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People think about snowmaking all wrong. I’m sure you’ve done it yourself as you sit on a chairlift flying over the icy Cro-Magnon looking creatures tending to hoses and screeching snow guns spewing plumes of homemade fluff. If you say to yourself, “That looks cold,” you are incorrect. Snowmaking, when done correctly, is a very hot job. While bundled up in waterproof uniforms, snowmakers are constantly shoveling, hiking (mostly uphill), and wrestling with equipment. Even if it is 57-bajillion degrees below zero, you sweat your ass off. It’s on the snowmobile ride out, after you’re drenched, that snowmakers turn into human freeze pops. It was on such a snowmobile ride during a snowmaking shift my first winter on the job when my very first neck tube saved my face from falling off of my head.
It was my first ski season in Colorado and I was so wet-behind-the-ears new to mountain life, it’s a wonder I didn’t sprout gills. I was young, eager, and I showed up to work on time—which, in a ski town, immediately puts you above 90-percent of your colleagues—but I didn’t always have a clue or the right gear. I’d seen other snowmakers wear face coverings, but I figured my Midwestern grit would suffice in any snowy conditions. I was very, very wrong. A December graupel and ice storm pelted Telluride and me atop my snowmobile. Icy butcher’s knives turned my face into blended Silly Putty as I zipped from snow gun to snow gun. My nose, cheeks, and mouth cried in agony and I had no option but to wobble into a gear store and purchase a fleecy black tube with a TelSki logo on it. That thing, and I say without exaggeration, saved my life. And so began my love affair with this overlooked and essential piece of gear.
A good portion of skiers call neck tubes a Buff, which is an interesting phenomenon known as a proprietary eponym, or when a brand name becomes the name of a product. You’ve probably always referred to lip balm as Chapstick and I bet you’ve never said, “I need to pick up a box of tissue paper,” when you’re fresh out of booger wipers. Just like Kleenex, Vaseline, and Sharpie; when it comes to neck tubes, Buff has a hold of the market on neck tubes. Over the years, my collection of Buffs is only rivaled by that of the endless supply of promotional koozies I find all over my house and gear room. But there are other great neck tube brands that have a special place in my heart, too.
Skida makes neckwear with the coziness of your grandma’s afghan and the ruggedness of a well-worn pair of greasy Carhartt’s in prints that just make you feel good. Plus, they’re so stylish that I often find myself daydreaming about pulling the face-covering down past my shoulders, all the way to my quads so as to wear it like a cocktail hour tube dress. Maybe you’re thinking that my 6-feet 5-inches and 230-pounds of jiggliness squeezed into a neck tube wouldn’t look appealing. Well, maybe you just don’t dream big enough. My personal favorite Skida is their pink strawberry fields print because, well, it’s pink (my favorite color) and The Beatles, duh.
Neck tubes are a protective layer of personal expression, a face billboard for your goofiness. My pal Hank loves hot dogs at a near-concerning level. His devotion to tasty tubed carcinogens is so extreme that a frankfurter neckie adorns his -face every day he’s on the hill. (I’ve even seen him ski in a hot dog costume while wearing his hot dog neck tube while eating a hot dog. Truly legendary.) Similarly, my love for Magnum P.I. is so over-the-top I had a one-of-a-kind, only-one-in-existence custom Phunkshun neck tube made with his beautiful mug on it. Now every day I ski, Tom Selleck wraps his sexy face around my mustache, as if I’m kissing him from the inside. If you think that’s weird, you’re not wrong.
The point is, neck tubes aren’t just cylindrical pieces of fabric. They’re versatile. Protect yourself from wind and sunburn. Use them as a headband or a hat. String one between two kitchen cabinet doors and hang fruit in it, a literal banana hammock…wait…never mind. Tuck it under your goggles and ski incognito like Candide Thovex. Who the hell knows what that guy even looks like in real life? Eric Pollard rocks the same no-skin-showing neck tube look, until he pulls it down to reveal his frustratingly handsome good looks. Blamo! Neck tube wrapping paper. Get it? His face is the present, and so is yours, you minx.
Since the pandemic began, we’ve needed neck tubes more than ever and for a more important use than they were probably ever intended. The 2020 ski season could have easily been the shortest winter of our lives. I was praying to the ski gods that resorts wouldn’t be shuttered before we really even had a chance to ski, sending us home to watch hours of bread baking YouTube tutorials. I was so anxious that bulging lift lines would be filled with maskless skiers. But there you all were; tubed up, masked up, faces covered. And we skied plenty in 2020. We skied our asses off.
Hopefully, just like Vail Resorts is planning, masks will soon be like Bugle Boy parachute khaki pants, a “cool” thing from the past we never need to revisit. But even if masks follow the low-rise jean trend and somehow, defying all logic, they resurface, we skiers will deal and look to the most adaptable piece of gear we have. No, not your Voile strap (though, that is a very close second); your collection of functional and fashionable neck tubes.
Windy day? Neck tube. Sunny day? Neck tube. Drab outerwear from 1997 got you down? Neck tube. No coffee filter? Neck tube. Oh no, your neck tube is crusty and frozen? Boom, back up neck tube. Is that your ex-lover in the lift line looking to start a chit-chat? Pull up your tube and ski away.
Your neck tube always has your back, er, your face. They will save your ass when you’re a greenhorn snowmaker, they’ll save your ski season during a pandemic, and they’ll be the stylish, comfortable, funny, ridiculous, most versatile piece of gear for every ski day you can think of.
Let’s get tubular, pals!