What to Wear Skiing: A Beginner’s Guide
This winter I set a goal for myself to get back on skis. But on top of my fear of flying down the hill out of control, I was also a little bit worried about what to wear skiing. I wanted be warm, but not sweaty or stinky, and have a full range of movement. I also didn’t want to look like Ralphie’s little brother from the Christmas story 🙂 …But most importantly I knew that being prepared for the elements could make or break my experience and my desire to continue with skiing.
When I made plans to head up to the Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, I frantically went to my closet to try to dig out some things I could wear. Luckily, I already had a few things, like base layers, winter boots, and gloves. But then there were others that I knew I would need to buy, like a helmet and ski pants. There was no getting around it.
I decided that if I was going to really be serious about taking on this new hobby, I would invest in a few quality pieces that would last me several seasons. I also tried to buy most of my stuff from Backcountry or REI, who both have 100% satisfaction return policies. This would allow me to give the gear and skiing a good run, and if something didn’t work out or I absolutely hated skiing, I could easily send the stuff back.
When I started shopping, it became clear that there is so much more to the process of choosing ski clothes than just picking out things based on style. In fact, with all of the options of different materials and uses, it can be kinda confusing. With a bit of research, however, I was able to score some quality gear at decent prices. Since then I’ve tested all of my ski clothing in a variety of conditions, and I’m really happy with everything I ended up with.
If you are new to snow sports, here’s the basics about what to wear skiing, along with some recommendations from my ski kit.
Already know what to wear skiing, but need to work on your skills? Check out my top 10 beginner ski tips!
••• What to wear skiing: OUTERWEAR •••
Wanna stay dry while skiing? Then you need a tough outer layer, and which outerwear you choose depends on what type of conditions you will be skiing in a majority of the time. Most companies rate for waterproofness on a scale from 0 to 20,000+ mm. You don’t really need to know what that means, but the higher the number, the more waterproof your jacket or pants will be. Experts recommend a minimum of 5,000 mm and most skiers will be ok with something in the 10,000-20,000 range. If you are skiing backcountry or live in a super wet climate, you should shop at the higher end of this range. For reference, Gortex, which is one of the more waterproof materials out there, has a waterproof rating of 28,000 mm.
Another major factor to consider with outerwear is breathability. Generally, this is measured from 5,000 grams to 20,000+ grams. Lower numbers are less breathable, and a higher number is more breathable, meaning moisture can escape. Skiers who stick to easier groomed runs should be fine at the lower end of the range. But if you think you might have to work a bit to get to your runs (or if you plan to wear it for other activities like cross-country skiing), you should look for something in the 10,000 to 15,000 gram range. Hardcore backcountry skiers usually stick to jackets with breathability ratings in the 20,000+ range.
Next you have to decide if you want something insulated or a simple shell. A shell alone will not keep you warm and will require additional layers underneath. At the same time, shells or jackets with low insulation are going to be more versatile since you can adjust your temperature by throwing on or shedding a base layer. If you plan on skiing in relatively warm winter climates or see yourself spring skiing, a shell or jacket with light insulation is probably the way to go. On the other hand, if you will be frequently skiing in single digits, a jacket with heavier insulation may be more appropriate.
Insulated Jacket: 686 GLCR Chrystal Snowboard Jacket
As a beginner, having a versatile jacket was important to me. I wanted something that would keep me warm and dry. But it also needed it to be breathable in the case that I progressed as a skier and wanted to partake in more rigorous skiing activities. The 686 GLCR Chrystal Snowboard Jacket was exactly what I was looking for. This jacket is thinly insulated, with a waterproof rating of 15,000 mm and a breathability rating of 10,000 mm. These ratings were put to the test during a white out snow storm I encountered while cross-country skiing in Jackson. This jacket also has some special features I like, including tons of internal and external pockets, waterproof seams, a powder skirt to keep snow and wind out, wrist gators to create a seal between my gloves and my jacket, and a helmet compatible hood. I also like that it’s on the longer side. At 5’6” and 140 pounds, the medium fits perfectly and has enough room for a fleece underneath. Since I bought my jacket, the colors have been updated, and I like the new lineup even more.
Recommended Ski Pants: Apex STH Soft-Shell Pants
Most ski pants tends to be bulky and baggy. I’m not too crazy about this look, so I searched high and dry for a pair of slim fitting ski pants. I couldn’t be happier with the fit and function of The North Face STH Soft-Shell Pants. Despite being slim through the leg, the waistline doesn’t dig in, and they are stretchy enough that I can still comfortably fit a pair of long johns or fleece leggings underneath. The soft fleece lining on the inside provides an extra layer that kept me warm during a bitter cold day of snowmobiling in Wyoming’s backcountry. And if you take a tumble, there’s no need to worry. The elastic ankle cuff is slightly loose but it unless you take a crazy powder spill, it keeps snow out of your boot. The pants also aren’t gortex-style waterproof, but the waterproof finish helps water roll off the pants. Finally, there are two small zippered pockets on each leg, perfect for holding your chap stick and other essentials.
