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What Is A Balaclava? Ski Masks 101

A family together wearing balacalva ski masks

Sometimes, you need to protect yourself from the wind, rain, and various elements you might find skiing, and sometimes, you need to go unnoticed. For either activity, one of the most crucial pieces of attire will be a ski mask or, to be more specific, a balaclava. Not only will one help you ski in extreme conditions, but it can prevent facial and bodily damage down the line. It's particularly useful in places that exist in a deep freeze, like A-Basin, Big Sky, and Stowe. If you want to find out why covering your entire face or your entire head in cold conditions might be worthwhile, read on.

What Is a Balaclava?

Balaclavas, also called "ski masks', are a form of cloth headgear designed to expose only part of the face, usually the eyes and mouth. It usually includes a neck gaiter that protects the neck and sometimes chest area. Some balaclavas cover the entire mouth portion, with only their nostrils and their nose partially exposed. Balaclavas are commonly used in cold weather to protect against frostbite and windburn and are mostly associated with winter sports like skiing (Think Aspen X Games). That being said, balaclavas are also associated with policeman, the military, and others who want to hide their identities.

Why is it Called Balaclava?

history of balaclava, british soldier with balaclava

The name Balaclava originates from the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. British soldiers used knitted headgear that covered the whole face and left their mouths and eyes exposed to reduce wind chill. Since then, it has evolved to include modern materials, such as various synthetic blends and water-resistant neoprene.

Types of Balaclava Ski Masks

Ski masks are not just a one-size-fits-all product; it depends on what they are being used for. For instance, a skier who is looking to ski in the Dolomites or in Jackson Hole might need a full face covering, whereas a child skiing in the spring might need something that's more breathable. Turtlefur has a wide variety of Balaclavas and they tend to have great sales before the season starts.

*The facial protection items here were independently chosen by The Avant Ski Contributors. Avant Ski LLC may earn a commission on purchases through these links. The balaclava images below are courtesy of Turtlefur.

Mesh or Ventilated Balaclava

quattroClava balaclava from Turtlefur

Mesh or Ventilated Balaclavas are designed primarily for tactical or athletic use; these balaclavas have a mesh or ventilated section over the mouth. This design promotes better airflow and reduces moisture buildup, making them suitable for high-exertion activities. These are some of the most commonly used in skiing.

Partial Face Balaclava

MaxClava balaclava from Turtlefur

Partial Face Balaclavas expose the eyes and mouth while covering the rest of the face. They offer a balance between protection and ease of communication or breathing. These tend to come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Convertible-Adujstable Balaclava

Quantumm balaclava from Turtlefur

Convertible or Adjustable Balaclavas have a different design with more versatility that can be adjusted to cover or expose parts of the face as needed. For example, the mouth and nose sections can be pulled down or folded up based on what the wearer is seeking.

Why Wear a Balaclava? To Protect Your Beautiful Face, Of Course!

Wearing a balaclava ski mask helps by allowing you to ski in conditions that would otherwise make you feel extremely uncomfortable. There is nothing worse than feeling frostbitten on the mountain, regardless of how hard you are skiing. Most importantly, ski masks protect your face from looking worn out and aged and thus should be at the absolute top of everyone's packing lists.

Prevention of Sunburn

High altitudes and reflective snow can intensify the sun's UV rays, increasing the risk of sunburn. A ski mask can provide a protective barrier against these harmful rays. Remember, sunburn can be of the main catalysts for wrinkles and general aging of the face, particularly in places that get a lot of sun in Colorado, such as Keystone or Breckenridge.

Moisture Management

Ski masks made of moisture-wicking materials can help draw sweat away from the skin, keeping the face dry. Without proper moisture management, there is a risk you could catch a cold or a number of other ailments. Even in the spring, there is a risk of getting ill because of the hot/cold juxtaposition.

Injury Protection

While skiing, there's always a risk of minor accidents, such as falls or collisions with branches. A ski mask can provide an added layer of protection against scrapes and cuts. If you were to say, run into a bird with your face on the mountain, then the balaclava would protect your face from serious harm!

Staying Warm

A Balaclava can also help a skier maintain proper body temperature in cold conditions. And many kids find it helps protect from the cold and ultra-rosy cheeks. If those rosy-cheeked children need skis for the winter, then you should check out our feature on kid's skis.

Toddler and youth balaclava come in a variety of fun colors and patterns. Images courtesy of Turtlefur.

