An Expert Guide to What to Wear Skiing and Snowboarding

Published on 11/23/2023 · 11 min readSkiing 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.
Etienne A., Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Etienne A.

Photo by Emma Paillex

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?

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 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!

Socks

The first thing all skiers need 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 are not known for their comfort as it is, so it's important to have the right socks to help keep your feet happy all day!

Base Layer Bottoms

For the bottom half of your body, I recommend using a two-layer approach: one base layer, or inner 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 or athletic/gym leggings can work if necessary, but may not be as effective 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!

Ski & Snowboard Pants & Bibs

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, which are similar to overalls and come up a bit higher on your chest than your traditional pants can be a great way to ensure no snow is going down your pants or up your back throughout the day!

Ski pants and bibs can be insulated or may just be a waterproof shell. While insulated pants may be ideal on very cold days, it's important that they have good ventilation, such as thigh zips, for those warmer days or once your heart rate gets up! If you opt for shell pants, having a few different weight options for your base layer bottoms will be a good way to ensure comfort, no matter what the weather!

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.

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 midlayer, 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.

Base Layer Top

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.

Midlayer

Your midlayer is where you can get a bit creative and really go with what fits your personal preference! The main purpose of this layer is for a little extra 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 light fleece sweatshirt, a wool sweater or pullover, or the warmest midlayer option—a puffy 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 or lightweight fleece, but if you run cold, you might want something heavyweight, the warmest down jacket you can find, or even an extra layer or two. Your midlayer 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.

This down jacket serves as a great mid-layer. Photo by Emma Paillex

Ski & Snowboard Jacket

For your outer layer, you are going to want a waterproof and windproof, insulated or shell ski 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. Just like ski pants/bibs, it will be your personal preference whether you want an insulated jacket or a shell jacket based on your body temperature, where you typically ski, and the time of year you typically ski.

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 to protect you from the cold air. 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 features and accessories, including large zipper 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.

Looking for more recommendations? Check out the 6 Best Men's Ski & Snowboard Jackets and the 7 Best Women's Ski & Snowboard Jackets.

Accessories

In addition to the clothing mentioned above, there are a few specialty items that are essential when hitting the slopes: gloves or mittens, goggles or sunglasses, a helmet or beanie, and a face covering.

Gloves & Mittens

Gloves or mittens are an essential part of your ski/snowboard attire, as the cold air and wind resistance make it nearly impossible to ski without them. And not just any gloves will do—just like with your top and bottom outer layers—waterproof, windproof gloves, such as the Hestra Army Leather Heli Ski 5-Finger Gloves are ideal to keep your fingers warm. For even more warmth, use glove liners such as the Icebreaker Unisex 260 Glove Liner or hand warmers.

Goggles & Sunglasses

Ever try skiing or riding without eye protection? If so, you probably didn't last too long! If it’s a sunny day, the sun's glare off the snow is blinding, and squinting all day gets old really fast. If it’s a snowy day, snowflakes pelting your eyeballs is painful (I know from experience!). Not to mention the wind resistance and freezing temperatures will leave your eyes tearing up the whole way down. Ski/snowboard goggles such as Smith Squad Goggles will protect your eyes, are helmet compatible, and have plenty of great features so you can comfortably and easily see what’s in front of you!

Helmet (or Beanie)

While helmets aren’t mandatory for skiing and riding, it is highly recommended and very common. Not only will a ski helmet, such as the Smith Mission MIPS Helmet, protect your head from injuries, but it will keep your head and ears warm! Rental helmets are available at most ski shops, but if you are unable to get a hold of a helmet before hitting the slopes, a beanie is essential to keep your head and ears warm.

Face Covering

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)!

All bundled up. Photo by Etienne Arent

Pro Tips: Dressing for the Slopes

  • Check the weather. Know what the forecasted mountain temperatures are for the day, and if it’s supposed to be sunny, snowy, etc.
  • Bring extra layers. Most ski resorts have rental lockers, or you can leave an extra layer or 2 in the car. Don’t end your day early because you are cold!
  • Waterproof is key. All of your outer layers should be waterproof - staying dry is staying warm!
  • Shed layers as needed. If you start to sweat, shed your mid-layer! Sweating leads to moisture, and moisture leads to cold.
  • Bring sunscreen and SPF chapstick. The sun shines bright off of the snow!
  • Have some fashion sense. Jacket goes over your pants. Goggles go over your helmet.
  • Don’t look like a Jerry. Avoid wearing jeans. Avoid wearing trench coats.
  • Let your personal style shine through! There are tons of outerwear and accessory colors, patterns, and styles to choose from!

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 Real Expert for free advice and recommendations.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

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