Two skiers walking across mountainous winter terrain wearing Columbia Sportswear gear.

What to Wear:
Skiing and Snowboarding

You've got your board or skis, gloves, goggles, poles, and boots. But what should you wear or pack to help ensure a comfortable day on the slopes? Here are some tips for gearing up.

Know before you go

  • Check the forecast. Weather conditions can vary greatly throughout the season. You won't wear the same thing on a 38° and sunny day as you would when it's 29° and snowing or 17° with heavy winds.

  • Prepare for being unprepared. If you're expecting variable conditions—or just not sure what to expect—it's better to pack more than you'll need. Bring extra layers in a backpack or stash them in your car. You can also rent a locker in most ski area lodges.

  • Do you run hot or cold? You might need a different approach than your buddy who routinely wears a down jacket in July. If you're toasty riding the chairlift you're likely going to be too hot on the slopes. Be ready to shed—or add—a layer to strike the just-right balance.

  • There are four basic elements to snow gear: baselayer, midlayer(s), outer layer, and accessories. Let's begin from the inside out.
Start strong (Baselayer)
Baselayers for skiing include thermal underwear (a.k.a. "long johns") or multipurpose athletic wear, but this top and bottom foundational layer is ideally built for next-to-skin comfort with soft, stretchy, moisture-wicking fabric. On especially chilly days, some might prefer thicker (but still wicking) options, like fleece leggings.

Whether you choose wool or synthetic material is a personal preference—just avoid cotton! It tends to get wet and stay wet, making for an uncomfortable day.
Climate control (Midlayer)
Your midlayer is key for adapting to what the mountain gives you on a given day.This is the piece (or two) that you're most likely to add or shed as the situation warrants. How light or heavy you go will depend on the conditions. For frigid weather you could choose a warm fleece by itself or combined with an insulated jacket or vest. For bluebird days, a lightweight fleece or athletic long-sleeve shirt could be sufficient. Columbia's Omni-Heat Helix technology is great for layering for all weather conditions.

You might not even need a midlayer on your lower body, especially if you have a warm baselayer and insulated snow pants. You could add fleece or down pants in between if it's seriously cold.
First line of defense (Outerlayer)
The most important feature of your outer layer is its ability to keep the elements out. It should be waterproof and windproof. Beyond that, you have a decision to make on whether you opt for a shell or an insulated option.

  • Shell jackets and pants are highly durable yet lightweight with little-to-no extra insulation. They protect you from the wet and wind but won't add much warmth. Though, their streamlined versatility is an asset in variable conditions.

  • Insulated jackets and pants keep elements out and warmth in with (often synthetic down) insulation. Although an insulated outer layer will keep you warmer, it will add bulk and give you more limited layering options.

If you tend to "run hot," shells might be a better choice while insulated could be the way to go if you "run cold." Either way, many snow jackets and snow pants feature zippered vents to release excess heat without shedding a layer.
Tip: On particularly wet or rainy days, fully seam-sealed waterproof fabric is more likely to withstand a full day's soaking than critically seam-sealed waterproofing.

Top it off (accessories)

Key snow accessories can be just as critical to your comfort on the mountain.
  • Gloves typically are made with synthetic materials or leather. More insulation typically means more warmth but potentially less finger dexterity. On cold days, mittens can help keep hands warmer while having extra gloves on rainy days will help if your first pair soaks through. Also look for gloves with an adjustable wrist gaiter to keep snow out.

  • Socks should be wool or synthetic (avoid cotton) with midweight-to-heavyweight thickness, though some experts prefer a thinner performance sock for better feel and movement. Avoid wearing two pairs of socks to prevent bunching and blisters.

  • Goggles are essential, even on dry days. Different lenses are tailored for specific light and weather, but an all-purpose tinted lens will protect your eyes from sun and wind.

  • A helmet is always a good idea and strongly encouraged as the majority of skiers and snowboarders now wear them.

  • A neck gaiter or balaclava can help protect areas around the head, neck, and chin susceptible to icy blasts of wind and snow.

  • A backpack or hydration pack can be useful for intermediate and expert skiers and boarders to stow extra gear or snacks without renting a locker or going back to the car.

  • Sunscreen is a must for much of the season. Rays are stronger at higher elevations and reflect off snow for double exposure and surprise sunburns (like under your chin).
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