Gearing up for the mountain means ensuring you have your snowboard tuned, bindings working, and all your clothes packed in a bag or on your person. You’ll need boots, a jacket, snow pants, a helmet and/or hat, and of course, a pair of mittens. But why such a focus on these socks for your hands?
Snowboarders wear mittens for a multitude of reasons. They keep your hands warmer in the cold, allow for the addition of hand warmers more easily than gloves, and they have more surface area for patterns or designs. There are few times that individual finger dexterity is necessary when snowboarding.
Snowboarders opt for mittens because they’re the best choice for snowboarding.
Mittens are great in many ways, and a few of these ways make them stand out as necessary.
Mittens or gloves are often considered essential on the mountain.
For starters, having wet hands from the snow is not the most comfortable of feelings, and touching the cold metal of our bindings, board, or anything around can be unpleasant barehanded.
Snowboarding conditions are not always the friendliest in terms of temperature either.
While there are warm days on occasion, lack of protection from these elements on the coldest can start as discomfort but quickly turn dangerous in the form of different levels of frostbite.
Frostbite occurs mainly due to exposed skin in cold weather but can result even when covered in extreme cold. Frostbite develops when your skin, as well as the underlying tissue, begins to freeze.
Initial stages leave no permanent damage but are uncomfortable and warnings for worse things to come. As the skin and tissues freeze, numbness and tingling quickly turn to swelling and discoloration.
In cases of frostbite past the initial phases, tissue can fully freeze and die, and the skin turns black and hardens as it progresses.
While colder temperatures can accelerate this process, it can happen with temperatures as high as 31 degrees Fahrenheit (-0.5 degrees Celsius).
In severe cases, dead tissue or entire appendages may need to be removed. Therefore, we must prevent losing body heat through our hands by keeping them wrapped.
It is helpful to put the additional focus on our hands’ warmth since our bodies do not. Our vital organs are our body’s main focus, so the body sends extra blood to these organs in cold weather.
This blood flow needs to come from somewhere, and our hands and feet take the first hit since we can survive without them. This causes our hands to get colder faster, creating a need for super warm mittens.
The main reason mittens, as well as gloves, are so popular on the mountain is due to their protective nature from frostbite.
Anytime it is cold enough for snow to fall rather than melt, it is cold enough for frostbite to occur.
Since we’re already at risk for frostbite in the winter, and our hands naturally lose blood flow in the cold, it only makes sense to give them the warmest option.
It is safer and more comfortable to keep your hands as warm as possible while snowboarding conditions turn cold.
Mittens are warmer than gloves, and while gloves provide the insulation of the outer layer, there is more surface area exposed to the cold.
Keeping fingers together allows only the outside of the hand to experience any effects of cold through the material and also allows the fingers to heat each other.
Additionally, hand warmers fit better in a mitten than a glove.
Hand warmers are chemical pouches that activate with interaction with air, and this reaction causes them to heat up, but their packaging is designed to be placed in a mitten or glove.
Hand warmers in a glove only warm your palm, while mittens heat every part of your hand but your thumb.
Mittens do prevent individual finger use while worn. But how often are snowboarders needing a single finger or space between multiple? Most elements of snowboarding require minimum hand use at all.
A few times where you’ll need your hands are:
You need to use your hands to free your foot when strapping in at the top of the mountain or unstrapping at the bottom.
To do this with binding straps, a clip must be moved to hold the binding to your boots.
You do not need a single finger to do this and operating the clips with multiple fingers at once helps with some of the more stubborn straps.
The ratchet straps that operate the bindings are large enough to grab without needing much finger dexterity. Clearing the snow off your binding that may have built up can also be done with all fingers.
Even in gloves, you’d want to swing your hand back and forth to brush the surface clear, and using a single finger is unnecessary.
For the crevices, turn your hand to the side and use the tips or edges of your mitten. You’ll be able to get all snow removed before strapping in for your run.
Grabs can be done with anything or nothing worn on your hands.
That said, mittens showcase the grab more than gloves or a bare hand. In a glove or bare hand, you can see the individual fingers and if they’re locked in.
A mitten has two parts, one on top and one on the bottom of the board. If they’re in place, your grab looks good.
I personally like the oversized mittens for this, as large mittens announce the grabs more and highlight where and how long you’re holding it.
You’ll have some spontaneity riding with friends. You may need to point in a particular direction by picking a new trail halfway down or identifying a spot to jump into the trees.
Pointing with your whole hand might feel a bit weird at first, but the point gets across all the same. Pointing with the whole hand can be fun; no need to separate the fingers.
Additionally, giving a thumbs up or thumbs down works great in mittens. You don’t necessarily need to close your fingers; just extend your thumb up.
