Style and substance collide on the ski slopes. It’s one of the few places where every piece of clothing on your body simultaneously makes a statement and serves a purpose.
Next time you’re stuck in a long lift line, look at the skiers around you. You’ll find everyone has a "look." There’s the fashion plate in fitted pants and a fur-trimmed jacket, the practical Joe in an oversized parka, the jokester in a helmet with the unicorn horn sticking out on top.
But the outfits that often stand out the most are those worn by the mountain pros — the instructors, the ski patrol, the lift operators. They seem to combine form and function in bold yet simple uniforms in primary colours that always look weather-appropriate.
This is no accident.
Many major ski resorts have deals with fashion and outdoor-gear companies to dress their pros in a way that will help with easy identification and branding while keeping their employees warm and dry all day long.
But ski instructors and their brethren aren’t simply walking billboards. They offer input and insight into what they want from their clothes. The benefit for the rest of us is that the manufacturers then take those tips and incorporate them into the skiwear they offer to the public.
Patrick Wiederkehr, the director of the St. Moritz Ski School in Switzerland, has offered technical feedback to Italian fashion house Prada since a collaboration was formed in 1999. The result? A ski suit that has shoulder reinforcements to make it easier to carry skis, a pocket for first-aid kits and adjustable hems on sleeves and pants to prevent water penetration.
Designers relish the expert advice from those who know best.
"Any time you get to do a uniform, it’s special. It’s what someone is going to earn their living in," says Steve Rogerson, senior design director of accessories for RLX Ralph Lauren, outfitter to the pros at the Aspen Skiing Company in Colorado’s Aspen and Snowmass mountains for eight years. "It’s the ultimate test and the ultimate recognition of how your design functions in the real world."
Among the biggest challenges, Rogerson says: creating clothes with a limited budget that can function under an endless list of conditions.
The Ralph Lauren fashion credentials were evident, though, when it came to cutting a slimmer silhouette. "One of the most distinctive things about the uniforms are the fit," Rogerson says, adding that he can look at ski outfits in a photo and tell whether "It’s one of ours."
prada for the pros
•The pros at the St. Moritz Ski School wear Prada’s brand-new Freestyle Collection. They wear a dark blue outfit with a single red stripe on the chest to break up the colour, as do for the instructors in Megeve, France. For those in Selva di Val Gardena, Italy, however, Prada outfits them in yellow with a silver stripe.
Miuccia Prada has final creative say for the ski gear just like anything else produced by the brand, but the emphasis is on the technical details, according to the company. The fashion elements are the small touches, such as leather around the zipper or fox-fur trim, which is being offered this year to consumers in the Classic Skiing Collection while they wait for the Freestyle prototypes to be fully tested.
The uniforms created for the Aspen and Snowmass pros are just a bit more sleek and chic than what everyone else is wearing. True, the outfits might not be as fashion-forward as those on the backs of other skiers in this very style-conscious community, but they get the job done.