What to Wear on Your First Day Skiing

Published on 08/02/2022 · 11 min readNot sure what to wear for your first day on the slopes? Don't worry! Check out this guide for everything you'll need to know when gearing up for your first day!
Kat Smith, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Kat Smith

Photo by Nick Fink

Skiing can be daunting for many first-timers—not only because they are sliding down a slippery surface on two thin strips of wood at high speeds, but they are doing this outside in the cold and snow! For many people, winter weather means hunkering down inside and staying warm and dry, not heading outside into the elements. But for skiers, a blizzard means a powder day, and a powder day means getting out there and getting those face shots! The right ski clothing will make all the difference in comfort levels on the slopes, no matter what the weather is that day. But the wrong clothing can leave you feeling cold, wet, and miserable and ruin the ski experience, especially for someone trying the sport for the first time!

The Right Attire

Photo by Jos Smith

A first-time skier (or even a seasoned veteran!) should wear clothing and gear that will keep them warm and dry in all weather conditions. In addition to your skis, ski boots, and ski poles, your ski gear checklist should include, at a minimum:

  • A waterproof jacket
  • Ski pants or bibs
  • A baselayer top and bottom
  • A helmet or beanie
  • Goggles or sunglasses
  • A pair of socks
  • Gloves or mittens

And although optional, your checklist may also include:

  • A midweight top layer
  • A balaclava or neck gaiter

It may sound like a lot, and for someone who is brand new to skiing, spending the money on seven-plus pieces of gear before they know if they like the sport may be enough to put them off even trying it. But there are solutions! Renting equipment, borrowing gear from friends and family, buying second-hand gear, shopping the off-season sales, or even using some items you already own are great ways to put together the perfect ski ‘fit and get out on the slopes.

The gear mentioned above can be broken down into three categories: top layers, bottom layers, and accessories.

Top Layers

The first components of your perfect ski wear are the top layers. This includes a baselayer and a waterproof outer jacket, and on colder days or for those who get cold more easily, it is very common to add a midweight layer. The more layers you add, the more warm air from your body will be trapped inside, and therefore, the warmer you will be. Layering up is more effective than just throwing on a T-shirt and huge puffy coat!

Baselayer Top

A baselayer top is worn underneath your ski jacket, in direct contact with your skin. It is often fairly form-fitting and is made of comfortable, breathable materials such as synthetic or wool. In addition to being breathable, look for a baselayer top with moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and odor-resistant features, such as the Smartwool Men's Classic Thermal Merino Base Layer Crew. These features allow the top to regulate the wearer’s temperature, keeping them dry if they start to sweat and warm if the temperature drops.

Pro Tip: If you already own a compression shirt or cold-weather long-sleeve shirt meant for running or hiking, that will likely do the trick! Just avoid cotton. It may be comfortable, but it is not breathable, and you will sweat through your shirt in no time!

Ski Jacket

Photo courtesy of Kat Smith

A ski jacket will be your outermost layer, and they come in various styles and nearly every pattern and color imaginable! Choose a pattern that fits your personal style, but don’t skimp on the essential features to keep you warm, dry, and comfortable! It is important that your ski jacket is waterproof, windproof, breathable, and has appropriate insulation.

It may be tempting to wear your everyday winter puffy jacket on the slopes, and while this may keep you warm, it won’t keep you dry (and, therefore, won’t keep you warm for long!) A waterproof jacket is essential to enjoy a full day on the slopes. You never know when a storm will roll in. Without a waterproof outer layer, you’ll be soaked through (and freezing cold!) in no time. Even on a sunny bluebird day, it only takes a few tumbles, and your clothing will get wet. Nothing ruins a ski day like damp clothing!

Just like your base and midweight layers, your jacket should be breathable and have some temperature-regulating features. Pit zips allow airflow into the jacket and are a key for keeping you comfortable skiing on those warmer days.

Insulation is another key feature to take into consideration for ski jackets. While some people opt for an insulated ski jacket, such as the Flylow Men's Roswell Insulated Jacket, to ensure warmth, others opt for a shell, such as The North Face Women's Ceptor Shell Jacket. While a shell may not be as effective on a colder day, it does provide more versatility. Adding layers underneath a shell allows you to stay warm on cold days, but without the built-in insulation, you don’t have to worry about getting too hot on warmer days.

When deciding which style jacket to buy, it’s important to remember the best option for you. Where and when do you plan on doing the majority of your skiing? The Northeast tends to be very cold in February, while March in the Western United States is milder. Are you someone who tends to get cold more easily? I easily get cold, so I always opt for a ski jacket with insulation!

Midweight Top

A midweight layer such as the Kuhl Men's Interceptr 1/4 Zip is essential on colder days but is listed as optional on the checklist above because it may not be necessary on warmer days. This layer is typically a fleece or wool sweater or vest and should fit comfortably over the baselayer. Just like with the baselayer, breathability is crucial to maintain comfort as weather and your body temperature change throughout the day.

Bottom Layers

Similarly to your top layers, your bottom layers should include baselayer bottoms and outer waterproof pants. These two layers are typically enough to keep most people warm, and a midweight bottom layer is unnecessary.

Baselayer Bottom

All of the features you want in a baselayer top, you also want in a baselayer bottom. The Helly Hansen Men's LIFA Merino Midweight Baselayer Bottoms have flat seams for maximum comfort and mobility. In addition, they are made of Merino wool for insulation and breathability with moisture-wicking, odor-resistant, and quick-drying properties, making them an ideal option to wear underneath your ski pants.

Pro Tip: A pair of yoga pants or running tights you own is a great option for a baselayer bottom!

