Skiing is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. When I was thirteen, my Dad surprised me with a trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to ski with my uncle and family from Mississippi. I was certainly not a ‘pro’ at first. In fact, I skied down the bunny slope on my second day and my tiny self plowed right into a man five times my size knocking us both down and our ski’s off! Needless to say, my Dad saw a need for me to take a one-on-one lesson, which was an absolute game changer! Ever since, I’ve been a lover of any blue trail, will frequent a black every so often, and am always sad to leave whatever Winter Wonderland ski resort I’m in at the end of my trip!
Dressing for the slopes is certainly intimidating if you’re new to the sport, especially if you live somewhere where it doesn’t snow! But, that’s where I come in! Even though I’m from and am a current resident of sunny Florida, I lived in Colorado for a year and have been on more ski trips with family over the years than I can remember. I believe all of that experience combined has afforded me quite a bit of knowledge about how to dress your best out there! And, when I say, ‘dress your best’ … I mean: dress in a way that doesn’t make you immediately regret the location of your vacation and wish you were on a beach instead. [Side note: I think the winter gear brands, like Patagonia and The North Face, do an amazing job of making their garments bright and fun so, don’t worry … it is possible to look cute!] Skiing is FUN and the views are beautiful. I want you to have an amazing time out there, so my hope is that I can share enough of what I know about all the layers for you to make the best decision on what to buy.
Okay, let’s start with just calling it like it is … Ski clothes, and gear, ARE expensive. Skiing, in general, is pretty expensive, especially for anyone new to the sport because you’re starting from ground zero. It’s important to keep in mind, that these items are also an INVESTMENT. They will last you YEARS. I’ve gone once or twice a year for the past few years, and I always bring the same stuff and it’s all basically ‘like new’. To help, though, I have listed MY PICK for each layer while keeping both price and quality in mind!
Your base layer is your first layer of insulation, and is technically a second skin. It helps to regulate your body temperature by moving moisture / perspiration away from you, keeping you warm, dry and happy out there! Base layers are made of either Merino wool or synthetic fibers, both of which do essentially the same thing. Your base layer should fit well and be a solid foundation to build upon. You’ll want to buy an upper body base layer and lower body base layer. Don’t forget your under garments, as well! You’ll want a good sports bra and underwear to wear underneath your bases! FYI: Do NOT wear cotton underwear, or any cotton whatsoever! It does not repel moisture!
THIS is the [updated] base layer by Arc’teryx that I’ve worn for the past six years and I highly recommend it! Here are some more options for you to shop through:
Before my trip to Breckenridge in December, I got THIS new lower body base layer from SmartWool and was VERY happy with its performance. Here are some other options for ya, as well:
The next layer that you need to make sure you have with you is a good middle layer, especially for those who are opting to purchase JUST a water-resistant shell [see the outerwear, upper body section for more information about the shell]. This will be your main source of insulation, so opt for one that you think works best for you and provide you with the warmth you need! So, for example, if you are someone who is cold all the time, you want to find a thicker layer than someone who is always hot. As always, read reviews and go from there!
For the last five or six years, I’ve worn a gray fleece pullover by The North Face as my middle layer. It has a zipper from the chest up, which I liked. While I was skiing, I’d keep it fully zipped for added warmth and, when I was in a warming hut or restaurant for lunch, I’d unzip it to cool off a little. It’s really old and there’s actually no style out there similar to it right now [THIS is the closest I could find; stylistically different, essentially the same] but, I’ve also used THIS jacket as a middle layer and was just as warm. Down or synthetic insulate jackets are also recommended, if fleece isn’t your thing.
While we’re on the topic of middle layers, take a look at the picture of my Dad and I on the mountain in our ski gear. That day was really chilly, in the single digits, and we had a 60% chance of snow. Even though I’m wearing an insulated ski jacket, and is really warm with my base layer, I still wore a fleece pullover as a middle layer. If it was warmer and sunny, I’d probably opt to leave the middle layer out. But, at least bring one just in case! Just some insight on reasoning what to wear and when …
Want more information about types of insulation? HERE is a great article that I’ve found to be helpful in the past.
In terms of upper body outerwear, you can go one of two ways. You can  buy a water resistant outer shell & purchase the layers you’ll need to pair with it separately OR  buy an insulated ski jacket that is equipped with layers AND a water resistant outer shell.
First, let me tell you about water resistant shells because, regardless of the route you take, it’s an essential piece of your ski gear that you need to know about. Your shell is your protective, outer layer. It takes the brunt of the harsh weather beat down you get as you’re skiing down the mountain or riding the lift up. You want one that is durable, breathable and, obviously, waterproof.
If you choose to buy a shell by itself, you’ll be responsible for purchasing the warm middle layers that you need to stay warm underneath it over your base layer, which we’ve talked about. These shells are identified as either hard and soft. Hard shells are windproof, waterproof, breathable and provide full storm protection whereas a soft shell is breathable, water repellant, a little more mobile, but the air can still get through them. For the last five years or so, I’ve skied in a high performance, water resistant hard shell from Arcteryx, similar to THIS one. For anyone looking for a good shell under $150, I’d go with THIS one by Patagonia.
