Whether the priority is ultra warm, maximum dexterity or a slim and elegant look, our buying advice and technology tips will help you choose the right ski and snowboard gloves – or mittens – this season.
Whether it’s in the form of tighten-to-fit elastic pulls at the top of gloves or Velcro fastening at the wrists, cinch straps are useful both to keep warmth in and to keep snow out, especially if you fall over.
Sounds simple, but there are choices to be made in the wrist area. Gloves with short cuffs are designed to be worn under jacket sleeves, so the jacket helps seal in warmth. Some short cuffs are designed to fit closely, others have a fitted inner cuff, which makes them better at wrist protection. This is also where baselayers and jackets with thumb loops come into their own, closing any gap between jacket and glove. Another option is long, gauntlet-style gloves. They're bulkier, but can be tightened over the top of a jacket so snow is unlikely to get in even in deep powder or if you fall over.
Many gloves have a softer suede-like insert on index finger or thumb, designed to be better for wiping snow from goggles without damaging the lens. Since a runny nose is common when it's cold, these are also frequently billed as nose wipers. You may prefer to carry tissues…
Padding adds warmth of course; the best kind is also breathable so you’re less likely to overheat. It may be natural down, particularly in the warmest mittens, but most is synthetic. Some brands use their own tech while others use name brands such as PrimaLoft or Thinsulate. Insulation can make gloves more bulky and less dextrous as well as warmer; some manufacturers address this with heavier weight insulation on the back of hands, lighter weight on the palms. PrimaLoft even makes a special kind of insulation with less slidey layers to enhance grip. And the latest trick for warmth without bulk is not insulation at all, but battery power to spread electronic heat around the hands. Some manufacturers provide an extra, thin mitten that can be popped over the top of gloves to retain heat in extreme temperatures.
The inside of gloves is often soft for a cosy feel, and moisture-wicking to draw sweat away from hot hands. If gloves are thickly padded or have layers of lining that slide around inside, it can make it harder to grip poles etc, something to watch for when trying on. Some gloves have their own removable liners so you can add or subtract warmth as you fancy.
If you suffer badly from cold hands, mittens are intrinsically warmer than gloves, because your fingers’ proximity to each other means they can share heat. Some mitts feel more like gloves on the inside, with an extra lining with finger separators that boost warmth and can help dexterity if cleverly attached.
Thinner gloves without insulation are often used in the terrain park for ease of grabbing when doing tricks, hence the name pipe gloves. The "spring" name comes because while the style is appealingly low-profile, the downside is they're not very warm, so they're best worn when the weather's good, especially if you're cruising pistes rather than energetically hiking the pipe. Park orientated gloves and mitts also tend to have silcone pattern printed on palms and fingers, which also helps with sticking that grab.
Why would you need pockets in gloves? To pop in your lift pass or a handy warmer perhaps, or keep some spare change. Found on a few gloves, they're usually on the top of the hand, and often double up as a vent to allow air to circulate on hot days. Some particularly innovative mittens open all around the hand to release the fingers (and an inner glove) for extra dexterity or cooling.
Pre-curved or articulated fingers
Empty gloves rarely have straight fingers, but look as if your hand is still inside. That's because they've been cut, shaped and stitched to emulate a natural, relaxed hand position, which helps with fit and dexterity. Better fit means better blood flow, ultimately meaning warmer hands. A lot of stitching can affect ability to feel and dexterity, so there's a move to cut down on it with ever smarter patterning.
Abrasion hotspots such as fingertips, palms and thumbs, and impact hotspots like the back of hand and knuckles, benefit from an extra injection of durability, so some gloves use tough reinforcing materials in these areas.
Retaining clips and loops
A clip on each glove is useful for attaching the gloves to each other when you take them off so they don't get separated. The mysterious loop often found on one finger, particularly of more backcountry orientated gloves, is so they can be attached to you finger ends up, preventing snow getting in.
With the advent of smart phones came thousands more gloves dropped from chairlifts, neccessitating the invention of materials that mimic fingers so you can use the phone without taking gloves off. At the super techie end of the scale there are gloves with buttons that can linked up to phone controls; at the less techie end there are always wrist leashes. Though they don't prevent cold hands.
Because they have so many seams, most gloves are not made of waterproof material – seams have a tendency to leak. Instead they have a waterproof, breathable layer called an insert, which helps stop water soaking through to the hands. Some gloves use their own technology, others have waterproofing by a specialist such as Gore-Tex. The breathable part is useful so that moisture from over-heating hands can escape. In the same way as jackets (see Everything you need to know about buying a ski jacket), some gloves are more waterproof and breathable than others, with more effective (more expensive) inserts.
To stop water soaking into gloves they may have a thin water-repelling coating, often called a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment. Many are made using perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are damaging to the environment, so there has been a move to find green alternatives.
AKA idiot straps, these attach gloves to wrists so you don’t lose them if you need your bare hands to fiddle around with kit on a chairlift. If you're really sure this will never happen to you, some gloves have detachable wrist leashes.