What to Wear Skiing & Snowboarding
Are you still debating about what to put on after looking out the window, checking three different weather forecasts and asking your mate (or your mom)? “What should I wear?” seems to be an age-old question that makes even the best of us uncertain from time to time – especially if there is some distance between you and your ski location.
While some of us tend to run hotter than others, there are some basic guidelines that will always serve you well whether you are expecting heavy precipitation, a mid-winter deepfreeze or a perfect bluebird day.
Too hot, too cold or just right? The number one rule: dress in layers! We recommend a versatile system with three layers, although two layers may suffice if it is a warm day and you are doing a high aerobic activity like cross country skiing.
You simply cannot go wrong with layers. Planning on skinning or snowshoeing up for a tour? – the best way to avoid sweating on uphill and getting chilled on the way down is to dress in layers. Likewise – layers will help you stay warm on the coldest days, allow you to adjust for weather changes and make it easy to peel off a layer should you get too warm. Take a look at the layers worn to stay warm at -40°C!
The number and type of layers you choose will depend on the weather conditions (temperature, precipitation, level of exposure), how aerobic your activity will be (how much will you be working and generating body heat) and your personal preferences (whether you tend to overheat or get cold really easily).
What your layers are made of matters – so let’s look at some options in more detail.
Also known as long johns or long underwear, this should be a thin, snugly fitted layer that rests against your skin. The main function of the base layer is to wick moisture away from your skin and to provide no more than the minimum insulation you will need for the day.
Most long underwear is made of functional fabric that is designed to wick away moisture, which will help you stay warm and dry. This is a layer that you will leave on all day. If the sun is shining and you are breaking a sweat, you might find yourself wearing only your long underwear shirt or perhaps opening up your jacket whereas on a cold day you may have several additional layers on top the entire time.
You don’t want your base layer to be too warm: you may need to have a jacket on even if you are getting hot due to snow or rainfall, in which case you might appreciate being able to layer a waterproof shell over top of a thin base layer.
This layer should provide the bulk of the insulation, that is to say, the warmth, you need. This could be a soft-shell jacket or fleece on a colder day or perhaps a thin down vest if you just need a little temperature boost for your core. This is also the layer you will be most likely to remove if you get too hot but still need protection from wind, rain or snow. The middle layer can also end of being your outer layer if you are warm enough and there is no precipitation.
One important consideration is that your middle layer should be quite breathable. If you end up with a shell type jacket with limited breathability for your middle AND outer layer you will likely end up feeling damp and clammy.
The best ski jacket or snowboarding jacket will look different for everyone but the purpose is the same. While your outer layer may need to provide some insulation too, its primary job is to protect you from wind and precipitation. While a shell jacket combined with a middle layer is more versatile, a fully insulated jacket is a fine option as well, especially in very cold conditions or if you know you won’t be moving a lot such as when teaching a young child to ski.
Since the outer layer is the final barrier between you and the elements, it should be at least water-resistant, have a high collar and/or hood, have a zipper closure as opposed to snaps or buttons, have cinchable wrist-cuffs and be made out of a material that snow doesn’t stick to. Depending on the amount of snow and your activity, you may also appreciate a hood large enough to accommodate a helmet as well as a powder skirt.
The three-layer system described above is focused on the upper body. Usually, two layers is ideal for your lower body and the level of insulation provided by your snow pants will determine how warm you will be. The base layer or long underwear is exactly the same as for your upper body; however, your outer layer may be as thin as a pair of shell pants or as thick as fully insulated snow pants.
Some Additional Considerations
Waterproofness: Outer layers should provide water resistance at the minimum or, in the case of long days in the backcountry or multiday tours, complete waterproofness with waterproof zippers and pockets.
Moisture-wicking material: Pay attention to the fabric your base and middle layers are made of – their ability to wick away moisture will have a significant impact on whether you feel damp or not after a day of hard riding or skiing. If you are interested in more details about the pros and cons of different materials, check out this video.
Packability: It is worth thinking about the weight and how small your middle and outer layers pack down – especially if you are expecting to take them off. If swinging by the car to pick up or drop off a layer is no big deal then that’s great, but for the most part we recommend a ski backpack in which your layers can be easily stowed away on the go.
Other Clothing Articles
Of course, there are some other important accessories that you don’t want to forget. You’ll need a hat or a headband that fits comfortably under your helmet, a buff or neck-warmer, your best ski gloves and ski socks that fit well in your ski or snowboard boots as well!
Layer up and enjoy that winter weather!
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