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Winter Mountain Tips: What to Wear Skiing and Snowboarding

You know those situations where you have to choose between fashion and comfort? Skiing isn’t one of them.

Sure, the good ol’ days may have stuck you with bulky snow pants and an over-stuffed jacket that made you look and feel like a tractor-trailer truck. But today’s ski fashions are sleek, sophisticated and as comfy as your favorite pajamas.

Okay, maybe not that comfortable. But they will keep you cozy, comfy and ready for your ski trip. Modern ski and snowboard clothing is durable and rugged enough to keep you warm and protected while you’re schussing down Vail Mountain – yet stylish enough not to feel like a total geek when you’re enjoying all those après-ski activities.

Below are our top tips to ensure you’re a skiwear superstar both on and off the slopes. Let’s get started!

What Ski Clothing Should You Wear?

Ever see people sweating profusely or shivering uncontrollably when they’re out in the cold weather? Chances are they made the mistake of not dressing in layers. Layering is the number one rule for cozy and comfy skiing and snowboarding, and you have three different layers to consider.

  • Base layers: Layer closest to your skin
  • Outer layers: Layer closest to the outer world
  • Insulating layers: Layers in the middle of the base and outer layers

Some layering techniques are just common sense. You wouldn’t wear the base layer of long underwear over an outer layer ski jacket, right? Well, hopefully most people wouldn’t. But other layering options may not be as obvious.

That’s why we broke it all down to show you where different ski clothing necessities go in the big layering scheme of things.

1. Base Layers


As the layer next to your skin, the base layer needs to be comfortable and breathable. Whether you’re a first-time skier or skiing pro, you’re going to sweat. Unless you opt for a material that can wick moisture away from your skin, you’re destined to turn into a clammy, miserable mess.

So, skip the cotton and instead choose a synthetic material or wool for base layer ski clothing. Also skip the bulky anything, as you’ll be layering other clothing items on top of the base layer. And, as previously noted, you don’t want to end up looking and feeling like a tractor-trailer truck.

Base layer examples:

  • Ski socks: No thick socks! Thin wool socks specifically designed for skiing do a better job for warmth and circulation. Merino wool is the way to go
  • Long underwear: Whether you call them long underwear, thermal underwear, long johns or longies, you’re going to be so glad you wore them.
  • Non-long underwear: Here’s a little secret. Some skiers skip the non-long underwear if they’re wearing thermal underwear. Let personal preference reign.

2. Outer Layers


The same way beetle bugs have ecto-skeletons, skiers have outer layers. Both are designed for protection from the elements.

Outer layers are rated by three factors:

  • Insulation
  • Breathability
  • Waterproofing

The higher the rating, the better the characteristics. You really can’t go wrong with high levels of waterproofing to keep the moisture out. High levels of breathability are again key to reducing sweat during vigorous outdoor activity.

The right insulation level depends on how much protection you want against the cold. Some jackets have zip-out insulation, making them an ideal choice if you enjoy both winter skiing in cold weather and spring skiing in warmer weather.

Outer layer examples:

  • Ski jacket: Pick a jacket based on two factors: cold and comfort. Keeping out the first one will lead to the second. If you’re sticking with downhill skiing, breathability may not be as big a factor as it is if you’re building up tons of sweat cross country skiing on Vail’s golf course.
  • Ski pants: Unless you like a cold wet behind, go for waterproof ski pants. Non-insulated pants are more versatile, letting you add a little or a lot of insulating layers underneath. Insulated pants come with built-in insulation, perfect for riding ski lifts in colder temperatures.

3. Insulating Layers

Also known as mid-layers, insulating layers are nestled between the base layers and outer layers. Because they’re in between the moisture-wicking base layer and the waterproof outer layer, all the insulating layers need to do is keep you warm. Synthetic material delivers the best comfort and versatility.

Keeping them thin is also a good move. This can help reduce overall bulk, both when you’re wearing them under your outer layer for extra warmth and if you’re too warm and take them off and stash them in a locker at the base of Vail Mountain.

