I didn’t grow up skiing and learned in my mid-twenties after moving to Seattle. Figuring out what to wear skiing can be hard when you’re new to a sport and a new climate (the PNW). I hadn’t had much experience dressing for outdoor activities with the exception of hiking in the summer in the northeast, which meant shorts and tank tops. After several seasons skiing in the PNW and taking many ski trips, I want to share what I’ve learned.
The PNW has a maritime climate, which means weather comes off the ocean and hovers around freezing temperatures throughout the winter. The snow is usually dense compared to the intercontinental states like Colorado, Montana, and Utah. It means that soft shell layers aren’t favorable to keep you dry and you warm. However, I’ve found myself skiing in a down jacket or soft shell layers when skiing outside of the PNW or in colder climates.
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Women’s ski tops
Depending on how long you plan on being on the mountain versus the lodge, below are some layering systems I’ve used as I resort ski.
Ski top base layers
The base layer is a layer that touches your ski and wicks away sweat from your body to keep you dry and warm. I’ve been using an Under Armor base layer that I bought for high school softball (yes it still fits, doesn’t smell, and has lasted 15 years). Worth the investment if I do say so myself.
My backup option is a wool base layer from SmartWool. Wool layers are normally my favorite but I like a synthetic layer in colder weather to prevent bunching of the two fabrics to reduce how much I have to adjust and pull on the layers.
Ski top mid layers
I had tried many layers. The Patagonia Women’s R1® Fleece Pullover is worth the investment and has been my ultimate favorite outdoor piece of clothing. Even as a mid layer, it doesn’t feel super thick to provide movement under jackets and shells. I normally wear something under it.
Bonus: Keep the core extra warm by adding a vest over your base layers. I normally only wear a vest when the temperatures are reasonably warm and I am only wearing base and mid layers to avoid extra bulk.
Ski insulating jackets
I’ll add a down jacket, like the Patagonia Nano Puff jacket under my hard shell jacket. If I know it is going to be an extra wet day, then I’ll replace the synthetic down with a fleece jacket. Though, it’s a little thicker and less flexible than the down jacket.
Ski hard shell jacket
As mentioned before, I spend most of my time in the PNW and prefer Arc’teryx Sentinel jacket, a hard shell waterproof jacket. When I first started skiing, I bought an Outdoor Research soft shell jacket on sale and didn’t keep me dry. It’s a great jacket for blue bird spring skiing days. The only disadvantage with hard shell jackets are they aren’t breathable. Make sure you find one with good ventilation, like pit zips.
Ski soft shell jackets
Skiing in the spring or in dry, cold climates? Consider replacing a hard shell jacket with something a little more breathable. Soft shell jackets work well when the temperatures are extremely cold and snowing or you have a bluebird day. Maritime climates, or those off the Pacific Coast, tend to hover around freezing make the snow and precipitation dense. I don’t recommend soft shell jacket if snow is on the forecast with varying low 30-degree to high 20-degree temps.
Women’s ski bottoms
My legs mostly stay warm. I tend to decide to layer under a hard shell outer layer as opposed to insulated ski pants. Though, I started with soft shell pants, I rarely wear them these days.
Ski bottom base layer
Similar to a top base layer, the bottom layer keeps your legs warm. I tend to wear mid-weight wool leggings since my shell pants don’t have insulation. I recently bought fleece-lined leggings from The North Face for a recent trip to Montana, Colorado, and Utah. I’m happy I did since the temperatures rarely reached above 20-degrees Fahrenheit.
Ski hard shell pants
I prefer bibs. I don’t know why I can’t find good bibs to wear where I don’t have to take off my jacket to use the toilet, but learning to ski meant taking some falls. As I fell, snow would get down my pants making the rest of the day a tad uncomfortable.
I had a pair of soft shell pants when I started learning to ski that worked great in the dryer spring days. However, I knew if I wanted to get into the sport and spend more of the season outside that I’d need to upgrade to a GoreTex layer. It’s more important for a dry bottom layer at ski resorts because you spend time on the chair lift with wet seats that tends to absorb the snow. I have two different styles of Arc’teryx bibs but as long as it is a durable waterproof pant, you should be ok.
Insulated ski pants
Even though I prefer layering with base layers under my shell, depending on where you ski, you might want to consider a pant that has insulation, especially if you run cold. Insulated pants also come in handy if you’re a snowboarder and have to sit down to clip into your bindings at the top of a run. Sitting in the snow is cold!
Head, hands, neck and feet
Now, let’s talk about the other parts of the body, which sometimes can be the most difficult to keep warm!
I wear a ski helmet to keep the ears and head warm. Add a buff up over your head if you find that the helmet is still not warm enough. My helmet doesn’t have vent covers, so the wind will sometimes get through causing a mild brain freezing feeling while skiing fast or the weather is strong. The vent covers protect your hair from getting wet when a wintry mix is falling from the sky. I should upgrade my helmet to ones with vents.
Believe it or not, you can have bad goggles. When I first started skiing, I got a $20 pair of goggles and had a hard time in white-out conditions. After a couple of years of “dealing with it,” I invested in Smith I/OS women’s goggles. The optics allowed me to see better in low light. The goggles also have interchangeable lenses, so I can use a darker tint lens for sunny days and a yellow lens for low-visible days.
I always ski with mittens unless I’m ski touring because my hands stay warmer when my fingers aren’t separated in ski gloves. My mittens are similar to how I layer. I have a removable fleece layer that goes under a larger protective layer to keep the fleece gloves dry. The Outdoor Research Meteor mittens also are long enough to go over my coat cuffs to keep the snow out of my jacket.
I’m not a fan of hoods. The only hood I wear is on my hard shell when it’s snowing heavy to protect my layers from getting wet. I like having mobility with my neck to be aware of my surroundings and feel that hoods restrict the motion.
Though, my neck and face get cold. Enter the neck gaiter, or brand name known as Buff. If I know it is going to be a windy day, I’ll add a fleece neck gaiter and a lightweight one. I like the lightweight ones to move around and pull up around my face when I’m on the lift and the wind is stinging my face.
Ski socks: Keeping your feet warm
The one place on my body that gets cold first: my feet. High wool ski socks normally do the trick in milder winter climates. Though, I normally struggle in colder temperatures at keeping my feet warm. Since ski boots fit snug, you don’t want to try to add too much inside the boot because your feet will stay warm if there is some space for your body heat to warm. These days, some boots come with heaters. Consider buying a boot with this function if you want comfort on the mountain and predict you’ll be in frigid temperatures regularly.
Don’t forget to find other female shredders on the mountain when wearing a tutu.
A category you can use across sports, like yoga, workouts, hiking, etc.
I like to wear a wool bra when in cold weather because they dry faster. However, any synthetic bra will work to support you cruising down mogul covered slopes. My favorite: Smartwool PhD Seamless Strappy sports bra.
Can you see a trend in all the women’s ski apparel so far? All are synthetic and your underwear shouldn’t be any different. I enjoy ExOfficio underwear for my outdoor adventures. Icebreaker also makes good wool options if you prefer.
Apres ski attire
I try to find base layers that can be worn in public to save on how much I have to pack for the day (or trip) and less laundry to do later. I knitted a small skirt to put over my wool leggings and leave the ski pants in the car but keep my tops on for efficiency. Add your favorite pair of winter boots, I like my SOREL snow boots. Replace the neck gaiter with a colorful scarf and a nice beanie in place of the helmet.