched on it, really psyched, because we nailed the functionality, and I think they look adorable.” Her fellow pros agree: Lynsey Dyer, McKenna Peterson, and Amie Engerbretson have all adopted the 1Z. So have women in Aspen, Colorado, where Conover lives and operates Corbeaux. “Around here, it’s become the big après outfit. Girls are ditching the jacket and pants and wearing just the 1Z because they’re that cute.”
The 1Z is surprisingly warm given the thinness of the fabric. It keeps snow out of my pants on crazy-deep days. The hood fits comfortably under my ski helmet. The drop seat keeps most of my skin covered when I pop a squat in the backcountry. And the 1Z streamlines what I pack on a hut trip: it’s skiwear and loungewear. After all, core skiers and boarders don’t want their daily uniform to look like a potato sack. “If we’re wearing this stuff all day, every day, why can’t we look cute in it?” says Conover.