An Expert Guide to What to Wear Skiing and Snowboarding

Ski expert Etienne A. has some advice on how to build the optimal collection of skiing and snowboarding clothes so you can stay warm and dry on the slopes.

Photo by Emma Paillex

Photo by Emma Paillex

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So you're getting dressed for your first day out at the ski resort, and you open up your closet and are overwhelmed by all the options. The weather conditions have been changing a lot and you need to be prepared for anything. It’s important that you choose the right clothing. You don’t want to be too hot or too cold and you definitely want to stay dry!

So where do you start?

A graphic of an apparel checklist. The items checked are: ski socks, lower base layer, ski pants, upper base layer, mid-layer, outer layer, and face protection (face mask, balaclava, neck gaiter, or scarf).

Well, the best way to pick what to wear is by keeping two key things in mind: layers, layers, layers, and NO COTTON CLOTHING! Then start from the bottom and work your way up! This is how you can have a comfortable day on the mountain, every time.

Read this for more on the features and tech to look for when buying your ski apparel and snowboard apparel.

A snowboarder approaches his board

A good, waterproof setup. Photo by Alex Lange

Lower Body

There is ski gear for your whole body, but your lower body, upper body, hands, and face are the essentials. So let's start at your feet!

The first thing you are going to want is a good pair of ski socks that is a bit taller—just about knee high or at least as tall as the cuff of your ski boots. There's nothing worse than having a short sock that isn't taller than your boot or falls down to your ankles. This creates a very uncomfortable crease in your boot that can cause pain and discomfort throughout the day.

The second important thing to pay attention to when it comes to socks is the fabric they are made from. The best ski socks are going to be made from wool or a synthetic material such as nylon, acrylic, and polyester, or a blend of wool and synthetic. Merino wool socks tend to be some of the most comfortable and warmest! Ski and snowboard boots can be uncomfortable as it is, so it's important to have the right socks to help keep your feet happy all day!

For the bottom half of your body, I recommend using a two-layer approach: one base layer and your outerwear. For your base layer, it's best to get a pair of thermal long underwear or long johns—also typically made from wool or a synthetic material. These are going to be tight-fitting, breathable, warm, and meant to fit underneath your snow pants comfortably! If you don't feel like investing in a pair of thermals, you could also consider using leggings. Yoga pants can work if necessary, but they won't be as warm as a pair of thermal long johns.

Now, your ski pants should be the most waterproof and windproof layer you have on your legs. Especially as a beginner when you might be falling or sitting down in the snow, it's important to have something that won't get soaked by the end of the day. A pair of bibs that come up a bit higher on your chest than your traditional pant and have shoulder straps, so they can be a great way to ensure no snow is going down your pants or up your back throughout the day!

If there’s one thing you remember, let it be this: Avoid wearing jeans at all costs when skiing or snowboarding. Wearing jeans will leave you cold, wet, and looking out of your element on the mountain. This is a classic mistake that we see all too often and is a major fashion faux pas in ski fashion.

A man wearing jeans and a denim jacket holds up skis while drinking a beer

Definitely don't be this guy. Photo by Erik McLean

Upper Body

For the top half of your body, I recommend a three-layer approach: a base layer, otherwise known as your insulating layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer. This layering system gives you options to help you regulate and control your temperature as it changes throughout the day. It is not uncommon to start off the day all bundled up, then shed a layer after a few hours when the sun comes out. And, of course, end the day soaking in the sun at the apres bar in just your base layer.

For your base layer, you are going to want something that has high breathability, is quick-drying, and is moisture-wicking, so that it can absorb sweat from your skin. Think along the lines of long-sleeved athletic t-shirts. This layer will be directly on your body and is your first line of defense for staying warm and dry. It is important this layer can absorb some moisture as you will warm up as you ride down and then will want to be warm and dry when you are on the chair lift.

Your mid-layer is where you can get a bit creative and really go with what fits your personal preference! The main purpose of this layer is warmth. It doesn't need to be as breathable as your base layer or as waterproof as your outer layer. It just needs to be warm! This could be a fleece sweatshirt, a wool sweater, or the warmest mid-layer option—a down jacket! Know your body type and experiment with these options a bit to find what works best for you. If you run hot, you might prefer a mid-weight fleece, but if you run cold, you might want the warmest down jacket you can find or even extra layers. Your mid-layer should fit comfortably in between your other two layers and should be easy to take off and put back on as your temperature fluctuates throughout the day.

A woman in a down jacket and ski goggles looks at the camera

A warm outer layer is a must. Photo by Emma Paillex

For your outer layer, you are going to want a waterproof and windproof ski shell jacket or snowboarding jacket. This jacket should be able to shed snow easily and block the wind. Having a durable windproof jacket will be very important to keep you warm as you ride down the mountain.

It’s also important to keep in mind the waterproofing rating of your jacket and make sure it is appropriate for where you will be. For example, if you are riding in the Pacific Northwest, where the moisture content of the snow tends to be higher, you will want a jacket with a higher waterproof rating—close to the 15k rating or potentially even a GORE-TEX jacket. If you are skiing in the midwest or East Coast, where the snow tends to be drier because of cooler temperatures, you could consider a jacket with a slightly lower waterproof rating but more insulation. If you can, always check the breathability ratings of your items before purchase.

For more on this, check out What to Wear Skiing & Snowboarding in Different Regions.

Most ski jackets come with all kinds of accessories these days, including large pockets that can hold phones, audio devices, and even space inside to hold your ski goggles or sunglasses to keep the lenses from fogging up. If you live in snowier locales, you might also want to look for a jacket with a snow skirt or powder skirt—a tight layer near the waist that keeps snow from coming up through your jacket on those deep days. And if you are heading out for some warm spring skiing, it's nice to have a jacket with underarm vents, otherwise known as pit zips, in order to cool off.

To top things off, something to keep your face warm is a great addition to your ski clothes. A face mask, balaclava, neck gaiter, or scarf can help keep the cold wind and snow off of your face, and you can stuff it under your goggles to maximize coverage. This helps keep you warm, prevents windburn when it is cold, and protects you from the sun when it is hot. And on windier days, it can help immensely to have a hood (just make sure it fits over your helmet)!

A person in a hat, goggles, and balaclava looks at the camera while holding skis

All bundled up. Photo by Etienne Arent

It’s never too early to start putting together your ski outfit for next season! Follow the guidelines above for a typical day outside, but check out What to Wear Skiing & Snowboarding in the Spring if you're anticipating warm, sunny days on the slopes. As long as you keep the two key concepts in mind, experiment with what works for you. And add your own touch of style to your kit! You should be looking good and feeling good while you are out on the slopes or on the chairlift. If you have any questions about finding the right layers for your next day on the slopes, chat with a Curated Expert for free advice and recommendations.

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Written By
Etienne A.
Etienne A.
Ski Expert
I've been skiing since I could walk at 18 months old :) I've called the mountains home for my entire life, but I also enjoy traveling the world, experiencing other cultures, playing music, and surfing! I have been a professional backcountry skier for eight years now and have been fortunate to ski al...
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