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If you are new to snow sports, figuring out what to wear skiing is a process. Being prepared for the elements can make or break your experience and without the right clothes, it can affect your desire to ski altogether. Being overdressed or underdressed while skiing can be majorly uncomfortable, as I’ve learned over the years. The key is finding skiing apparel that will be warm, weatherproof, and windproof, but won’t get sweaty or stinky. You also want a full range of movement so you aren’t hindered by your ski clothing.
There’s no doubt that getting into skiing takes some investment. Quality women’s ski apparel is pricey, but once you buy the right gear, it will last you for years.
If you are new to skiing, below you’ll learn the basics of what to wear skiing (or snowboarding), along with the list of ski layers that I wear. I also suggest checking out my top beginner ski tips to help you build confidence on the slopes.
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Wanna stay dry while skiing? Then you need a tough outer layer. Your outermost layer for skiing is what keeps you dry and protected from wind and wet snow. You will want something waterproof
Which outerwear you choose depends on the type of conditions you will be skiing in the majority of the time. The most important thing is getting an outer layer that’s waterproof. Look for Gortex or something similar that will stay dry when it’s snowing or if you take a spill.
Another major factor to consider with outerwear is breathability. While the technology is getting better every year, generally the more waterproof a jacket is, the less breathable it will be. When I’m skiing, I always wear a jacket with pit zips, which are a quick way to let some air in if you are getting toasty.
Next, you have to decide if you want to wear 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 (spring skiing) or you are using your jacket for backcountry skiing, a shell or jacket with light insulation is the way to go. On the other hand, if you are mostly skiing in colder climates and spending time on the chairlift, a jacket with heavier insulation will be more appropriate.
Insulated Ski Jacket
The Patagonia Insulated Powder Town Jacket is the best winter jacket I’ve ever owned and I wear it skiing all the time. The outer layer is durable and waterproof while the inner insulation keeps you warm and dry and wicks away sweat. The hood is also helmet-compatible, which is convenient for those extra windy days and the pit zips allow for quick ventilation on warmer afternoons.
When I ski, I wear the Arcteryx Sentinel AR Pants. They are pricey (I scored mine on sale at the end of the season), but these should last me no less than a decade. They are hardshell, Gortex-lined pants with fully seamed waterproof zippers. They are super windproof, but they aren’t insulated meaning you’ll want a solid base layer underneath.
I prefer non-insulated ski pants because on a cold day, I can always double up on or wear thicker long johns, and the ski pants can be used for a variety of temperatures and activities throughout the entire winter season. During spring, they have a side zipper that allows you to vent them if you’re hot, making them a great choice for winter hiking as well.
If you want something more budget-friendly, I recommend the North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants below. These are the ski pants I used when I first started skiing before I was fully committed to the sport. They are a basic, but solid, waterproof and insulated ski pant so they’ll keep you warm and dry in moderate weather conditions, making them a great choice for a winter vacation to a ski resort.
Epic Ski Vacations
Skiing Base Layers
Base layers are intended to provide added insulation so that you stay nice and warm under your outer layer. Quality base layers will regulate your body temp by wicking away sweat while you’re skiing. They come in different weights from lightweight to heavyweight and are intended to be combined depending on conditions.
Base layers come in a variety of materials and the key is to avoid cotton since it tends to hold onto moisture and be slow to dry. We recommend synthetic materials, like polypropylene or polyester. These tend to be both lighter and cheaper than wool and many companies are also using recycled materials, making them an eco-friendly choice.
The key to being comfortable is having the option to throw on or remove one of these layers depending on the temperature outside.
Next to Skin Base Layer
For your next-to-skin layer, I wear a wool baselayer that wicks sweat. My go-to is the Icebreaker Oasis 200 Crew top. I’ve worn it more than 100 days and it’s a lot more durable that other wool baselayers I’ve tried from other brands. It’s also super soft and doesn’t leave you feeling itchy like wool can sometimes do.
Extra (Heavier) Layer
If it’s extra cold, I may add a second base layer between my next-to-skin and my mid-weight layers. Lately I’ve been loving the lululemon Ventscape Hooded Balaclava. It’s warm yet breathable, has thumbholes and a hood, and the neck can be zippered up or down to help regulate your body temperature.
