What to Wear Skiing & Snowboarding in Different Regions

Ski Expert Luke Hinz makes sure you are prepared for the weather on the slopes, no matter what part of the country you're skiing in this season!

A skier turning down a snowy trail.

Photo by Karsten Winegear

Getting dressed to go skiing can be a tricky thing—should I wear normal socks or invest in thin ski or snowboard socks? Should I wear a midlayer or a bulkier outer layer? Should I wear clothing that prioritizes protection against water and wind, or clothing that puts an emphasis on warmth? These are tough questions, and they vary day by day, depending on conditions. Fellow Ski Expert Etienne A. wrote a great article about the fundamentals of what to wear on any given day at the ski resort, and you can check it out here. But in this article, we are going to go a bit deeper into clothing by exploring what you should be wearing based on where you are.

Now you might think, What a silly question. I’m on a mountain! And at first glance, that seems quite reasonable. No matter where you ski, you are generally confronting the same conditions: precipitation, wind, and inclement weather of some degree. But you’d be surprised by how much these simple factors can change depending on where you are geographically. A ski resort in Northern California experiences weather and snow much different from a ski resort in the Midwest, just as a Midwest resort experiences weather that is different from a ski resort on the East Coast. And choosing the right clothing for where you are and what weather you face can make all the difference between having a good day or having a terrible day on the slopes. So below, we break down the different regions here in the United States and look at the appropriate apparel for each.

Pacific Northwest

Two skiers standing at the top of a snowy run.

Mount Baker, Mount Bachelor, Mount Hood, and Whistler Blackcomb—all of these resorts are at the mercy of a maritime climate, due to their close proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Because the jet stream runs from West to East, these resorts are the first to see winter storms coming off the ocean, and it shows in their annual snow totals. Many of these resorts record mind-blowing snowfall amounts through the winter. In fact, Mount Baker holds the snowfall record, seeing over 95 feet of snowfall between 1998 and 1999.

And not only do these resorts see lots of snow, they see a very distinct type of snow. The storms reaching the Northwest are plump with moisture from the ocean, and they tend to be warm as well. As such, the snow they drop tends to be very wet and very heavy; and sometimes, it even turns to rain! This type of wet, maritime weather calls for the correct clothing—specifically, fully waterproof outerwear to protect you from precipitation. Many brands have developed their own waterproofing membranes, but GORE-TEX still holds the crown as the most trusted. With such wet, heavy snow, it’s best to invest in jackets and pants that have the highest rating, with either a two-and-a-half or even a three-layer shell for both. These types of garments can definitely run a much higher tab, but in such a climate, they are worth it. Anything less, and the snow will quickly leave you drenched and miserable.

Underneath your shell, always try to layer with a wool or synthetic base in order to wick away sweat before it freezes and makes you cold. But even when the snow is falling, make sure you have plenty of vents in your gear, since you can get very hot under hardshell gear!

Sierras / California

A skier turning down a snowy trail.

Wet conditions call for waterproof outerwear! Photo by Robson Hatsuka Morgan

The Sierras tend to get snow similar to the Pacific Northwest—wet and heavy. In fact, the snow there is so predictable in its consistency that it even has its own nickname: “Sierra Cement”! Imagine the best snow for making a snowman, and that’s essentially it. Because of this, it is just as important to have a highly waterproof shell for storm days and windy days and to layer appropriately underneath. However, the major difference between the Sierras and the Pacific Northwest is the sun. The Sierras get a lot of sun between storms, and it can be intense. On sunny days, it can be best to go with a softshell jacket, as they breathe much better than a shell jacket, but they still provide wind protection. Plus, they can act as great midlayers, so if the weather does suddenly turn sour, you can quickly throw a shell over it. If you do want to wear a more heavily insulated layer, make sure it is synthetic so that it will still work when wet.

One item that you may not think about is goggles. Many brands make varying lenses for each goggle, with low-light lenses that tend to let more light in and darker lenses for sunny days. In the Sierras, make sure you have both, as the light can change drastically from one day to the next.

A skier in an orange jacket turns down a ski run.

Photo by Glade Optics

Whereas the Sierras and the Pacific Northwest are dominated by a maritime climate, areas of the Rockies—Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho —have what is called a Continental climate. The air there is much drier and much colder, no matter whether it is stormy or sunny. As such, the snow that falls tends to be very light and very dry. Due to this, jackets and pants with less waterproofing are more than adequate. More important than waterproofing is insulation. The Rockies can get very cold and stay cold all day, so it's best to have either an insulated shell or even switch to fully insulated, like a heavy down jacket with a hydrophobic coating.

A skier standing at the top of a snowy run.

Photo by Variant Media

Utah has carved out its own little niche in the climate department. It tends to sway between a maritime climate and a continental climate. Utah, by and large, is a desert, but it sees impressive snowfall totals every year. The falling snow has achieved a Goldilocks consistency: not too heavy, not too light, but just right. If you’ve ever seen a Utah license plate, they claim it right there: “The Greatest Snow on Earth!” But when it's not snowing, it can get right down balmy in the desert. During storms, it’s best to have a waterproof kit, and you can throw in an insulated shell if you tend to run cold. But during dry spells, a full softshell kit sans waterproofing will keep you warm and comfortable in the desert sun.

A skier turning down a groomed ski run.

Photo by Maarten Duinevel

Skiers hailing from the likes of Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin are some of the hardiest skiers on the planet, simply because they have to be! The Midwest sees a healthy dose of humidity combined with overwhelmingly cold temperatures. What does that equal? Cold, cold, and more cold! It's the kind of cold that seeps into your very bones, so make sure you are investing in fully insulated pants and jackets, and double up on your base layers and midlayers. Some days can be so absurdly cold that you can’t even expose your skin, so look into purchasing a balaclava as well to protect your cheeks and nose.

Some snowboarders walking away from the camera while holding their snowboards.

Colder, drier climates require more emphasis on warmth, like down. Photo by Visit Almaty

When it comes to the East Coast, all bets are off! The weather fluctuates heavily: from warm days to cold days, from heavy snowfall to long dry spells. You can get away with fewer waterproof shells based on less snowfall, but you’ll want to back them up with warm layers underneath. On the “Ice Coast,” as it's known, it's best to be prepared for anything and everything.

Tailoring your ski and snowboard clothing to your destination is the same as dressing for the weather. Choose the wrong gear, and you just might end up cold, wet, and miserable. But choose the right gear, and you’ll be booking next year’s vacation from the lift. If you have any questions about the right clothing for you, please reach out to me or my fellow Ski or Snowboard Experts.

Ski Expert Luke Hinz
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Luke Hinz
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If my parents could have foreseen how deep my obession for skiing would become, they might never have put me on skis. I've been fortunate enough to experience the entire spectrum of skiing; from growing up racing on icy Midwest slopes, to exploring every nook and cranny of the Wasatch Range backcoun...

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