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Cost isn't everything in quality ski wear

Innovations in materials, weaves, and insulators are changing the clothes people wear to ward off winter. And this goes for nonskiers as well as skiers, because a considerable amount of ski clothing is now bought off the racks for everyday wear.

Quality skiwear looks good. And while it's expensive, it's also built to be tough and usually warm. That translates to long-lasting value. The question is which material or insulator is most worth its high cost?

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To answer that one candidly means relaying my own biased opinions. Manufacturers may tell you that the new space-age insulators are better than down because they retain their insulating capacity when wet. Being thin and very supple, such insulators also contribute to the current I-exercise-and-that's-why-I'm-sleek-and-gorgeous look. Fine. They may be better and sleeker than down, but they're not warmer than down! Take my learn-the-hard-way word for it.

Trapped air insulates. The new microfilament insulators can trap more air in less space. But it's still less space and often less trapped air. I have a pair of down ski gloves that will keep my pinkies warm on the coldest days. Last season, I also bought a pair of gloves insulated with the new Thinsulate and shielded from water with the new breathable Gore-Tex. On a relatively warm or wet day, the new gloves are more comfortable than the down ones. But if the temperature gets below the mid-20s F., there's no comparison. I'll reach for the down every time. Moreover, the new ones list at almost $50, which for my money is at least twice what they're worth.

One new synthetic insulator designed to trap air more efficiently while remaining supple and - unlike down - retaining its insulating capacity when wet is Quallofil. I haven't tried it, but it has received good reports from mountain-climbing expeditions. Interestingly, it also tends to be puffy like down.

The newest revolution in long underwear involves an expensive synthetic called polypropylene, which wicks perspiration away from the body, thus keeping it warmer. One experienced skier told me, however, that a blend of polypropylene and other materials works well and survives washing machines better than those that are almost totally polypropylene. Hand-wash the latter, she warns.

A seasonal feature

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