Snow sport lovers, from novice to expert, might know the popular adage: "There's no such thing as bad weather -- only bad gear." With the imminent threat of the polar vortex -- gusts of unbearably cold air usually reserved for the Arctic -- a regular puffer and gloves might not be enough to keep you comfortably warm and cozy for a wintery day outside.
With this in mind, I found six sweet pieces of gear that fit the bill, and I brought them with me to Alberta, Canada, where the temps ranged from 30 to minus-5 degrees Fahrenheit during my visit, to put them to the test. (Another major appeal for heading northwest from my New York City base: All Canadian national parks are free to the public this year to celebrate the country's 150th anniversary. If you've ever wanted to cross the border, now's the time!)
Here's how each item helped me brave the elements and enjoy five days of cold-weather activities -- snowboarding, snowshoeing, dog sledding and ice walking -- in comfort and with a smile, minus one meltdown on the slopes (more on that below).
Venture Heat Battery Heated Base Layer -- Bottoms
The details: These fleece-lined long johns feature hair-thin microfiber heat panels woven into each knee and thigh and the lower back. An exterior controller hangs over your outer pant, so you can easily change the heat settings (low, medium, high) with the push of a button. A long-lasting, rechargeable, lithium-ion battery gets stashed in the right pocket.
How I tested them: A full day of snowboarding at Lake Louise Ski Resort and two half-days at Sunshine Village (both of which are located within Banff National Park), plus a two-hour dog sledding tour with Mad Dogs & Englishmen Expeditions over the frozen Spray Lakes in Kananaskis Country. The key moment: sitting at the top of a green run at Sunshine Village and having a five-minute meltdown in the snow.
What I liked: As a beginner snowboarder, I spent a lot more time on my butt and knees than upright. Whether I accidentally crashed or purposely plopped down to enjoy the breathtaking mountain views, these pants shielded me from the snow's frosty bite. They really came to the rescue on day one at Sunshine Village: After a frazzled start to my morning (I unintentionally missed a private lesson) and an epic dismount from the chairlift (I lost my balance and cartwheeled off to the side), staring down my first green run of the season felt too overwhelming. Naturally, I sat in the snow at the top of the hill and cried -- but just for a few minutes! The pants kept me warm, though, and soon enough, I was able to get back up and make my way down the mountain.
What I didn't: The clunky battery sat on my hip in my right pocket. Because falling was a huge part of my day on the slopes, I worried about landing on this bulky block and smashing it against my bone. I got inventive and cinched the inner pocket carrying the battery above my waistline. This way, when I fell, it dug into my stomach, which was still uncomfortable but wasn't dangerous. Also, I'm blessed with a bit more real estate in the backside. It would have been nice if my heat panel in the rear offered fuller coverage.
Are they worth it? No doubt, especially if you think you might find yourself lounging in the snow during your winter adventures. ($129.99, thewarmingstore.com)
Abom One Goggle
The details: This goggle claims to be the first snow goggle made with anti-fog technology that lasts up to six hours. A tiny LED light in the upper right corner of the lens signals that the heat is on in one of two modes: blue offers a quick defog for up to 10 minutes, and orange stays on until you turn it off. A micro USB cord is included to charge the goggle, which takes about three hours.
How I tested it: Snowboarding, snowshoeing and dog sledding.
What I liked: The Carl Zeiss lens was superb even on a bright day. Although the lens is interchangeable, I was happy with this one. It offered clear, crisp views of the majestic Canadian Rockies and protected my eyes from the sun's glare. It warmed my face nicely at the top of the slopes, especially on the frigid chairlift. It also provided an extra layer of windproof warmth while I was playing driver to seven rambunctious husky-greyhound mixes.
What I didn't: A sunny day made it difficult to see the subtle on/off light. To avoid taking the goggle off and letting cold air in, I asked my snowboarding instructor at Sunshine Village, Emma-Louise Proksch, if the light was on when the lens got cloudy. Also, my gloves were a bit clunky, so I'd either have to peel them off to press the button (an annoying step) or ask Emma-Louise to do it for me.
Finally, my narrow face and tiny nose didn't make a good shelf for this wide, heavy goggle (235 grams -- about a half-pound in weight). No matter how tight I made the band, the goggle still slid down, partially cutting off my air supply at times. To get a different perspective, I had Emma-Louise, who says she has a bigger schnoz, give it a go, and she had a different take: "I found it super comfortable on my face. Testing out these lowlight lenses makes it super easy to spot things in the snow. The anti-fog works perfectly, though the blue setting seemed to time out quickly."
Is it worth it? If it fits, yes! But if you need something smaller, consider holding out for Abom Heet (available this fall). The new, unisex, lower-profile model was created with faces such as mine in mind. It weighs 44 grams less and features an integrated environmental sensor that will automatically adjust heat as needed, conserving the battery for even longer use. ($249.99, abom.com)
ThermaCELL ProFLEX Heavy Duty Heated Insoles
The details: Slide this pair of heated insoles into most shoes and boots, and control the warmth of your tootsies from your smartphone (iOS and Android devices). Just download the app, turn on your Bluetooth, and pair it to your left and right insoles separately (you can manage each individually!). Temperature settings range from low (100 degrees Fahrenheit) to medium (110 degrees) to high (115 degrees) and can last up to 8.5 hours per charge. The insoles come with two rechargeable, lithium-ion batteries that must travel in your carry-on bag (it's illegal to check these batteries -- they can cause a fire), plus a wall charger and USB cable.