Below are some examples of great hard and soft shells for ya! Be sure to read all reviews before you buy. I’m here to educate and help as much as possible, but there’s only so much a Florida girl can know about skiing 😉
When I was in Breckenridge last month, I decided to purchase an insulated ski jacket [that comes with a water repellent outer shell] by Patagonia. What that means is that the additional layer(s) – that you have to buy if you just have the shell – are already IN the jacket. These layers are what provide you with warmth. This layer could be comprised of down fibers, synthetic fibers or fleece. Mine is filled with lightweight down. I skied in it my last couple of days on the mountain, which were also the coldest, and absolutely loved it! My upper body wasn’t cold at all.
Here are some more photos on layering I’ve done on the mountain with both non-insulated shells [pink jacket & yellow jacket] and insulated jackets [green jacket]:
Below are some examples of great insulated ski jacket’s for ya! Again, be sure to read all reviews before purchasing! If you want my personal suggestion, I’d go with THIS one for just under $300. I think that’s a great price for a quality ski jacket with insulation already in it.
In regard to ski pants, there are lots of different options, just like everything else. For simplicity, we’ll I’ll just mention the two basics: insulated vs. non-insulated, which is essentially what we went over in Upper Body Outerwear.
The point of your ski pants is to keep you warm and dry. When deciding what option is best for you, consider your individual needs as a cold or warm weather person, your typical activity level and the weather. On colder days with a chance of snow, insulated would probably be best but on warmer days, non-insulated would probably work fine. Keep in mind, you can alter your base layer accordingly, as well. If you buy a non-insulated pant and it’s really chilly out, be sure to wear a thick base layer. If you buy an insulated pant, and you know you’re going to be exerting a lot of energy on harder blue and black trails and it’s pretty warm out with no chance of new snow … maybe wear a light base layer or skip the base layer all together.
Below are some great non-insulated ski pant options for you:
I’ve always worn insulated ski pants. Insulation is measured in grams, and levels of insulation range from 20 to 800 grams just so you know when you’re looking through your options. I think mine are around 80-100 grams of insulation. I bought mine a few years ago but I’m pretty sure THIS is the updated model.
HERE is a pair that is everything you need for under $100.
Below, you’ll find some great lower body outerwear options and, again, make sure you read all of the features within each one and reviews!
Want more information about types of insulation? HERE is a great article that I’ve found to be helpful in the past.
As if all of the above items weren’t enough, there are quite a few accessories that you’ll need to purchase to facilitate warmth and comfort on the mountain, as well as assisting you in making it down safely.
Gloves / Mittens:
Over the years, I’ve worn gloves more than I’ve worn mittens HOWEVER my hands are the coldest part of my body when I’m on the slopes. This year, I somehow lost one of my gloves and had to buy another pair before I headed out on my first day. One of the guys working in the ski rental shop suggested THESE mittens. They were pretty pricey. I’m not going to lie. I was NOT excited about buying them. But … they made a WORLD of difference and I finally figured out a way to keep my hands warm throughout the day. I would put a hand warmer in each one before I headed out for the day [which was always hard to do with gloves because they fit so close to your hand] and, while I was on the lifts, I would just hold the warmer in my hand, and I’d feel so much better! Because, to be honest, your hands will still end up cold as you’re skiing down but, you honestly don’t even feel it until you’re sitting on the lift. So, this was life changing and now I will never go back to wearing gloves … I’m Team Mittens all the way!
I used to wear sunglasses on the mountain, but those are NO good to you when an unexpected snow shower hits. Be sure to snag a pair of goggles that are fog resistant! My best friend, Susanna, and I personally love the brand SMITH for goggles. Mine are HERE.
THESE are designed for smaller faces and are a great price! It’s hard to find good goggles for under $100, to be honest.
Gaiters keep your neck and the bottom of your face warm. They are absolutely essential. One day I forgot mine and had to go in early … I was so cold. On snowy days, I tuck the top into the bottom of my goggles and it’s so warm! Be sure to grab one before you head out:
Good socks are essential, but you’re normal socks will NOT do. Cotton is a HUGE no-no when it comes to dressing for this sport. It does not repel moisture, so steer clear! I personally love Smartwool socks. Here are great options below:
I used to never wear a helmet, until a couple years ago when my Dad and I collided coming down from the highest peak at Breckenridge, Peak 6. It was a beautiful day. It had been a few days since the last snow, and I was riding down in a beanie. When my head hit the hard snow, it immediately felt heavy. I was fine … it just hurt. BUT … it scared me so bad. What if it had been worse? [I’m a neuro nurse. I’ve seen how traumatic brain injuries affect people and it’s not pretty!] So, ever since … I’ve rented a helmet from the ski rental place. I think I always thought that because I’m a pretty good skier, that I’d be okay and wouldn’t ever get in an accident. You just never know, y’all. Your life is worth the little extra expense!
