What to wear your first time skiing

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.

Clothes that keep you warm and dry are your biggest priorities for deciding how to dress for skiing. 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.

First time skiing...before I started crying because I went down a run that was way too hard.
First time skiing…before I started crying because I went down a run that was way too hard.

Base Layers

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.

Middle Management

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.

This is too many layers. Stop before you get to this point.
This is too many layers. Stop before you get to this point.

Here’s the typical progression I use:

  1. Base Layer
  2. Slightly thicker long sleeved shirt (i.e. a medium weight pullover designed for cold weather)
  3. Form-fitting fleece
  4. 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 I got after deciding I did actually enjoy being outdoorsy. 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!

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, which I also had handy because I went to college in West Virginia and getting to class in January was not going to work without coveralls.

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.

It's all fun and games until you're squinting for four hours straight.
It’s all fun and games until you’re squinting for four hours straight.

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 when I’m done.

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. I happened to have waterproof mittens laying around (thank you West Virginia) but I’ve made do without.

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!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. This guide is spot on! And I also cried and threw a temper tantrum when I went down a run that is too hard for me. It’s a super attractive quality I have. 😉 I’ve been putting together my ski outfit for about two years now, and the two things I cannot live without are my legit ski gloves and my snow pants. I used to just ski in running tights but I didn’t even know what I was missing! One day, I hope to be a master skier. But I am so far off right now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Thanks, Amanda! I have to agree that investing in some legit mittens has been AMAZING…ski pants are next on my list since the horseback riding pants I have don’t fit around ski boots. I’m still working on getting off greens myself 🙂


  2. Marcel says:

    You can also rent all of your ski apparel at http://www.getoutfitted.com. If you’re traveling, or don’t want to spend all that money on gear, it’s a great option. Complete outfits start at just $19 a day. Check us out!


    1. Laura Cardon says:

      Ahh yes thanks Marcel! I found out about Get Outfitted this year and keep meaning to try it out – seems like a great option for beginners. Would love to work with you guys on a blog post!


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