How I tested them: Actually, I couldn't. I had trouble pairing my insoles to my iPhone 6s, and 30 minutes on the phone with customer service didn't help. Luckily, my bestie and travel companion, Rupal Agarwal, also had a pair to test while snowboarding, dog sledding and snowshoeing. Her size-6 insoles were too small for my 8.5 feet, so the following review will be from her perspective.
What I liked: "This is the first time in my life that my toes haven't been cold. I used them dog sledding in very frigid conditions, and I didn't even think about my feet, so that was amazing. It's cool how you can control it from your phone. I used 'low' all day on the mountain and 'medium' for two hours when dog sledding -- and the batteries never came close to running out. Overall, I loved them."
What I didn't: "The insole itself is a little hard, so I can see why my feet hurt a bit after wearing them for several hours. They were also wide, which made squeezing them into my snowboarding boots and snow boots a challenge. I doubt I'll be able to wear them with my regular shoes or sneakers. Though setting it up was somewhat easy, it was also confusing. I wasn't sure if I was operating one or both insoles at once, especially when powering them on and off."
Are they worth it? I didn't miss them, but if you're like Rupal (suffering from perpetually cold feet), they could be helpful. ($199.99, heat.thermacell.com)
Outdoor Research Capstone Heated Gloves
The details: These look like your traditional water-and-windproof, breathable ski gloves, but there's one key difference: They feature two hidden pockets per glove (on the sleeve) to plug in one or two lithium-ion battery packs each. A single button on the top of each sleeve controls the temperature. Three heat settings are distinguished by color: green/mildly warm (lasts eight hours), orange/very warm (lasts five hours) and red/hot hot hot (lasts 2.5 hours). The mostly nylon gloves, made with Gore-Tex and spandex, offer polyester insulation, a nose-wipe on the thumb and removable leash and leather segments. They come with one wall charger that fits both battery packs, which need to travel in carry-on luggage.
How I tested them: Snowboarding as well as a two-hour snowshoeing adventure after dark in the woods.
What I liked: Although it was dipping below 10 degrees Fahrenheit during my snowshoeing, I didn't know it with these heavy-duty gloves. In fact, I worked so hard going slightly uphill at one point that I had to take them off. The leashes were key here, allowing the gloves to dangle unobtrusively from my wrists while I clutched poles for support and balance. When we stopped mid-trek to study the constellations overhead, the gloves came back on, and so did the heat (yellow). Throughout the hike, I felt comfortable and warm.
What I didn't: I don't have abnormally tiny hands, so I was surprised when the X-Small (size 6) felt roomy. Although they were tight around the wrists (I could barely get them over my wrist guards), my digits hardly filled each glove finger. The gloves also felt rigid, diminishing dexterity. Despite this fit issue, my hands never felt cold, whether the heat tech was on or off.
Are they worth it? Yes, especially if you have wide fingers that tend to get cold quickly. Maybe go up a size to accommodate wrist guards, if you wear them. ($500, outdoorresearch.com)
Seirus Heat Touch Ignite Mitt
The details: If you prefer mitts to gloves, this heated pair features sleeve pockets for two thin, lithium-ion battery packs each to keep your hands toasty in the coldest conditions. Made with premium sheepskin leather that is flexible and lightweight, these mitts include windproof, waterproof inserts that wrap warmth around each finger. With one push of the top button, you can increase the heat from green (battery lasts six hours) to yellow (lasts four hours) to red (lasts two hours). These come with a wall charger to charge both packs at once. Again, you must travel with the batteries in your carry-on only.
How I tested them: On a 2.5-hour evening stroll on the Johnston Canyon Icewalk, a series of steel catwalks that cut through a vast snow-covered gorge to a spectacularly frozen waterfall.
What I liked: I loved the pliable leather that made gripping the rails of the catwalk easy. I kept the mitts on green or "off" for most of the walk. I ventured into the yellow setting when we took a hot cocoa break at the lower falls. I found these mitts very cozy, cute and handy.
What I didn't: I missed having a leash to tie the mitts around my wrists when I took them off for a photo op or to eat a maple cookie. I found the on/off button a little stiff; it really put my thumb muscles to work. Like the Outdoor Research gloves, these were nearly impossible to get over my wrist guards, so I didn't try them on the slopes.
Are they worth it? Absolutely. Having warm hands when out in the cold is a game-changer. You can be out for longer and, therefore, have more fun. Heads up: A new version coming out this fall will offer twice the battery life. ($374.99, seirus.com)
Dale of Norway Myking Feminine Sweater
The details: Mother Nature's original answer to staying warm in the winter: wool. This super-soft, hand-knit top made with air-spun Merino wool offers an extra layer of protection without compromising fashion. This chic, stylish look seamlessly transfers from an outdoor winter wonderland to an indoor après-ski party.
How I tested it: Snowboarding, snowshoeing, dog sledding and ice walking -- all of the above!
What I liked: Instead of putting on three layers, I wore two: a synthetic T-shirt underneath the sweater and a jacket on top. I loved the pattern, which, to me, screamed, "I'm on a ski vacation!" I picked up some real heat, especially while snowshoeing, and was tempted to wear just this sweater while on the trail.
What I didn't: I wish I had gotten a medium instead of a small to rock that oversized look, but otherwise, nothing.
Is it worth it? Yes, if you want to look the part and minimize cumbersome layering. ($399, us.daleofnorway.com)