So talking with your hands to give an “okay,” “not okay,” or any direction isn’t impacted in the slightest.
If you’re riding a chairlift, there may be a safety bar you’d like to adjust. Moving it down as you get on or up when you get off does require some hand usage.
If you’re using only a finger or two to move the bar, you’re making it harder for yourself. Sure all fingers are not needed, but it is far from hindering the task.
So while we can find times we use our hands while riding, the lack of free fingers is more beneficial than problematic.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is using something in your pocket, like a phone or wallet, but you shouldn’t be doing that while riding.
Stop snowboarding, take your mittens off, and then take the phone, key, etc., out of your pocket. So they’re warmer, easier, or have no impact on your hand use, but how do they look?
If your gripe with mittens is that they haven’t been your style, it may be time to explore the options available.
While gloves have more surface area exposed to the outside, mittens have a larger continuous area on the top of your hand.
This gives more freedom to designers when putting together a pattern or centering a logo giving the mitten a clean look.
With gloves, this can only go atop the hand, or the pattern would have gaps with the material between fingers.
Some mittens even offer these patterns in the inner fingers, providing bonus surface area for you to show some flair.
Explore options in stores and online to see how versatile these patterns and colors can get, to allow you to bring your own flair to the mountain.
As mentioned, mittens look great in the park with grabs. They’ll add some style to hand plants or when putting your hands down on deep carves.
Mittens full of color and style are a great way to call attention to your hands when you’re using them to do something stylish with your riding.
A pop of color or pattern goes a long way against the white background of snow.
Since mittens are warmer, you could be concerned with mittens being too warm on a hot day. This is not an issue unique to mittens, as warmer gloves can be too warm for a spring day.
For different temperatures, many riders will have multiple pairs of mittens (or gloves).
Spring mittens are made lighter, with fewer layers to trap the heat, to give you protection from the elements without causing sweat.
It is the perfect hybrid hand cover for someone who loves to throw up the “okay” hand sign on the mountain.
If you’re new to mittens and not entirely comfortable with a full transition to the best hand option available, consider the mitten/glove hybrid as a middle ground.
Many brands have released a three-finger mitten, freeing the index finger like the thumb but keeping the middle, ring, and pinkie together.
You’ll have some benefits with only one finger being left out, but still, have your dexterity readily accessible with your free index finger.
In my opinion, gloves are rarely better for snowboarding itself. However, gloves can be useful if you need to do something with your hands.
Using a phone requires you to take your mittens off. You’d often need to take your gloves off if you have a touch screen, but some gloves are now being made to work with touch screens.
Mittens do fall short in this, as I have yet to see mittens compatible with a touch screen.
If you’re documenting your riding, a camera is certainly easier to use with gloves over mittens.
Clicking the button alone would require an index finger, so snapping some shots of your view or a video of a friend riding would require mittens to be removed or the use of gloves on the hill.
Need to adjust your clothes, like unzipping your coat or vents? It may be easier with gloves.
There is a smaller surface area on a zipper than on the clips for your bindings, and this can be more easily achieved with one finger than four. Gloves beat mittens for spontaneous gear changes.
If you’re wearing the wrong size gear, larger mittens will not stay on your hands as well as larger gloves.
Taking a fall and landing on your hands can cause them to roll off much easier than gloves that are held in multiple areas.
Additionally, getting snow into gloves would only impact a finger or two, or even just the palm of your hand, rather than the whole hand and all fingers being trapped with cold and wet that penetrated it.
The final case to be made for gloves is ski poles. It is easier to hold a ski pole in gloves rather than mittens.
I’d argue this is not the best case to be made when looking at snowboarding in particular, as many snowboarders do not want to look like a skier.
If you do both and only want to purchase one set, gloves may be a better choice for you.
If you plan to do something other than snowboarding and don’t want to take off your mittens, tasks can be easier to perform with gloves.
Anything similar to what is mentioned above that requires dexterity of the fingers individually is a great use case for gloves. I wear glove liners under my mittens on the coldest days.
I’m already in the habit of taking off my mittens to use my hands when using something, but a glove liner that works with my phone under those mittens continues to protect my hands when I need that dexterity.
Gives one-finger separation and the benefits of a mitten rolled into one. If you’ve ever found hand warmers too hot on your skin, glove liners also give great separation from the chemical reaction.
While I stand by mittens as the better option for snowboarding, mittens and gloves have a purpose on the hill driven mainly by safety. The pros and cons of each do not outweigh one’s own preferences.
Whatever you decide, be sure to wrap up more on cold days and protect yourself from the elements. If you choose mittens as I do, have fun with them and get something stylish you enjoy putting on.
If gloves do end up as your go-to, point with your whole hand, even though it is unnecessary. Why not? Have fun with it.