Merino wool base layers seem to be a must-have these days and when you consider their advantages, it’s easy to see why: they’re fast-drying, breathable, odor-neutral (no sweat stink at apres-ski!), and warm even when wet. These are just a few of the reasons why this fabric is so in demand—and why such little pieces of it can cost so much.
With a possible origin in northern Africa, Merino sheep are a fine-wooled race whose wool is half as thick as that of normal sheep. But this Merino story begins with a sewing machine all the way up in Norway—a place where sweat-soaked base layers and damp shirts can ruin the most beautiful outdoor moments. That’s why two motivated Norwegians dusted off their old sewing machines and and began stitching together their own Merino base layers under the name Northern Playground.
The zipwear technology is what makes the Northern Playground designs special. A simple zipper is often all you need to get outdoor enthusiasts excited. Being able to remove your underwear without having to take off your ski boots and pants as well, at first seemed a “nice” idea that’s maybe only of interest to hardcore ski tourers. That’s what I thought, anyway, until I was definitively shown otherwise.
Anyone who’s regularly in the mountains is used to encountering rapidly changing conditions. In other words, you don’t need to be touring 2000 meters vertical to run into the problem of being a bit too warm for the conditions and needing to remove a few layers. At Suzuki Nine Knights a few weeks ago I learned that zipwear isn’t just for ski tourers. I had the opportunity to head up the mountain early, help out with the event organization, and take a few photos on the side. That doesn’t sound so bad at first — but when the sun comes out and starts to roast you like a baked hen, all you want to do it get out of your long underwear. It was an enlightening moment when I realized how easy this is with the layers from Northern Playground. One reach into your ski pants is all you need to open the zippers on both legs. A few seconds later your Merino wool underwear is in your hands, not on your legs, ready to pack away in your backpack. It’s truly astounding how lightweight yet functional these layers are.
Once I got rid of my base layers, I could move comfortably without the feeling that I’d wet my ski pants. It’s too bad everyone else on hill who looked a little too warm—shapers, organizers, skiers—couldn’t experience the same freedom. Snug and warm for the chilly sunrise session, then breezy and unencumbered sans long underwear for the afternoon reshape—with Northern Playground this is possible, and you don’t even have to do the long-underwear dance (pants off, boots off) to make it happen.
Now I understand why our Norwegian friends are so excited about Northern Playgrounds zipwear products — they’ve even got a sense of humor, too!