Some ski schools will require children to have balaclavas to attend. Fortunately, balaclavas come in toddler and youth sizes. They often have fun and colorful patterns, making children eager to slide them on under their helmets.

How to Wear a Balaclava?

Follow these steps, and you'll be ready to show up on the red carpet of Paris Fashion Week in your new balaclava!

  1. Open It Up: Start by holding the balaclava with both hands, ensuring that the face opening is at the top and the neck opening is at the bottom.

  2. Position Overhead: Place the balaclava over your head, aligning the top part with your forehead.

  3. Pull Down: Gently pull the balaclava down over your face and neck. Ensure it fits snugly but comfortably.

  4. Adjust the Face Opening:

    • For full-face balaclavas, ensure that the eye-opening aligns with your eyes, allowing for clear vision. The mouth and nose sections should also align appropriately, ensuring easy breathing.

    • For partial-face or convertible balaclavas, you can adjust the face opening based on your preference and the weather conditions. You can pull it down below your nose or chin or fold it up above your nose.

5. Smooth Out: Ensure there are no wrinkles or bunching, especially around the forehead and neck areas. This ensures maximum comfort, especially when wearing a helmet or other headgear.

Other Facial Protection While Skiing

Yes, a traditional black balaclava covering your entire face is nice, but it doesn't offer you all the protection you or your family needs. Besides face masks, you need to make sure you have all your bases covered; you need to also consider the following:

Ski Hemet

skiier with ski helmet

A ski helmet is something that everyone should consider, as it can save your life. Although a face mask might protect you from the cold and elements, it won't protect you from severely damaging your head. Helmets save lives; in fact, according to a study by John Hopkins, of the 600,000 skiing accidents reported annually, 20% are head injuries. Many of the worst of those injuries happen to people without ski helmets. For style, fit and function we recommend the Vantage Helmet.

Helmets are especially important for children. Smith Optics manufactures a variety of styles and models for youth. The Glide Jr. Mips is lightweight and prioritizes fit and comfort. The fit is also adjustable. Pair the Glide Jr. Mips with the Rascal Goggles for a seamless fit.

Ski Goggles

ski googles on table

Remember, your eyes need to also be protected from UV rays, and ski goggles are an absolute must. In the past, many people would opt for sunglasses during warmer slope days, but proper ski goggles offer a lot more protection. Prolonged exposure can lead to snow blindness, a painful condition caused by the sunburn of the cornea. Eye injuries can also be devastating, so make sure that protective ski goggles are worn in absolutely ALL conditions.

We recommend goggles with interchangeable lenses. This way you can switch between polarized low and bright light lenses as the conditions change. We also prefer polarized lenses, and of course, good airflow. Smith's I/O Mag and 4D Mag goggles are our top picks, though there are cheaper alternatives on Amazon.

Neck Gaiter

A cool neck gatier to be worn while skiing

A neck gaiter is a tubular piece of fabric that primarily covers the neck. You can call it a sibling of the Balaclava, as they go together perfectly. It can be pulled up over the mouth and nose or even over the head, but it doesn't have the same structured fit as a balaclava. It's mainly used for keeping warm, along with a balaclava and a close-fitting hood.

Our customized Avant Ski neck gaiters are manufactured by Blackstrap, wick away moisture, dry quickly, have a UPF 50+ rating and are only $15. You can purchase one here.

Turtlefur offers a range of styles of neck gaiters. From classic neck gaiters that are warm and comfortable to pipe dream models that contour perfectly to your neck and face to totally tubular neck gaiters for the ultimate in flexibility.


Who is ski mask girl?

The ski mask girl is a TikTok star and really has nothing to do with balaclavas or ski masks in general. Her name is Briana Armbruster. She was originally called the ski mask girl in order to hide her identity with her face covered, but she has since let her face be known.

Where to buy a balaclava?

Balaclavas are available in most REIs and ski shops. One method is to buy them online, and you can buy directly from us and our partners.

How to make a Balaclava out of a shirt?

You can make a balaclava from a long-sleeved shirt by first placing your head through the shirt's neck, ensuring the top of your head is covered and the collar rests around your neck. Position the shirt so your eyes align with the gap between the sleeve and the shirt's torso, allowing for a path of vision. If you want, you can make a small cut for a mouth opening to breathe and speak easily. Lastly, secure the balaclava by tying the shirt's sleeves behind your head, ensuring it covers the back of your head and neck.

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