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Layer Up: The Gear You Need

Layer Up: The Gear You Need

As a new skier or snowboarder, you may be wondering how exactly to dress for the ski slopes and still stay warm in those sometimes freezing temperatures. The key to success is layering correctly.  But a secret that not everyone knows is that layering correctly also involves having the right kind of clothes, not just the right amount.  To make it easy, we are going to break it down into three levels.

First and Most Important: Socks

First, you always start your morning by putting on your base layers.  I like to start with my socks. Socks are one of the most important layers you wear.  If your feet aren’t happy, you won’t be happy.  It’s important to invest in a pair (or two) of socks made specifically for skiing or snowboarding. These types of socks are made specifically to keep moisture from soaking the sock and freezing your feet. They can be made from either synthetic materials like nylon or organic materials like wool. Organic fiber socks tend to be warmer and lighter weight. But it is really all about finding the brand you like.  Check out Smartwool and EuroSocks, two of my favorite brands.

Pro-Tip: Bring a second pair of socks with you on the mountain and change your socks at lunchtime, you’re feet will thank you!

Stay Dry and Warm: Base Layers

After the socks come your base layers. Base layers or as they used to be known, long underwear, are made of special fabrics that wick sweat away from your body. While base layers are not as important as socks, you still want to make sure that you have some type of moisture wicking material as the layer that is up against your body. Otherwise, you will sweat while you ski or board and this sweat will eventually freeze making you too cold to enjoy your day. Any good yoga pants or shirts should do the trick, but if you’re planning on hitting the mountains a lot, you will want to put some money into a good base layer.

When choosing a base layer, you’ll want to consider both the weight and the material. There are two types of weights appropriate for skiing: Lightweight, designed to fit tightly to your skin and perfect for mild to cool climates; Mid-weight, also fits tightly to your skin and is best suited for cool to moderately cold climates where you will be doing a medium level of activity.  Next you want to decide whether you use a synthetic material or a wool base layer. Synthetics are more fairly priced, and allow fast wicking of moisture, but they may not regulate temperature as well. On the other hand wool base layers allow for great warmth and wicking, but they are not as fast drying and more expensive.

Pro-Tip: Choose a lighter weight layer if the temperatures are going to be 20’s and above, you will sweat more than you realize…after all skiing is a work-out.

Middle-Layers: When do you need them?

As a new skier or snowboarder, you’re going to be working a lot harder than someone who knows what they are doing. You’ll likely be getting up and down all day, especially if you are learning to snowboard. This means that you may only need base layers and outerwear, except on the coldest of days. A good rule of thumb is that if you are spending the day on the bunny hill and it is above 25 degrees, you probably won’t need a middle layer. But in case it is colder, a good option for a middle layer is just a simple sweatshirt or fleece jacket.  It’s almost never necessary to wear a middle layer on your legs unless it is truly freezing, then just a basic pair of sweatpants will work just fine.

Pro-Tip: If you’re concerned about being cold, bring an extra layer with you. There is almost always lockers you can rent at the lodge to ditch that extra layer for the day, but at least you won’t be too cold if the weather changes on you.

Outerwear: It’s Not All About Looks

Snowboard Outerwear

When it comes to outerwear, not all jackets and pants are created equal.  As a newbie, you will probably be tempted to just borrow gear from a friend, which is fine when you’re just starting out. But after a few trips, you’ll probably want a jacket and pants to call your own. So, when it comes time to settle down and make a commitment, you’ll need to consider a few things.

First, you’ll want to think about the climate. Is it going to be freezing temperatures all day, every day, or will you be sweating out there? It is important to consider the climate because it will help you to decide the right weight, waterproof, and breathability ratings. Generally, you’ll want a jacket that has a waterproof rating of at least 5,000 – 8,000 mm. If you’re going to be in blizzard conditions or out for long periods of time you’ll need to step up the waterproof rating to the 9,000-15,000 mm range. Weight wise, for moderate temperatures you want something between 60 – 100 g. For beginners, the breathability rating of the jackets or pants in the 5,000-8,000 g range will be fine. The same guidelines can be applied to ski or snowboard pants purchases. Although, shell pants are pretty common, many people prefer insulated pants because they keep you warmer.

Pro-Tip: When choosing your jacket or pants, you should also make sure there are adequate pockets. You’ll thank us when you are juggling your phone, trail map, chapstick, handwarmers, wallet, headphones etc.

Last But Not Least: Accessories IMG_2175

In addition to the strategic clothing items listed above, you also need a certain amount of accessories in order to hit the slopes. These include: gloves, goggles, face mask, and a hat or helmet. For gloves, you want to make sure you get a pair of waterproof ski or snowboard gloves. But you have a choice between gloves and mittens. Gloves will provide more control especially for the new skier, but mittens are generally warmer.

As for face masks, there are several options, from full face hoods to your standard turtle fur. Face masks are more of a personal preference, so try some on and see which type works for you.

The most expensive investments you’ll make outside of your pants and jacket are for goggles, and a helmet. If you are still renting your skis or snowboard, many shops will also rent you a helmet to go along with it. But if you are in the market for a helmet, TRY IT ON! It should fit very securely and not move. Ask someone in the shop to check the fit if you are unsure. Helmets cost anywhere from $50-200, make sure it fits you right and is comfortable. Remember, this is really an investment that could save your life.

Lastly, goggles. Goggles come in ALL shapes, sizes, and colors. The best goggles allow for venting so they don’t fog up when you’re on the slopes. Like helmets, you will also want to try the goggles on, and if you have a helmet or are buying a helmet at the same time, try them on together because sometimes the helmet will affect the fit of the goggles.

Pro-Tip: Go to a store to try on Helmets and Goggles, but to save some money you can order your gloves and face masks online!

 Packing List:

  • Ski/Snowboard Socks
  • Base Layers
  • Middle Layer (for colder temperatures)
  • Waterproof/Insulated Jacket
  • Ski/Snowboard Pants
  • Face Mask
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Helmet/Hat


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