Ski Pants or Bibs

Photo by Nick Fink

Ski pants are the equivalent of a ski jacket for the bottom half of your body and, therefore, should have the same key features mentioned above. Waterproofing is very important, especially since you will be sitting on a chairlift that may have snow accumulating on it if it’s a storm day. A ventilation system such as inner thigh zips will help regulate your temperature, making you comfortable in various weather conditions. And while there are ski pant shells available, many people opt for insulated ski pants such as the Flylow Women's Daisy Insulated Pants since adding layers on the bottom is more challenging than on top.

Ski bibs, such as the Flylow Men's Snowman Bib Pants, are similar to ski pants and should have all the same features mentioned above, but they are a different style. Bibs expand above your waistline and typically have an overall or suspender-like style. The advantage of this is that it adds protection from snow and ice finding their way to your bare skin! Also, while bibs tend to be more expensive, many people find them more comfortable, they have more storage than pants, and they even provide a little extra warmth.

While ski pants and bibs are likely not something that someone who’s never skied before has just lying around, many ski shops rent them out! This is a great way for a beginner skier to get out on the slopes without wearing jeans or sweatpants, which are huge ski no-nos, as you’ll undoubtedly be drenched and freezing cold!

Accessories

Ski gear accessories, including a helmet (or beanie), goggles (or sunglasses), ski socks, and ski gloves, are equally as important to your ski get-up as the jacket and pants. Without something protecting your ears, eyes, hands, and toes from the cold air and wind resistance, you won’t last very long out on the slopes!

Helmet or Beanie

Photo by Jos Smith

While I encourage everyone to wear a helmet while skiing (safety first!), I understand that many people don’t own ski-specific helmets and may hesitate to spend the money on one before they commit to skiing year after year. A great alternative to purchasing a helmet is to rent one! A ski helmet, such as the Giro Avera MIPS Helmet, will not only keep your head protected, but the ear flaps will provide warmth similar to a beanie, and vents will allow airflow when needed.

For those first-time skiers looking to put together a functional ski outfit and spending minimal money, a beanie that covers your ears, such as the FW Hipster Tall Beanie, is essential. Even if it’s a sunny spring day, the wind resistance from your movement down the slope will put your ears at risk of feeling cold. So don’t end your ski day early because of cold ears!

Goggles or Sunglasses

Photo by Nick Fink

Thinking that you can omit the goggles or sunglasses is a rookie mistake that you will regret! Even if you are moving slowly, the wind resistance will make it challenging even to keep your eyes open if you don’t have some sort of protection over them. Struggling to open your eyes and see through the oncoming wind can leave you with red, irritated eyes for days. Not to mention, if you’re lucky enough to be skiing in snowy conditions, you don’t want the pain of snowflakes hitting your eyeballs!

Sunglasses are a great alternative to ski goggles that most people have on hand already. While ski goggles, such as the Smith Daredevil Goggles, have the advantage of keeping your face warm and providing lenses over a larger viewing area, sunglasses will provide the protection you need to get out there and give skiing a try without ruining the experience.

Ski Socks

Ski-specific socks, such as the Darn Tough Mountain Top OTC Cush Socks, have features to keep feet warm, dry, and comfortable all day long. These features include cushioning in key areas, breathability, quick-drying capabilities, and a tight, performance fit throughout the calf. For those not feeling quite ready to purchase a pair of ski-specific socks, opt for socks that come higher on your calf than your ski boot, fit well and won’t slip or rub, and are fairly lightweight. It may seem counter-intuitive, but your feet will actually stay warmer with a pair of well-fitting, lighter-weight socks than bulky, thick socks!

Pro Tip: Don’t double up your socks! Doing so decreases breathability, and you’ll end up with sweaty feet that will easily start to feel cold when idle on the chairlift.

Gloves or Mittens

The last component of your ski outfit is gloves. For the same reason that hat and goggles are important, gloves are, too. Wind resistance makes even warm days feel cold on your bare skin! And since skiers must grip their poles, there’s no place to hide their hands from the elements. Ski-specific gloves such as the Hestra All Mountain Czone Gloves are waterproof, windproof, insulated, and breathable.

Unfortunately, a pair of thin commuter gloves that you already own likely won’t do the trick to keep your hands warm, and most ski shops don’t rent gloves. But you can wear ski gloves for a variety of activities, including riding your bike in the winter and even just playing in the snow!

Balaclava or Neck Gaiter

While certainly not an essential piece of gear, a balaclava, which triples as a beanie, face mask, and neck gaiter by covering the head, ears, face, and neck, may make the skier experience better, especially on a cold and windy day! The Blackstrap The Hood Balaclava Facemask is a comfortable, versatile option that easily fits underneath a ski helmet and even provides UV protection!

A neck gaiter such as the Smartwool Merino 250 Reversible Pattern Neck Gaiter can be just as effective as a balaclava when paired with a beanie or helmet.

Pro Tip: A scarf is a perfect substitute for a balaclava or neck gaiter. While it won’t have the same breathability and other specific-ski features, it will add warmth to your neck and face. Most people have one in their closet already!

Final Thoughts

Photo by Victoria Denihan

If you are thinking about taking your first ski trip, don’t let the fear of the gear stop you! There are plenty of ways to throw together a ski outfit that will keep you warm and dry without spending a lot of money. And once you inevitably fall in love with skiing, you can start to upgrade your gear piece by piece so that it has all the necessary features and matches your personal style. Reach out to me or a Curated Ski Expert if you have questions or need assistance finding items to create the perfect ski ‘fit for you!

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Shop Apparel on Curated

Smartwool Men's Classic Thermal Merino Baselayer Crew
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