Wearing really tight socks in cold weather seems counterintuitive. I always believed that tight garments restricted blood flow, and thus, would hamper circulation. Throughout my life, I wore expensive ski socks combining wool and synthetics, well fitting but not tight, and on the thin side. They'd get bunched up or wrinkled, but otherwise I thought they worked fine. They were ski socks. What more could I want?
But then two years ago I had invasive surgery on my left calf and groin area to remove cancerous cells and a dozen lymph nodes. Part of my recovery was wearing a compression stocking to aid circulation in general, and ward off lymphedema in particular. Doctors often prescribe compression as a preventative measure for a host of maladies, including blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, and poor circulation. It can also help blood flow after long periods of bed rest or airplane rides, as well as those who stand on their feet all day (i.e. skiers doing tram laps). Because blood has to work against gravity to flow back to the heart, compression helps by squeezing leg tissue and veins to help blood flow through your lower legs and feet and back up to recirculate.
My recovery started in the fall, and wearing pants was difficult. On my mandatory walks around the block, I'd put on shorts and, for extra warmth, my compression ski socks, which had thus far been relegated to the back of my sock drawer.
Now I consider compression socks essential to my ski kit. They keep my feet warmer, never bunch up or wrinkle in my ski boots, and even help prevent the dreaded 'cankles' after a night at the bar (sorry, doc).
The best compression socks for skiers come from Dissent Labs and CEP, both of which offer a range of compression socks for outdoor activities. And for some reason, they both collect tons of dog hair—a small price to pay for good socks. Whereas most post-surgery stockings have a compression rating above 40 (so-called "medical grade"), compression ski socks are around 20. Yes, they are not easy to get on, but you can do it, tough guy.
For skiing, I go for the Dissent Labs GFX Compression Hybrid. Constructed of a synthetic polyamide with a compression rating of 20-30, the GFX was developed by a core group of Whistler skiers in conjunction with bootfitters and athletes to be in harmony between a skier's foot and their boot. It’s important to note that Dissent does not lay the foundation of its products with compression, but rather the perfect performance fit for skiers. Compression, says company founder Josh Hall, is just a great side benefit. $54.95
On the CEP side, the Ski Ultralight gets the call. With a combination of merino wool, Spandex, and polyamide, the Ultralight has a nice, soft feel with extra cushioning in typical ski boot hotspots. The compression rating for the Ultralight is 20-30 mmHg starting at the ankle and decreases up the sock until the bottom of the calf where the compression hits 18 mmHg. $55
I've even started to wear CEP's Recovery Tights to help bounce back from the pain cave of ski fitness class. With the same compression rating as the Ski Ultralight (though much harder to get on), the effects are noticeable after just a couple of hours, where I experience far less lactic acid build up after doing squats, cleans, and jumping all kinds of random boxes and hurdles. So I can now climb the stairs after class without looking like a crippled gorilla. $150