Why Wool?

A letter from Gus Rowley, the Farmer Who Skis

“When you’re born and brought up in the mountains, you get to learn what works and what doesn’t pretty quickly. And I guess I’ve spent most of my life in the outdoors - summer and winter. That’s not always been a choice I’ve made, sometimes it’s been a necessity – because I’m not just a guy that loves to ski, but I've also farmed merino sheep for twenty years and under the ZQ accreditation since it began.

So, maybe I’m a little biased as I’m a merino grower, but as I’m out in the hills every day, I’ve learned a bit about wool – how to ensure that happy sheep grow an awesome fleece and how that works when I’m out skiing.

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I put a lot of time in with the sheep. Like I said, we’re out in all weather, winter and summer, because the best wool comes from animals that are cared for - well fed and watered, able to wander as they please, safe from harm and stress.

We make sure they’re comfortable and sheltered and in good health, because that’s how you get really fine, good quality fleeces – the kind that are good to wear in the hills.

Having grown up with these animals around me, I suppose it was staring me in the face all along. After all, these sheep live in the same environment we love to play in. It can be hot through high summer and (hopefully) really bloody cold in winter. But when I was a grommet, no one used to talk about merino wool as a “performance” fabric. At that time, it all seemed to be about the latest man-made marvels. But we always wore wool when we went out though, whether that was on the farm, or up at Treble Cone.

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And you know what? Merino wool has some pretty cool advantages if you want to spend time in the mountains.

It’s soft. Real soft against your skin. Don’t laugh at me, there’s nothing like being comfortable. When you’re on a big touring mission, or out mustering livestock, you don’t want to be uncomfortable. I’ve seen chafing do terrible things to a bloke, but that’s another story…

Anyway, you know what else? It’s also amazing at helping you keep your cool. Or staying warm. Depending on what you’re doing that is. Riding the lift and spinning groomer or park laps at the resort, you might not work up a sweat, but merino packs a whole lot of warmth into a garment, and it’s not bulky like some insulation can be - you’ll barely notice it under your jacket.

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Yet when you’re touring, or post-holing your way out of somewhere on a powder day, it’s really breathable and you won’t feel clammy.

I guess the sheep have built that technical capability in over thousands of years. They’re up and down the mountain all the time. Apparently, the scales on the wool fibre mean it can actually absorb moisture, which is why you don’t get that damp and cold feeling after you’ve been hiking, or poling hard to make sure you get first tracks in your favourite line. The fibre is moving that moisture away from your skin. And when the sun drops below the horizon? No worries, merino’s got your back. It’s still warm even if it does get wet.

Here’s another good one. Wool is naturally odour-resistant.

Believe me, I’ve tested it more than a few times. You can quite safely take off your jacket in a hut, or the bar and celebrate a good day with your mates no matter how much of a workout you’ve had. Plus, if you design it into something good looking, like the Mons crew do, you don’t look like you’re out on the town in your thermal undies. It’s great for travel or multi-day trips for the same reasons – whether I’m out in the backcountry on skis hunting for turns, or on foot mustering stock, you can just keep on wearing it. Doing less laundry has gotta be a good thing right?

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Speaking of being out in the backcountry, when we’re working, we wear merino all the time. There’s a lot of similarities between recreational mountain use and the work we do on the farm. You can spend hours mind-surfing mountains in either case. You also need durable gear that works, and wool is surprisingly tough. Did you know you can bend a fifteen microns thick merino wool fibre thousands of times and it won’t break?

Knowing we’re making something natural that works great, looks great and feels great to wear is pretty special.

My own kids are out skiing with me these days and there’s nothing I’d like more than to see them be able to keep doing that

– especially when they take over the farm.

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