Skiing or snowboarding can be incredibly fun – as long as you are dressed for success. Cold can kill a winter adventure and turn a great day into a suffer-fest. It’s important that you know how to dress properly so you can enjoy your time in the snow, whether you are in the mountains or digging out of your neighborhood. Using a head-to-toe layering system can keep you comfortable throughout a day of activity and gives you the ability to adjust your layers based on your temperature and activity level.
To keep things simple, start from the ground up. Your feet are your connection to the earth, and your equipment, so if they are cold and uncomfortable you’ll be stumbling painfully through the winter landscape like you had one too many whiskey drinks. Here are a few basic tips to keep your feet happy.
Buy yourself some durable wool socks. Cotton socks are no good in the winter months. As soon as cotton gets wet, it is basically like wrapping your foot in icy water. Wool socks do a better job managing moisture, and still provide warmth when wet.
Don’t put your socks on until you are ready to ski or snowboard. Have one pair of socks for getting to the trailhead or resort, and another to play in. When you are ready to put your boots on, change into your fresh wool socks. This way you have dry socks in your boots to start with.
Make sure your ski boots fit properly. Improper boot fit is a sure recipe for cold feet and pain. A properly fitted boot should support your foot and lower leg without cutting off circulation. To complete the fit, make sure your long underwear isn’t tucked into your boots; extra material can create pressure points and cold spots.
If you run cold, or have problems with your feet, it’s worth looking at a pair of heated socks. You want to be careful not to overheat your feet with these, though, as sweaty feet equal cold feet. The Lenz Heat Sock 1.0 is a great choice for heated socks due to its three heat settings.
A good pair of long underwear goes a long way to keeping you warm on days when the thermometer is in the teens or even single digits. Long underwear, or baselayers, come in a range of different weights, colors, and cuts. What’s most important is to choose the cut and weight that is going to work best with your body and activity. For skiing or snowboarding, a capri-style bottom or legging is a nice option so you don’t have to worry about it bunching up inside your boots.
The weight of your baselayer will depend on how hot/cold you run and how strenuous the activity will be. For skiing in the resort you may want to wear a heavier weight since you’ll be riding the chairlift in between runs, while a lighter weight may be more appropriate for ski touring or cross country skiing.
Your core is where your body stores and generates most of its heat, and it’s important to keep this part of your body warm and properly insulated. Layering your core is important so you can regulate your temperature by adding or removing layers based on both your activity level and your normal resting body temperature.
For skiing and snowboarding, generally a three- to four-layer system works best. You’ll want a fairly thin wool or synthetic (not cotton) baselayer to start with. This layer will be the first layer against your skin and should be formfitting to avoid extra bulk.
Next you’ll want to add a midlayer. This layer can be something like a fleece top or wool sweater. Check out a garment like the Patagonia R1 Pullover or the Arcteryx Stryka Hoody.
Depending on how many layers you are rocking, your third layer will either be an outer shell jacket or an additional insulation layer. Ideally this would be a down, Primaloft, Coreloft (or other synthetic) layer. The Arcteryx Atom LT Hoody and the Outdoor Research Acetylene Jacket are both great choices. If you tend to run really cold, then you may want to look at a heated midlayer like the Lenz Heat Vest 1.0.
You can lose a lot of heat from your head so it’s important to keep it covered. For skiing or snowboarding, a helmet is the best and safest option. You can add a Buff or balaclava under a helmet to add extra warmth, and to keep your face covered.
Modern ski helmets have ventilation systems that will allow you to regulate your temperature without taking your lid off. If you are ski touring or hiking, make sure you take your helmet off when you are going uphill so you don’t fog up your goggles or get your helmet sweaty. Putting on a sweaty helmet in the cold is like sticking your head in an ice tray.
Cold hands can be incredibly painful, and frustrating. There’s nothing like trying to get your goggles on or adjusting your boots when you can’t feel your fingers. A good pair of gloves is crucial, and money spent on your hands is well worth the cost.
Again, you have choices – gloves or mittens; thin, medium, or heavy insulation. Base your choice on your body temp as well as your chosen activity. For skiing in the resort, a glove or mitten with down or synthetic insulation is going to be best. Heated gloves are a great option for those who suffer from incessantly cold hands.
If you are ski touring or hiking, you’ll want a lightweight glove for going up and something with more insulation/protection for your descent.
Although it may seem confusing, it’s really pretty simple to stay warm while skiing or snowboarding. Ask yourself, do I usually run hot or cold? What type of activity am I looking to get into? Balance your selection and layering system based on your answers to these two questions.
Run hot and going for a big ski tour? Probably best to look at lighter, thinner layers for the day. Constantly cold and looking to spend some time on the chairlift for some resort laps? Bulk up your layers, maybe go heated, and add some insulation to your core. Either way, layer up accordingly and get out there and have fun!