My knees got a bit of rest this past Saturday. Instead of skiing, I got out in the backcountry and rescued a friend’s sled that wouldn’t start (can you say “boat anchor”?). You tow a snowmobile by strapping both skis, and it follows behind in nifty fashion. That is unless you’ve got much of an uphill or sidehill. Luckily this trail didn’t have much of either, and the big heavy Nytro made the perfect tow truck. Perhaps a new WildSnow income supplement?
|Sometimes, the machinery is just whacked out. But any excuse to travel in the Colorado backcountry is fine by me.|
The other component of my knee rest was using a special kind of athletic tight that provides some knee relief. Such can be useful for sporty snowmobiling when you’re working your sled through rough terrain. They work for skiing as well, like yesterday, when I was up on Aspen Mountain following Louie around in the bump fields and testing the hardpack capability of the K2 Baker Superlights (they worked amazingly well, though they’re not designed for heavy resort service).
As I understand it, the theory with athletic tights in general (other than less wind resistance and a sleek look) is that they provide external “pumping” pressure to your leg muscles, thus enhancing blood circulation which in turn eeks a smidgen more performance out of your wheels. I’ve always felt that worked to a degree, but not enough to be a big deal. But that’s not all tights can do.
A couple of companies also make tights intended to provide ergonomic action that supports and unloads your knees. As one with a bit of knee wear and tear, the idea of using such a thing has always seemed attractive.
Thus, I’ve been testing a pair of Opedix “Knee-Action” knee unloading tights for a few weeks (don’t worry about any style violations, I’ve been wearing them under loose fitting softshell pants). The idea with these things is they wrap some fairly stiff stretch fabric around your knees in such as way as to transfer some load to your hips. We’re talking just small amounts of energy transfer, but a tiny bit every step can add up to tons — as well as much in the way of knee wear prevention.
|Opedix knee support tights.|
I’m convinced the Opedix tights work (see a science take here), but with several downsides. Mainly, if you wear them correctly, Opedix tights have to be anchored at your hips. That means you may have to cinch the waist drawstring uncomfortably tight, or even combine that with suspenders. Otherwise, if you’ve got a slim cardio athlete’s body (you be the judge), you’ll find yourself constantly pulling up the Opedix tights and re-cinching the drawstring as they slip down over your small rear end (again, you decide). Fiddling like that might work during a casual day of snowmobile rescue, but won’t cut it for a difficult backcountry ski climb and descent.
The beefy fabric used in Opedix tights is quite warm. Thus, when you wear the tights under another layer your legs may get too hot. So for me that hardest part of using these things is figuring out a lighter weight outer layer. Sure, on a hot spring day one could just wear the tights, but then you’d have to endure the ribbing of your ski companions, not to mention subsequent blackmail photos. (That is unless you’re in Europe, where you could probably even ski in a Speedo and not get a second glance.)
Conclusion: Recommended for knee problem prevention or to help with existing condition. But plan on re-doing our leg wardrobe and possibly installing suspenders.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.