November 13, 2014

The crazed genius of my short-cuff ski glove design

Powder Magazine's only negative comment about our gloves is about the "bulky" Velcro cuff. That makes me smile. I know something they don't.

In cold temperatures, I have always had to wear mittens, due to poor circulation in my extremities (Reynaud’s Syndrome). Most human beings have some level of poor circulation in their extremities. We did not evolve to live in very cold climates or we’d have natural defenses like polar bears and seals. A secondary issue that determines which gloves/mittens I wear, is that I ski most of the time in the backcountry, where I need excellent dexterity to manipulate climbing skins, ice axes, etc…

So I set out to design a glove that could be worn in very cold temperatures, as well as warmer conditions, AND have great dexterity. In the glove world, as you all know, these goals are on the opposite ends of the design spectrum. The #1 comment from nearly every one of the ski patrollers and backcountry skiers we talked to (hundreds), is dexterity means cold hands. Choose one or the other.

How do you overcome this problem?

1. The glove has to have more insulation than the thin insulation normally used in winter work gloves, which is usually between 40-60 grams by weight of insulation. So I started with 100 grams and kept adding insulation until the density created more problems on warmer days, than it fixed on colder days. So, I stopped at 200 grams. But this comes with a requirement: you cannot put a membrane insert in the glove, which traps much more moisture from the inside than it prevents moisture penetration from the outside. The glove has to be really breathable, as in maximum per weight of insulation. A membrane insert in a 200+ gram insulated glove would make it one-dimensional, for very cold days. And the insulation has to be thinner dense insulation and not loftier insulation that kills dexterity. So I used Thinsulate with a combination of other polyester fibers to try to balance the warmth to breathability issue.

2. The cuff needed to enhance dexterity AND warmth. The only way I could solve this conundrum is a glove wrist that was snug at the base of the hand, which holds the palm in place and prevents the glove from “floating” on your hand and a short/medium length cuff with thicker, dense insulation. One of the amazing remedies, I learned during testing, is that thinness of blood vessels on the under-side of your wrist is a very common reason for circulatory-issue coldness of your fingers (Reynaud’s again). But to deal with the warmer, bulkier wrist you needed to compensate with a larger than normal Velcro closure. This unique combination allowed me to wear these short-cuff gloves both under and over my cuffs.

This combination became the first glove I have been able to wear on very cold days in my life. Originally, we had planned to ONLY sell this model of glove/mitten, but we changed our minds.

3. Once I had addressed the warmth issue in testing, I turned my attention to dexterity: the wrist, at the base of the hand had to be snug, the cuff had to grip the wrist tight with lots of padding to avoid cutting off circulation and the palm had to be the grippiest, most conforming type of leather. After testing goatskin, pigskin, and cowhide, I settled on cowhide, tanned and treated for maximum grip. But I did not stop there: I had been experimenting with various oils and waxes for a couple of ski seasons to make a better cold weather face cream to stop the terrible problem I have had with frost bite and aging spots on my face. My face “cream” was super high-end, as in it had more expensive ingredients in it than all the expensive creams and lip balms at Whole Foods and expensive department stores. Once I had perfected it, we started doing our due diligence for FDA “skin protector” compliance testing. It was so expensive and burdensome to do the testing, that we abandoned the idea. One day, after much research and testing, I realized that my cold weather face cream was the greatest leather treatment and waterproofer ever, without all the negative aspects of other such treatments on the market.

So, I ended up with this short-cuff design and leather treatment. Warm hands, great dexterity and my face looks incredible! (All the women in my family lather the stuff on daily).