Other things to make sure you bring is a great moisturizing lotion and lip balm. Thin air at high elevations take the moisture from our body, and then we’re exerting ourselves in it, so we need to be taking the proper precautions. Be sure you’re drinking about 3 to 4 more bottles of water than you normally do, starting a few days before leaving for your trip and continuing on until you leave! Be sure to pack sunscreen! The sun is super strong out there and the snow is super reflective, so you can definitely get burned! Also, if you are leaving your gear at a ski in / ski out rental place [like I did in Breck] make sure you have a good pair of UGG’s to wear down there and back, along with a warm beanie 🙂
If you have a ski trip coming up or hope to go on one in the future, I hope this post was helpful! Please leave any comments or questions below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can! Thanks so much for stopping by, y’all! xo.
I’m not much of a skiier myself, but my brother-in-law is so some years he takes us out and always supplies us with everything of his sister’s and you totally nailed everything he always demands we wear! It really is so important to prepare properly because a ski day can be an absolute BLAST when done correctly but if you are cold it’s just miserable.
Thanks for being so thorough and giving so many great suggestions as well as saying WHY each piece is necessary. I think because it’s so expensive, people want to skimp, but you gave the reasons why each piece was so crucial and I think everyone appreciates that!
xo Mary-Katherine | http://www.goldhattedlover.com
Aw, what a sweet comment! This post took SO long so it’s nice to know you appreciate it!! #worthit
Great post! We’re headed to Breckenridge in a few months! This post def helps me decide what to pack. And I’d love to see a couple ‘Apres-ski’ outfits, too! Have a great time!
Thanks Cara! I actually went back in December so I won’t be going again for awhile. Sorry about that but glad the post was helpful! xo.
This post was so helpful! I have a ski trip coming up next month. Do you have any restaurant suggestions for Breckinridge?
Honestly, I have gone out to eat there before but don’t remember any of the names of the ones I’ve been to. There are TONS of restaurants but whatever group I go with, whether it’s friends or family, tend to opt for the route of pitching in for groceries and cooking at the house. Its already an expensive trip and you’re staying for multiple days, so it just makes more sense to buy a bunch of groceries. Stop in to one of the ski shops … they’ll know the best place to eat if you’re wanting to grab a bite somewhere! Sorry couldn’t help more in that arena! xo.
I am going to go skiing in March….my first time ever. I am from FL and have none of this. Can you rent ski clothes? Do you know if that is a good option?
I’m sure they do! I just googled it and looks like there’s a place called http://www.getoutfitted.com that does that. Might be a good option, but I’ve never rented so I can’t speak from personal experience.
wow so much gear! Great guide
Great post, but you forgot sunscreen sunscreen sunscreen!! UV rays are stronger at altitude as well as due to reflection off of the snow.
Ah, you’re right! I do always bring that! I also forgot small, lightweight backpacks! Thanks for the reminder! xo.
Love this post! I ski regularly, but I am always on the lookout for more cute and warm pieces for the slopes, and I never looked into all the details about each layer! (I usually am like long sleeve, warm sweatershirt, jacket and off I go – ha!)
Love this post! I’m going skiing next weekend! Great reminders on what to pack and loveeeee that green Patagonia shell you’re wearing! Thanks for the creative post 🙂
This makes me want to go skiing!
This is awesome!! Skiing is a great time and even better when you are prepared/warm ???? What mittens did the resort recommend for you (it wasn’t linked)? I have always been a glove girl myself, but I know they say your hands stay warmer in mittens. Thanks again!!⛷
FANTASTIC POST! As always! So glad to see your wearing a helmet and your advice. It’s hard to believe that I still see people on the mountain without them.
What a helpful, informative post!!! I always love your looks, but also enjoy reading what you have to say. Thank you!!
I am a snowboarder so the gear is a little different!! But I agree that mittens are far warmer than gloves!! This is a great post!!
Love how detailed this post was! Looking fabulous while you Ski!
Can you do a follow up post on apres ski? How do you dress for dinner and be warm and cute and functional!
thanks for sharing this informative post. after reading your post it becomes easy for me to choose my outfit while traveling in icy place.
I’ve been following you off & on for the past couple of years and I have to say…I have a new appreciation for the extensive travel posts you write! I’m going skiing for the first time in December and I’m very overwhelmed with it all. I just randomly had the thought–“I know she travels a lot, maybe she’ll have a ski post…” sure enough I searched ski in the search bar and here we are! I suddenly feel SO MUCH BETTER about having an idea of what to bring.
Do you have any suitcase/packing tips? Ski items are SO bulky…I’m going to Breckenridge for a week and I’m thinking how will I get everything together? I’m debating if I should just ship my really big stuff to my friends in Denver and get it from them there…