When I moved to Colorado two years ago, I’d never been on a pair of skis in my life. The concept of being excited for winter was still completely foreign to me, since on the East Coast it’s basically three months of grey, bone-chilling misery.
Winter may be several months away (not counting the random snowstorm we’ll assuredly have in a few weeks), but in Colorado we’re already dreaming of powder days. I may have an advantage since I participate in an outdoor sport year-round and used to work outside (blame horses for both), but I found that staying warm while skiing doesn’t necessarily require shelling out major bucks.
Like I said in my winter running blog, the most important part of any winter recreation outfit is your base layer. It has to be moisture-wicking and not too bulky. Under Armour Cold Gear is my favorite, but any non-cotton, long underwear type shirt and leggings will do. REI’s long underwear is actually pretty affordable. I typically wear an Under Armour top and thick running tights as my base layer.
If it’s not going to be sunny while you’re skiing, you will want to layer up as much as possible. For example, I’ve got some baggier long underwear that I’ll actually put over the running tights to really trap in all the heat. The long underwear are basically up to my armpits, so yeah, it’s a pretty hot look.
If you are looking for an investment piece, SmartWool makes really fantastic base layers. You can try to nab them on sale, but chances are slim you’ll find them for anything less than their wallet-draining full price.
Once you’ve got base layers established, you can start adding some bulk to trap heat. Your base layer wicks moisture and keeps you dry while middle layers keep your body heat from escaping. This is why it’s so important to not use cotton base layers – they won’t ever dry out, and you’ll be wet and freezing. Anyways, back to middle layers.
Here’s the typical progression I use:
- Base Layer
- Slightly thicker long sleeved shirt (i.e. a medium weight pullover designed for cold weather)
- Form-fitting fleece
- Puffy vest
My outfit is a mix of what I already had in my closet, what I’ve gotten a deal on, and a few legit investment pieces since I do a lot of outdoor recreation anyways. I got my puffy vest for $20 at the Gap outlet but also have a really nice fleece from REI that was closer to $60. Unfortunately, they don’t make it anymore, but this is the most similar item I could find.
I accidentally bought a snowboarding jacket back in high school (yes, I still wear the jacket I was rocking on the bus stop corner circa 2005). This means it had a pocket for goggles, and the armpits unzip (a feature I was thoroughly confused by while freezing my ass off at said bus stop, but now appreciate). These are nice features, but they’re not must-haves.
Whatever winter jacket you have is fine as long as it’s waterproof and not knee length. You do want to be able to move around in it, but let’s be real, it’s not like you’re going to be giving Lindsey Vonn a run for her money your first few times out. It’s not important to have the latest ski wear – just warm and waterproof!
You’re Invited to the Pants Party
Pants were probably the biggest advantage I had thanks to my previous career in a barn. They’re one of the most important pieces, but they are also very pricey. I already had pants very similar to ski pants; they were just over $100 and I can say without a doubt they saved my ass outside all winter.
If you have them, you can use regular snow pants as an alternative. I also went to college in the mountains so it might not be normal that I had a pair of coveralls to rock as an adult.
My friend Lindsay (not Vonn but equally awesome) made it work with some fleece-line leggings and windbreaker pants…until they got wet. So in case I haven’t said it enough…you need something WATERPROOF.
One last hint! Ask around with your friends – at least in Colorado, someone is going to have extra pants somewhere. And if you’re looking for your first investment piece for skiing, you should probably start with the pants.
“How bright could it possibly be?”
“It’s winter, why on earth would I need sunglasses?”
This was me (with plenty of eye rolling for effect) on my way to my first ski lesson. I stepped outside, looked up towards the mountain, and was promptly blinded. Fortunately, Copper had plenty of sunglasses to choose from that were all under $20 and not totally tragic looking.
Goggles will run you around $50 or more, so I just used sunglasses and kept a close eye on sales. I ended up picking up a pair of goggles on sale for under $20. If you decide you like skiing and want to go a few times a year, it quickly starts making sense to take advantage of a bargain instead of paying for a rental every time.
Your helmet will have little pads that cover your ears, so unless you have a VERY thin ear warmer, you’re not going to fit anything underneath it. I’ve been fine with nothing on, even on a day that it was snowing.
I’ve occasionally gotten cold on the lift, but as soon as I am actually skiing (down the greens with small children) I always warm right up. I do bring a beanie with me just to wear in the car or around the resort if we’re going to stick around.
For the love of all that is holy, do not forget gloves!! And hand warmers and foot warmers. But you will be absolutely miserable if you don’t have gloves. Again, it’s ideal if these are waterproof, but not absolutely necessary. For some reason, I already had a pair of waterproof mittens laying around, but I’ve also gotten by with some pretty affordable North Face gloves.
Any way you slice it, there’s no cheap way to go skiing. So do the best you can to borrow and beg your way into some warm and waterproof layers for your first time, and then if you decided you like it, keep an eye on sales to start stocking up on your own things.
How have you made your existing wardrobe work for skiing? Tell me your beginner ski hacks in the comments below!