••• What to wear skiing: BASE LAYERS •••
Base layers are intended to provide added insulation and quality base layers will regulate your body temp by wicking away sweat. They come in different weights from lightweight to heavy weight and are intended to be combined depending on conditions.
Base layers are also made of a variety materials, and the key is to avoid cotton. Wool is a very popular material. In addition to being soft, it’s excellent at managing moisture, stays relatively odor free, and wool has a long lifetime. Base layers can also be made out of synthetic materials, like polypropylene or polyester. These tend to be both lighter and cheaper than wool. At the end of the day, everyone has their own personal preference. If you have a wicking workout shirt that you like, that also works as your bottom layer as long as you have warmer layers to put on top.
Recommended Skiing Base Layer: Nike Legend V Neck T-Shirt
The Nike Legend V Neck T-Shirt is my go to work out shirt and is also what I wore on the John Muir Trail. After several days of very active use, this polyester shirt still smelled ok. I’ve found they perform the same way when I’m out skiing, and I personally prefer a short sleeve shirt as my bottom layer because it helps with air flow.
Recommended Skiing Mid Layer: SmartWool Midweight Long-Sleeve Zip-T Top
This is another item I bought on my John Muir Trail backpacking trip, and I ended up wearing it all throughout the hike. If it got windy or chilly while hiking, I threw it on over my t-shirt to warm up. Then at night when the temps dipped, it kept me cozy in my sleeping bag. The SmartWool Midweight Long-Sleeve Zip-T Top is made from soft, slightly stretchy merino wool that wicks sweat and moisture, making it perfect for active snowy pursuits when you are all bundled up. I also love the neck zipper for when you need a little fresh air. What is really surprising is how durable this top is. After 22 days of non-stop wear on the JMT, dozens of day hikes, and now skiing, it still looks brand new.
Recommended Heavy Layer: Patagonia Re-Tool Full-Zip Fleece Jacket
Recommended Pant Base Layer: SmartWool Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms
After being so stoked on my Smart Wool Long Sleeve Top, I decided to splurge and invest in a pair of SmartWool Midweight Long Underwear Bottoms. Ok. Yes, these are expensive. But they will be the last pair of long underwear you have to buy for a very long time. These things do a great job of regulating temperature, whether it be a spring day or an icy 10 degrees. And the fact that they look just like leggings makes them very versatile since you can also wear them off the mountain under a pair of jeans or a skirt.
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••• What to wear skiing: ACCESSORIES •••
Recommended Ski Helmet: Smith Allure Helmet
Recommended Ski Goggles: Smith I/O Interchangeable Chromapop Goggles
Recommended Beanie: Coal Juliette Beanie ($13)
I absolutely love this super soft Juliette Beanie from Coal. It’s pretty thin, so I wouldn’t recommend it as a stand-alone, but if you are looking for an extra layer under your helmet or for a cute accessory to cover up that helmet hair at the end of the day, this is your jam. I like the charcoal color because it goes with everything, but it also comes in blue, pink, and a vibrant neon green/yellow. Fun!
Recommended Neck Gaiter: Polar Buff
A buff is always a good idea in order to keep the wind, cold air, and sun from hitting your neck and face directly. This Polar Buff is fleece lined and can be pulled up to cover your face when you get chilly on the chairlift. It’s easy to breathe through and most jackets will zip up over the buff.
Recommended Gloves: Hestra Gloves
Hestra makes some of the best gloves out there. They keep my fingers nice and warm even on really cold days. Just make sure to put some waterproof leather treatment on them before you use them. It will give you some extra protection and prolong the life on the gloves.
Recommended Sock: Darn Tough Ultra-Light Ski Sock ($25)
Many people think thicker is better when it comes to ski socks, but this isn’t always the case. Most ski boots now have decent insulation, so the real purpose of the sock is to provide proper cushioning and ventilation. Darn Tough is another brand I fell in love with on the John Muir Trail. Two pairs of socks for 22 days. I came home blister free, and the socks had zero wear and tear. Turns out Darn Tough’s ski socks are just as good. Without unnecessary bulk, they are padded in all of the right places, like in front of the shin and the heel, and the lightweight merino wool stayed glued in place throughout the day. No shifting around in my boot. I am officially Darn Tough obsessed and expect these socks to last through the next several seasons.