Skiing is one of winter’s most well loved pastimes. Each and every year, millions of slope aficionados wait patiently for the first snowfall of the year, gathering their gear and making plans for the day on which that first blanket of snow will cover the mountaintops in the north.
Skiing, and now snowboarding, are not only pursued passionately in the United States, but also the world over—everywhere there are mountains and snow to cover them—and the activity has long been one of the best ways to get some winter exercise in a fun and brisk environment.
One of the trickiest parts about skiing, however, is that the weather can be very unpredictable. Sometimes skiers can face snow, rain and blinding warm sunshine all in the same day, as well as temperatures ranging from freezing to a pleasant 75 degrees.
And given these wild variations in temperature and climatic conditions, just how do you go about dressing for a day on the slopes?
Actually, dressing for a day on the slopes can be a little enigmatic, as you will need to prepare for all kinds of situations, including the weather and the temperature outside, along with the temperatures you will face when sitting in the lodge between runs and after the skiing day has concluded.
So, if finding the proper attire for skiing is posing a problem for you, fortunately you have come to the right place. Here we will discuss how to dress for skiing in some detail, and how to use layered attire to prepare for all situations when you hit the mountaintop.
It’s All About Layering
According to some of the best known experts in the skiing game, the best way to attire yourself for the activity is to dress in layers. But what exactly does that mean?
Well, when it comes to skiing you should actually put on three layers of clothing—layers that are well thought out and planned down to the last layer.
You need to keep in mind that, in addition to changing temperatures, you will no doubt be very active when you are out on the slopes, so you will need layers that will wick away the moisture—keeping you dry—and enough thick clothing that will help you stay warm and protected when skiing. \
Here we will focus on one layer of clothing at a time, starting with the base or inner layer, before moving on to the middle and outer layers of clothing, the latter of which will help protect your body from injury should you take a mean spill when performing your best moves.
The Base Layer
When it comes to the base layer you will want to accomplish two goals: choose clothes that will keep your body nice and warm, and clothes that will help wick the perspiration from your body so you do not get soaked underneath. Here you have a couple of choices, but one of the best of these are the good old long johns.
A thermal top, which can be identified by its waffle-like pattern, is the perfect base layer top when skiing. Thermal clothing not only hugs your body to keep you warm, it is also designed to wick moisture away from your body.
Cotton and polyester blend thermal tops are the most popular and widely sold types (but not the best). Today there are actually thermal tops that are made from new-age fabrics that help to wick moisture away much better than cotton and polyester.
The waffle pattern in these clothes is key, because it allows your body to breathe while still keeping it nice and toasty underneath. Look for a thin (thick tops might get too warm) thermal top that is well-fitting.
What we mean by well-fitting is one that fits you rather tightly, without being strangling or too loose either.
Cotton and polyester thermal tops are acceptable in a pinch, but even better are tops that are made from polypropylene or wool. Polypropylene tops are great for wicking away moisture.
Likewise, a good wool thermal top is also a great option. This fabric is known to naturally regulate the heat in your body and even has antimicrobial properties to kill any germs from the sweat you are perspiring.
When it gets wet, wool continues to retain its heat, so it will definitely keep you warm throughout the day.
So to summarize, your best bet is a warm thermal top, one in a waffle shape that is made from wool or polypropylene. Make sure it is well-fitting—not to tight and not too lose—and try it on first to make sure it is comfortable.
With this choice, you have the best bet to stay warm and dry throughout your skiing adventure.
Also, if you are skiing in a very cold area, you probably want to wear thermal pants/underwear as well. Just like with the thermal top, go for pants that are made from a synthetic fabric like wool or polypropylene and ensure they are well-fitting so that they can keep the moisture away from your legs.
The Middle Layer
When it comes to the mid-layer of clothing you have a number of wonderful and comfortable options. Just remember, similar to the base layer of clothing, you want to select articles of clothing that are both insulating (to keep you warm) and water wicking (to keep you dry).
Ski manufacturers make a lot of great clothing that is designed for this mid-layer purpose, and most of this new clothing is made from either synthetic fabrics or fleece. This includes both synthetic and fleece shirts and sweaters.
If a shirt is more comfortable for you than a bulkier sweater, we recommend one made from fleece or some other synthetic fabric. Cotton shirts are not water-wicking, will absorb perspiration and should be avoided altogether with the middle layer.
Choose a shirt with a turtleneck or a mock turtleneck, as this will keep your neck warm as you slide down those slopes. Also, try to choose a shirt with zippered arm pits and leave them unzipped when putting them on.
This will allow a lot of the water to escape when you are heavily active.
In really cold conditions, such as in places at or near the freezing mark, a shirt alone may not be enough to keep you warm. In these cases, we recommend you select a fleece or synthetic sweater instead.
Try to get one that is very well-fitting (remember you will still need to put an outer layer on over it), has a high neck to keep that area of your body nice and toasty, and also has the zippered arm pits for moisture release.
In windy conditions, you might want to ditch both the mid-layer shirt and sweater in favor of a soft shell. A soft shell is a top that is typically made of a wind-resistant and water-resistant synthetic fabric.
It also has the high neck; it will wick away moisture and keep you very warm on the hillside.
In warmer weather, you may not need a mid-layer of pants. Some skiers prefer to place their outer layer directly over their thermal pants so as not to constrict their legs any more than necessary.
However, if the weather is very chilly, a nice pair of fleece bottoms will do good for this purpose. These pants should be water wicking, just like the top.
They should fit well—not too tight and not too baggy—and give your legs a lot of freedom of movement. Check with your local ski dealer if you are getting stuck finding a good mid-layer for your legs, as they have plenty of effective and stylish models from which to choose.
The Outer Layer
The proper outer layer of your ski attire requires no real thought or a long list of options. Here you will want to put on a jacket and pants that are designed specifically for skiing.
Ski jackets are made from synthetic, breathable fabrics that are coated to ensure they are water resistant. This way, every time you fall you will not be soaking up the water from the snow and thus ending up drenched.
They usually have a high neck, closable cuffs to keep the water from getting in and even a closable hem for that same purpose.
Ski pants are also made from breathable, weather-proof, synthetic fabrics.
They are designed to be a little bit bulky for 3 reasons:
- First, they will need to be bulky in order to fit over your base and middle layers.
- Second, they are insulated to keep you warm, and that insulation takes up some space.
- Finally, they are a bit bulky to help your body better absorb the blows every time you fall.
Not all snow is “soft,” and without the proper ski pants your body might be bruised and battered after your ski session.
Now that you have the top and bottom parts of your body nicely layered, it’s time to think about the appendages (hands and feet) as well as your head.
For the hands, pick out a good set of ski gloves. High-quality ski gloves will not only help keep your hands warm, they will also assist you in gripping the ski poles.
Ski boots are also a must for your feet. Ski boots are designed to slide and lock into your skis, so be sure to get the help of a salesman when picking out these items.
Ski boots are waterproof and they come in a variety of sizes to fit both your feet and your skis.
Atop your head you might want to consider wearing a stocking cap or hood to help keep your body heat from escaping, and also to keep your hair dry and warm as you frolic in the snow.
Ski goggles are also mandatory. Not only will ski goggles prevent the snow from flying in your face, effectively blinding you as you go down the mountain, they also come with UV protection to protect your eyes from the harmful rays of the sun.
And finally, speaking of sun, don’t forget to put sunblock (at least SPF 50) on your face to prevent sunburn and windburn, and always wear a good UV-rated lip balm to protect your lips from the harsh conditions.