Insulating layer examples:

  • Hoodies
  • Sweaters
  • Long-sleeved shirts
  • That ugly yet functional fleece pullover from Aunt Matilda

4. Accessories for Warmth


Once you’re properly layered up, it’s time to properly accessorize. Here’s where you can truly make a statement with things like bright pink ski gloves and hats with fuzzy bear ears. Or not.

Accessories for warmth examples:

  • Ski gloves: Waterproofing and insulation are the two biggies to look for in the perfect ski glove. That, and the bright pink color, of course.
  • Ski hat: Fuzzy bear ears may be cute and appropriate for après-ski, but comfort and fit are more important than cute for skiing. You want a hat that keeps your head warm and fits under your helmet.

What Ski Gear Do You Need?


Ever show up on the slopes and realize you forgot your skis? Neither did we. But it’s still important to mention the ski gear you need to bring, just in case.

What Skiers Need

  • Skis and ski poles: Choose the right size, style and color to suit your fancy – and for the type of skiing and terrain.
  • Ski boots: Ski boots are specifically designed for – you guessed it – skiing. They are rigid, designed for the user to face forward, and tough to walk around in.
  • Helmet: Brain buckets are a must, especially for beginner skiers. Vail’s rental shops offer an optional helmet with their rental packages. They provide protection as well as warmth.

What Snowboarders Need

Although this guide is written for skiers, we’re sneaking in a bit of info about snowboarding. Ski clothing works for snowboarding, but there’s a whole range of comfy, stylish snowboard-specific apparel available too. And you’ll want to bring slightly different gear, of course.

  • Snowboard: Select your snowboard based on size, style and design. An all-mountain snowboard is the most versatile.
  • Snowboard boots: Beginner skiers or snowboarders may think they can wear ski boots for snowboarding, and vice versa. Not a good idea. Ski boots and snowboarding boots are two totally different animals. Snowboarding boots are more flexible and designed for facing sideways. They’re quite comfortable and also much easier to walk around in compared to ski boots.
  • Helmet: Brain buckets are a must for snowboarders too. Vail’s rental shops offer an optional helmet with their rental packages. They provide protection as well as warmth.

What Everyone Needs


Goggles! Ski goggles are an absolute must to protect your eyes. UV rays are stronger at high altitudes, on both cloudy and sunny days. Different lenses work best for different levels of sun.

Look for ski goggles with interchangeable lenses for the greatest versatility in all kinds of weather. Beats the heck out of carting around two different pairs of goggles.

What Everyone Should Know

The only thing less fun than hauling a cello or life-size skeleton all the way to Vail is hauling a snowboard or pair of skis. So, don’t. Vail has oodles of equipment rental shops. Some even let you demo the latest skis and snowboards.

Other Skiing Necessities


What other items do you need? You’ll thank us for stashing these necessities in the pockets of your ski or snowboard jacket.

  • Hand warmers: Coolest invention. Ever. These little disposable packets come sealed and ready for action. Once you open the packaging and expose them to air, they give off toasty warm heat for toasty warm hands. Stash a batch in your backpack.
  • Sunscreen: Your face will thank you. Especially your nose. Sunscreen helps protect against high-altitude UV rays on both cloudy and sunny days.
  • Lip balm: Your lips will thank you. Especially if you opt for lip balm with built-in sun protection.
  • Hydration pack: Your body will thank you. So will your ski pals since you won’t be begging to swing by the lodge for water. Fewer lodge visits mean more ski time. Keep a small hydration pack or small water bottle close to your body in an inner pocket or chamber so it doesn’t freeze.
  • Snacks: Skiing can make you hungry! And hunger can make you cranky. Don’t get cranky. Bring snacks instead. Good pocket options include things like granola bars, energy chews, protein bars. Not-so-good options include things like tuna fish, raw eggs, soup.
  • Neck gaiter: Although you can bring the ugly fleece pullover Aunt Matilda gave you, you don’t have to bring the ugly scarf that went with it. Neck gaiters are much more effective and efficient for any outdoor activity.

Bottom Line on Ski Clothing


Now that you have the lowdown on what to wear skiing, it’s time to start shopping! And if you happen to forget to pack any of your ski clothing or accessories, remember that Vail is known for its world-class slopes. So that means it definitely has the world-class ski shops to go with them. Happy skiing!