Quick Guide: What to wear for skiing and snowboarding

The main objective for assembling your outfit for a day on the slopes is warmth. The basics of dressing for snowy conditions comes down to layering your clothes, starting with an all-important thermal base layer that sits right next to your skin and building up layers of breathable clothes on top of that before putting on your waterproof shell jacket.

Over the years, technology has changed and smart-textiles, like Gore-Tex® that wick away moisture from within, but don’t allow moisture from outside the fabric to penetrate, these have come to replace the stifling acrylic fabrics and down-stuffed puffer jackets that dominated the skiers wardrobe in the 1980s and 1990s. Make sure that your ski gear is modern and watch out for words like ‘waterproof membrane technology’ when picking out your garb.
Follow our simple step-by-step guide to dressing for the cold, starting with the base layers and then addressing other items like accessories…

Step 1

Top thermals

The most important part of your skiing outfit is the layer that you wear directly next to your skin. Dressing with properly designed and constructed thermals is a game changer for many skiers and snowboarders because these specially made items of clothing should do the following: keep you cool when you get too hot, keep you warm when you are cold, wick away sweat, and be lightweight and breathable. And in the worst case scenario if snow gets into your clothes, you won’t suffer the misery of cold wetness for the day. Investing in proper thermals won’t go amiss! Keep an eye out for breathable fibres such as merino wool, and for popular brands such as Icebreaker.

Bottom thermals

As important as it is to wear thermals on top, don’t forget that wearing them on bottom is just as important too! If you are a snowboarder, you will be spending a lot of time sitting on the snow so making sure that your legs and knees stay warm with a pair of long-johns is essential.

Mid layers

Once you’ve got your thermal layers on you might still feel a bit exposed, so many skiers and snowboarders throw on a t-shirt or a fleece on top (depending on how cold it is outdoors). Many places sell expensive and specially made mid-layers but a normal jumper, shirt, t-shirt or hoodie will suffice. For your legs, a comfortable pair of cotton leggings over your thermal leggings will feel nice (yes, that’s advice for the gentlemen, too!).

Socks

Investing in a pair of proper thermal socks that have been designed with the skiers or snowboarders boot in mind is a must. Again, merino wool is an ideal material to look out for because regular cotton socks will not dry when your feet become clammy, and nothing is worse than skiing with cold, damp feet inside your boots. Wearing your skiing socks over your regular socks is fine, and they should keep your feet dry and toasty for the day (but make sure you can wiggle your toes inside your boots!). Popular brands to watch out for are Smart Wool, and if you really feel like splashing your cash, you can even get heated socks!

Neck warmer

Throw this extra item of clothing on before you put on your outer layers. Neck warmers and scarves come in a variety of different styles, shapes and materials so you are spoilt for choice. But the decision to wear one won’t go amiss. Whether you opt for a full face mask, or a simple turtleneck warmer, if the weather takes a turn, you’ll appreciate the warmth this simple item has to offer. Look out for brands like The North Face or Buff for some fun designs.

Step 2

Jacket

Tied with thermals as the most important item in the skier and snowboarders’ wardrobe, you won’t see a single person on the mountain who hasn’t gotten their hands on a proper ski jacket. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours, makes, specifics these days so here are a few tips and pointers for searching for the right jacket for you:

  • Borrow. If you are a beginner, ask friends and family if you can borrow their jackets. A brand new jacket at shop price and be anything from £100-£1,500! Should the worst happen and you decide that skiing and snowboarding isn’t for you (gasp!) then you don’t want expensive non-returnable clothing on your hands.
  • Water resistance. Well, this seems like a bit of a no-brainer but lots of different brands will differ in water resistance. Check the label of your preferred jacket and aim for something 5,000mm or more.
  • Breathability. If it weren’t for scientists in laboratories inventing ingenious materials, the sensation of skiing and snowboarding in a waterproof jacket would be akin to exercising in a plastic bag. Unpleasant. The material of jackets needs to both stop water getting in from the outside, yet let sweat and perspiration escape from the inside.
  • Down vs. Synthetic insulation. While the idea of a feather-stuffed ski jacket sounds warm and cosy, its popularity has fallen in favour of synthetic materials that are multitasking and less bulky.
  • Pockets and zips. The number of pockets and zips on a jacket might be a bit confusing at first, but you will find them very useful over time. Pit zips allow you to unzip your jacket under the arms to cool down, and there are sometimes water resistant pockets inside jackets for valuables and cash.

Trousers/ Ski pants/ Salopettes

Snowboarders pay attention! Like choosing a ski jacket, study the label of your chosen salopettes/ pants carefully before you purchase. Since you will be spending a lot of time sitting on the snow, waterproof pants are essential, and this time aim for something higher than 10,000mm.

Step 3

Goggles

In times gone by, a pair of sunglasses were the more popular option for skiing in but today a good pair of goggles won’t go amiss... and your eyes will thank us! On a snowy day they keep the snowflakes away from your sensitive skin, and when the sun comes out, they act as a pair of sun glasses.

Helmets and hats

It does not matter how confident a skier or snowboarder you are, accidents do happen. Borrowing a helmet, or investing in one could very easily save your life. It is best to visit an equipment shop either in resort, or in a popular skiing shop in the UK, such as Snow & Rock, to get a professional to fit you with a properly fitting helmet.

Gloves

Like your jacket and salopettes, your gloves should be given the same amount of care and attention to how waterproof they are and their breathability. Fingers and toes are often the first parts of your body to feel the cold when you are on the mountain, so getting some properly fitting, waterproof and warm gloves will maximize your comfort. If you really feel the cold, some merino wool inner-gloves might help with that problem.

Boots

The boots that you wear for your sport possibly won’t be the same boots that you use to walk around town and go to après ski in! A good pair of hiking boots will suffice, but keep an eye on the soles of your boot- you want something that has good, sturdy grip. If it is a particularly icy year, then sometimes metal crampons can make you a little more slip-proof. Ladies, avoid wearing heels as these offer very little grip, and unless you are attending a party, leave leather shoes at home as these can be damaged by the salt used as grit when it becomes mixed up in the snow.