No, not the Greek pastry, balaclava is another term for ski mask. I have to admit that I had never worn a balaclava before this season, because as a ski instructor I want my students to see my facial expressions. I want them to see the honesty in my face as I coax them down their first black diamond slope, convincing them that it will all be okay. Last year one of my new students, an eleven year old on vacation from Texas with his mom, wore a balaclava on all four of his lessons with me. To this day I have no idea what the young man really looked like, but I do know that he never complained about being cold. When the temperature here in Washington State drops, it can be bitter, particularly for someone used to Texas sunshine.
Due to the proximity of Puget Sound, there is always some moisture in the air, which can literally freeze your skin, and it's on those icy days that I have always wished for something other than goggles to shield my face. Wearing any sort of face-mask always seemed restrictive to me, and I was under the impression that covering my nose and mouth would inhibit my air intake. Well, I was wrong. This season, I decided to try out balaclavas and was pleasantly surprised by their cozy warmth and good ventilation. For the most part the look was quite acceptable, although I have to admit that I did find a few atrocious looking styles with protruding nose pieces that made me look like a bank-robber. I’ve decided that when buying a balaclava you should generally think function, not looks. Most importantly, make certain your balaclava features breathing holes as well as moisture-wicking materials.
The masks reviewed here not only have a decent look, all of them keep your face, neck and forehead warm and dry and won’t interfere at all with your ability to breathe. Some are primarily meant to be worn under a hat or helmet, whereas others are the kind of balaclavas you can wear solo instead of a hat or helmet.