I wouldn’t fault you for believing that ski pants are for skiing and are therefore worn only by skiers and other cold weather outdoor enthusiasts. But you’d be dead wrong. It turns out, they’re also a staple for the arctic winter. Don’t feel bad; I didn’t know that myself until I was coming here, and even then I didn’t fully understand.
When I was still in Jamaica counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds to my departure for Yakutsk, my employer sent me a list of necessities for the Yakutian winter and advised me that cheap knockoffs of the necessary items could be easily gotten here at the local Chinese market, or I could purchase the real deal items for full price in regular stores. By the time I received that email in July, I had already purchased what I felt were the necessities online. I had a solid coat from a reputable brand and I picked up fashionable ski pants, wool mix socks, heavy winter gloves, and thermal tights and tops on Amazon. My friend Canada gifted me some scarves. My intention was to get boots here in Yakutsk because I figured that nothing I picked up in the west would be appropriate for the extreme temperatures here.
I should have heeded my boot warning for most of the other stuff I bought. No worries, the coat is excellent, but everything I bought on Amazon was a bust, except the socks and the gloves.
I busted out my cute ski pants on the same day we went ice skating and five minutes’ walk down the road to the ice rink I knew I couldn’t wear those pants through the winter. The same went for my thermal tights and tops. They couldn’t even stand up to autumn in Yakutsk, much less winter. With that note of misgiving about my winter gear in my mind, I asked one of my work colleagues to stop by my place and look over my stuff to let me know what would withstand the winter and what wouldn’t. She OK’d my coat and gloves but nothing else.
Not knowing how long I’ll be here – for one winter or more – I’ve decided to not invest a tonne of money in long-lasting stuff. So off to the Chinese market I went, where they sell great items that will last through at least one winter, at excellent prices. That’s where I picked up a new cap, autumn-into-early-winter gloves (I haven’t busted out my Amazon deep winter gloves yet), the thickest pair of tights I’ve ever seen in my life, and my infamous oven-warm ski pants. Since then, I’ve been toasty warm – sometimes boiling hot – when I go outside.
As I mentioned several weeks ago, I was gifted two pairs of boots when I arrived here. The -30⁰C boots have been performing admirably. However, the -50⁰C boots are somewhat uncomfortable to walk around in because they’re a little bit too big. For three weeks I’ve been hunting a new pair of boots in the shops around town but my feet are gigantic by Asian standards (I’m in the Asian part of Russia) so nobody has my size. I could have picked up a pair in the men’s section of a nearby store but the men’s boots are so plain and nondescript that I just couldn’t bring myself to spend my hard-earned roubles on them. So yesterday I hared off to the Chinese market again and thankfully found a pair of -50⁰C boots. They’re Chinese unti, as opposed to traditional unti, which are made of reindeer fur. The bottoms are felt or something and don’t slip around on snow and ice.
So how do I dress to go out, now that the temperature is below -30⁰C every day and I hear that winter has officially arrived (I’ll talk about that next time)? How many layers do I wear? How long does it take me to get it all on and get out of the house? All very good questions.
I wear the same number of layers as I did in autumn, which is to say, two or three, including my coat, and depending on my outfit for the day. For example, I’ll wear a short, lightweight sleeveless dress over tights with a light sweater over the dress, and one pair of socks. It can get hot inside the buildings here so dressing too heavily under my coat is not a good idea.
Once I have my regular clothes on, I put on my double layer knit cap, wrap my scarf (thanks, Canada! That super long pastel aqua scarf is perfect!) around the lower portion of my face and my neck three times, step into my ski pants with the outer leg zippers unzipped (they’re so my boots can go on easier), pop my phone into my pants pocket and my earphones into my ears (my phone stays nice and warm in my oven-like pants pocket so less chance of the battery draining from the cold), don my coat and zip myself up, with my earphones keeping warm inside my coat. All of that takes me no more than five minutes because I’ve become pretty adept at it.
Then I grab my bag, keys and gloves, shove my feet into my boots and zip my pants legs down, then pop out my front door. On my way down the stairs or in the elevator, I put on my gloves because even for a short walk, your hands get cold very fast in below -30⁰C temperatures, and flip up my hood because, again, it’s below -30⁰C temperatures and I need to keep my head warm and these bionic coat hoods do a brilliant job of that. Once I get to school, I take it all off again – gloves, hat, coat, boots, ski pants and scarf.
At this point, let me pause to say that this is the first time I’ve lived some place where it’s normal for people, men and women alike, to take our pants off in front of each other because we’re fully dressed under there. Remember my comment a couple of months ago about getting my skirts worn through autumn because I wouldn’t be able to wear them once ski pants time came around? I was one hundred percent wrong. We just tuck our skirts into the pants or wear our pants under our skirts (some people bring their skirts separately and change but most just wear them) and bounce.
There are also times when I feel as if I’m living in a 1930s movie because of all the fur coats. Once the temperature dropped below -20⁰C, the fur coats started coming out. It would perhaps be unheard of in the west, what with animal cruelty groups and all, and I mean no offence to the animals that died so that these coats could be produced, but most of them are gorgeous. It seems to me that most Yakutsk women have a fur coat and even little girls have fur coats here. I have a six year old girl in one of my classes who wear a fabulous white fur coat. And full disclosure, if I thought I had the swag to pull off a fur coat, I’d totally get one. They’re warm, beautiful and sophisticated. They also cost a nice chunk of change so besides the swag-factor, I don’t see that in my immediate future.
Anyway, ski pants and fur coats aside, now that I have my -50⁰ boots, I think I’m pretty much set for winter. And not a moment too soon.