What to Wear When You Go Skiing

a man on a mountain holding a pair of skis and wearing a coat, gloves, helmet, and goggles
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Chances are that if you walk into any ski shop, you'll be affronted with an array of ski apparel options. Fortunately, ski clothing doesn't have to be complicated. If you aren't sure what to wear skiing, it's best to start with the basics and then move on to the accessories. Here is a guideline for what to wear to go skiing, which you can use as a checklist when you begin to assemble your ski wardrobe.

Base Layer

For your base layer, you should invest in long underwear designed for winter sports. The woolen or cotton-thermal long underwear of your grandparents' generation is no longer your best bet. It's important to wear long underwear that is wicking, breathable, and fast drying, so if you work up a sweat you won't find yourself shivering. Cotton absorbs moisture and keeps it against your skin, lowering your body temperature. Your base layer should be form-fitting and contoured so it fits smoothly under your ski clothes.​


Your mid-layer is worn over your base layer and under your ski jacket and ski pants. Although you may shed your mid-layer on warmer days, you'll find that in colder temperatures, wearing a mid-layer really cuts the chill. Mid-layers typically are light- to medium-weight long-sleeve shirts and light jackets, or even technical T-shirts.

Common fabrics include polyester, Merino wool, and fleece. Do not wear a cotton mid-layer. Your mid-layer should fit snugly but provide complete coverage. Another option is a ski vest, which keeps your core warm without bulkiness.​

Ski Jacket

Your ski jacket is key in keeping you warm, comfortable, and dry. Above all, it blocks the wind and keeps out snow. Invest in a well-fitting ski jacket that is waterproof or at least water-resistant and breathable. Some skiers like insulated jackets for maximum warmth, while others prefer a shell that is relatively lightweight and relies on the mid-layer and base layer for thermal insulation.

Make sure your ski jacket allows mobility, as you don't want to feel constricted when making turns. Also, make sure it's long enough on your torso; most ski jackets go well below the waist to keep cold air and snow from getting to your midsection. Once you've got the essentials down, have some fun with ski fashion and choose a jacket that appeals to you!

Ski Pants

Also imperative to any ski wardrobe is your ski pants. Ski pants should be waterproof, insulated, and long enough to be pulled down over your ski boots. Ski pants should also have a contoured, comfortable fit - you want your pants loose enough to allow your hips and knees to bend, but you shouldn't have to be pulling your pants up after every run. Ski pants should also be durable enough to resist wear and tear if you take a tumble. Bibs are ideal for kids because they extend well above the waist to keep out snow, and they never fall down!

Ski Socks

A good pair of ski socks ensures an optimal fit for your ski boots. Any old pair of cotton socks won't cut it - in order to keep your feet warm and dry. You need a pair of socks that are slim-fitting under your ski boots and are also wicking, breathable, and fast drying. Essentially, your ski socks are like long underwear for your feet. Ski socks should be thin and only ​single-layer. Thick socks or doubled-up socks compress and shift throughout the day, changing the fit of your boots. 

Ski Gloves

You'll save a lot of money on hand warmers if you buy a pair of quality ski gloves. The phrase "you get what you pay for" really rings true when it comes to ski gloves. A pair of $15 gloves from the local department store isn't likely to hold its own on the top of a mountain, especially if your hands are sensitive to the cold. Instead, look for a pair of quality gloves designed for skiing. Although ski gloves offer the most dexterity, ski mittens are the warmest choice. However, if you do prefer gloves, wearing glove liners can add an extra layer of warmth.

Ski Gaiter

A gaiter, or neck warmer, keeps your face and neck protected from the wind. Although considered an "accessory," you'll find that gaiters are actually essential in keeping you warm on chilly days. Ski one run without one, and you'll definitely feel the difference. Not only do gaiters protect you from the harsh elements, but a neck warmer is a much safer option than a scarf, which can be hazardous if it becomes tangled on the ski lift or unravels on the slopes.

Ski Helmet

A ski helmet is an absolutely necessary component of your ski wardrobe. Ski helmets are proven to reduce injury, and there's no reason not to wear one, as ski helmets are more affordable than ever and easy to find at any ski shop. If you find that your head gets chilly under your helmet, consider wearing a helmet liner or skull cap as an extra insulating layer.

Ski Goggles

Although you may not realize it due to the cold temperatures, the sun is extremely strong on the mountain. Bright snow reflects the sunlight, and higher altitudes mean the sun's UV rays are ultra-powerful. Protect your eyes and increase your visibility by wearing ski goggles. Polarized lenses are especially helpful in reducing glare.

How to Shop for Ski Clothing

Now you know what you need, it's time to start shopping. The cost of ski clothing can vary even more than that of skis or boots. If you're lucky, you can snag a ski jacket for nearly half its retail price during an end-of-season sale, or you can opt to shop for high-end ski wear at a luxury resort boutique. Here's how to compare cost and quality to find the right ski jacket for you.