The iconic old-school fuzzy layer is making a comeback
You gotta admire old-school skiers with their 210s and feet-stuck-together style. But we’re envious of one big thing: even after decades of fashion and fabric innovation, they still rock more style than modern-day skiers.
That’s in part because of their carefree disregard for skin, eye, and head protection—no bus-window goggles hid Gretchen Fraser’s cover-girl beauty—but it mostly has to do with the outerwear: Fraser wore a ski sweater tucked into her trousers and tightly belted at the waist. She looked fantastic. I have yet to find a mid-layer that marries performance and panache as beautifully as knitted wool.
You don’t have to go with the full-on nostalgia of cables and embroidery. Consider Dale of Norway’s Viking Basic Sweater ($239). This Henley feels both traditional and contemporary with panels of geometric Viking patterns that look edgier than folksy Fair Isle flowers. The superfine, 16.5-micron merino (most base layers are 18 to 20 microns) is tightly spun to keep the fabric from pilling. So while this wool is tough enough for skiing, its satiny softness makes it cozier than my synthetic fleeces.
My favorite rendition of the old-school ski sweater is the new Cotopaxi Libre ($99 via Kickstarter). Made from llama wool, it’s not as soft, initially, as Cotopaxi claims. I actually found it to be fairly scratchy during the first few weeks of wear, and I’m not typically wool-averse. But like Icelandic lopi (a durable workhorse of a fiber), the llama yarns eventually lost their prickles. Now I find the sweater to be as soft as merino.
The back is an open, meshy knit that prevents me from steaming up while I’m skinning in the backcountry. The tough fabric doesn’t get shredded by a backpack, nor does it stink: I wore it almost daily for three months before I finally washed it, and even then it wasn’t truly foul, just stale.
I wear my Libre untucked, so while I still can’t beat Fraser when it comes to style points, I like to think I’m nipping at her heels.