This is a versatile piece that you can also use for hiking, backpacking, camping, and any other cold-weather outdoor activities that you need to layer up for. I will say it runs small. I typically wear an 8 or sometimes a 10 in tops, and I had to buy size 12 for a comfortable fit.
On colder days, I wear the two layers above plus this Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket. This jacket is super warm, especially for how lightweight it is and it provides an added layer against chilly winds. This jacket is also great for other activities like spring hiking, camping, backpacking, and traveling abroad due to how packable it is. It also comes in a hooded version.
Skiing Base Layer Bottoms
Under my ski pants, I wear the Icebreaker Oasis 200 leggings or the Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight bottoms. Either will do the trick, and if it’s really cold, I will double up by wearing both since my ski pants aren’t insulated. Icebreaker also makes a thicker baselayer – the Oasis 260 leggings.
My hands tend to get really cold when I’m skiing, so I choose mitts over gloves since mittens are warmer. These Black Diamond Mercury Mittens are the warmest I’ve ever tried, completely waterproof, and have removable insulated liner filled with Primaloft Gold Cross Core for extra warmth. They also have an index finger inside the mitten so you have a little more dexterity.
Get a helmet. All the cool kids are wearing them. In all seriousness though, nothing is going to ruin a good day on the hill (or your life) more than a head injury. The Sweet Protection Switcher Helmet uses MIPS technology which reduces rotational motion to the brain during impact, protecting it from injury. I’ve tried a number of different helmets, and this is by far my favorite. I love how lightweight it is. It almost doesn’t feel like I’m wearing it. It also 22 adjustable vents so my head doesn’t get super sweaty on warmer spring days. It’s also earbud compatible.
Another great feature is the magnetic chin clip that is easy to fasten or unfasten even with mittens on. Finally, many helmets cause my ears to ache. The ear pads on this helmet have cutouts so your ears don’t get squished, making it one of the most comfortable helmets I’ve worn.
Before you buy, measure your head circumference and refer to the size chart to ensure a snug and proper fit.
Goggles have come a long way since I was a kid. I have very vivid memories of them fogging up so badly in snowstorms that I couldn’t see a thing. Also, I always wore the same pair, no matter what the lighting conditions were. Not anymore.
A quality pair of ski goggles these days will come with two different lens that you can swap out – one for bright light and one for low light. With the Smith I/O Chromapop Mag goggles, it’s incredibly easy to swap out the lens via magnets depending on the weather and sky cover. They also have anti-fogging technology. Now if you are wearing a face mask that tightly covers your nose and mouth, you can expect some fogging no matter what goggle you choose, but for the most part, I’ve been pretty happy with these.
Tip: Never wipe the inside of your goggles, even if they get foggy or snow inside them. In that case just shake them off. Wiping the inside can ruin the anti-fog coating and will make them more prone to fogging in the future. If you need to clean them, remove the lens, run some warm water over them and carefully dab dry with a lens cloth.
Neck Gaiter or Buff / Face Mask
I’ve tried many other types of face masks for skiing, but this Polar Buff is my favorite for keeping the wind and cold air off of my face and neck. I literally wear it every day, except for during spring skiing when it’s exceptionally warm. This Polar Buff is fleece-lined so it’s super soft and cozy, and it can be pulled up to cover your face when you get chilly on the chairlift. It’s easy to breathe through (which helps prevent your goggles from fogging up too much) and most jackets will zip up over the buff.
Despite popular belief, thinner socks are better than thick socks when it comes to skiing because lightweight socks allow you to better feel your boot. Darn Tough is a brand I fell in love with on the John Muir Trail. I only had two pairs of socks for 22 days and came home blister-free and the socks had zero wear and tear. Turns out Darn Tough’s ski and snowboard socks are just as good.
They come in a variety of different colors and without unnecessary bulk. While this may be counterintuitive, for skiing, I recommend choosing a lightweight sock (vs a midweight). Thinner socks allow for a better fitting boot which will give you more control over your skis.
Even the thin, lightweight versions have padding in all the right places like in front of the shin and the heel and they also stay 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.
I hope this post about what to wear skiing helps you prepare for a great winter ahead!
Ready to try skiing or improve your ski skills? Check out these posts:
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Got any questions or your own tips about what to wear skiing? Leave a comment below!