Mountain Smarts

There is nothing better than a spot of spring skiing; and the conditions were perfect! Turoa, Mount Ruapehu, September, New Zealand. Three metre base, new snow fall, clear blue skies- who needs a Pacific island holiday when you can sign up for this?!
So, we dusted off the skis; checked the boots; counted up the jackets, pants, gloves, goggles and helmets; and sorted the thermals. One essential item of ski clothing than cannot be overlooked is the ski sock! The wrong choice can ruin everything!

Seriously, in my world, sore feet, sock ruckles underfoot, cold and damp toes, bruised shins, all lead to a miserable skiing experience, so new ski socks were in order. I chose to go with Smartwool PhD® cushioned ski socks for my few days on the slopes, as I have recently been enjoying some Smartwool running socks, so thought I would check out how they perform in very different conditions.

Smartwool socks are made from merino wool, combined with a nylon fibre for durability, something which they call ‘Indestructawool’. The merino they use is sourced in New Zealand and is ZQ Merino certified, meaning these products support our farmers in producing sustainable and ethical wool.

This is what Smartwool have to say about their technology:

‘After 25 years, Merino wool is still our secret sauce. It helps regulate body temperature, moves moisture away from your skin at a vapor level, and resists odors. Our PhD® socks even use higher-quality, finer Merino wool in order to further increase durability and softness.’

‘Indestructawool™ Technology: A patent-pending, wool-based durability construction method for exceptional durability and comfort. This three-step method places the right materials in the right place for the right reason, utilizing a nylon-reinforced exterior while keeping the comfort of Merino next to skin. Indestructawool® technology is found in PhD™ Performance socks.’

Meet the New PhD® Ski Socks
Ski socks that fit right make for a better day on the hill, so we’ve created an entire collection with a variety of cushion options. Whether you need extra padding on your sole, shin, calf, or whole foot, you’ll find each style comes with flat toe seams for long-term comfort. Smartwool technology provides support, while Merino wool keeps your feet warm and dry so you can ski all day long.’

I think that one of the interesting things in the sock world has been the hydroscopic and hydrophobic properties of synthetic fibre socks, where they are designed to wick moisture from the foot and move it to the outside environment. Synthetic fibres do not ‘hold’ moisture, so with the wicking technology the foot stays dryer. Cotton on the other hand absorbs up to 25 times its own weight in water, due to its hydrophilic, or water attracting, properties. This absorption stiffens the fibres, increasing friction, and the sock remains wet against the skin.

So, how does merino wool work? Wool is a more complex material than I first expected. It is composed of cuticle and epicuticle cells, surrounded by a cell membrane. Wool fibres absorb moisture or water vapor from the air. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water BUT will remain dry to the touch, and the fibres, which are made of keratin, remain soft and pliable. The removal of moisture from next to the skin allows the foot to stay warm and dry. On top of this merino is well known for its ‘no smell’ properties. Because wool is so good at absorbing moisture into its structure, leaving the outside surface dry, there seems to be little chance for the bacteria that cause smelly socks, to replicate, leaving your socks smelling fresh after a hard day.

What was the verdict? How did the Smartwool Ski socks perform for me?

The fit was snug but not too tight. The socks felt supportive through the arch and calf. My feet felt snuggly and well cushioned. They did not slip, or ruckle as I put my ski boots on.
On the slopes my feet felt cosy throughout, and this is not the usual experience for me. I had no need to remove my boots throughout the day to warm up my toes, and amazingly I got no bruising on my shins, despite not having skied at all previously this season.

No stink from the socks, no distortion of their shape, and comfort from dawn to dusk.

With only a week of skiing under my belt this season I was unable to test the Smartwool socks durability, but they were so comfortable that I am going to continue to wear them in my equestrian boots, so they will get plenty of opportunity to prove their long-term durability…. I will keep you posted, watch this space!!

More on the fantastic properties of wool here.

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