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A Comprehensive Downhill Ski Gear Guide

38.8697° N, 106.9878° W

Girl carrying skis during a sunny day.

A QUICK BREAKDOWN OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SKI GEAR YOU SHOULD HAVE. PLUS, MY OWN SKI GEAR CHECKLIST.

 



Figuring out what to wear skiing is actually much tougher than you think. You have to take into account a number of things: the temperature, the wind speed, the likelihood of precipitation (snow, sleet or rain), and comfort (and maybe cuteness). While I grew up skiing in Colorado - where the ski conditions don't really change thaaaat much - now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, I find my ski gear choices to be long and challenging.


Below is a breakdown of the main pieces of ski gear you should have in your arsenal. I have added in my own helpful tips (mostly things that I have learned from dressing for many, many types of ski conditions) and recommendations on items that I personally love.


As always, if you have any questions or comments please reach out here.






 

MY COMPREHENSIVE DOWNHILL SKI GEAR GUIDE

 





BASELAYER TOP


I wear my Smartwool merino wool baselayer top probably 90% of the times I go skiing (both downhill and backcountry). The shirt is fitted to be tight against the body while still being comfortable, the wool wicks sweat and is breathable and it somehow doesn't smell as bad as other tops even after a long day of skiing.


💬 INSIDER TIP: it took me a while to jump on the wool baselayer train, but now that I have, I find myself staying much warmer out on the slopes even in adverse conditions. While the price tag can be high, this is one piece of gear I would suggest investing in.




BASELAYER BOTTOM


You will also want a set of baselayer bottoms that wick moisture and keep your legs nice and warm. I actually two pairs: a lighter pair for relatively nice snow days (similar to the Smartwool ones above) and a thicker, fleece-lined pair for when it gets really cold out. When backcountry skiing, I wear the thinner pair.




MID-LAYER JACKET

/ Fjallraven Fleece Jacket (this one is very similar to the Mammut jacket I thrifted for $6)

 

Layers are your best friend for skiing. But making the right decision can be tough. I tend to go with my Smartwool baselayer top, a thinner mid-layer jacket (usually of some fleece-like material, like the Fjallraven one above) and then finish with my top shell/waterproof jacket.


💬INSIDER TIP: on really cold days, I may also add another long sleeve wicking top (one that is not too bulky) between my baselayer and mid-layer jacket. If you can, try to find a top that has the thumb holes. This will help make sure no skin shows between your jacket and gloves.




TOP SHELL JACKET




TOP SHELL BOTTOMS

 


You will want your top shell layers to be both waterproof and large enough to fit multiple layers underneath. I use both the Helly Hanson Powchaser jacket (a huge perk of working at a ski resort) and a much thinner Cotapaxi jacket (I love it even if it isn't a "quintessential" ski jacket). Both jackets have their perks, but I think investing in a good outer shell is key if you are someone looking to ski in all conditions (that Helly Hanson jacket is a godsend when it is blizzarding).








MITTENS/GLOVES

/ Black Diamond Spark Mitten (love my Black Diamond mittens - both for skiing and other winter activities, like trail running)


I am a mitten girl through and through. I started out skiing in gloves and quickly realized my fingers got so much colder, so much faster. Now I only use thick mittens and sometimes a glove liner if the temperatures are really cold. The only downside to mittens that I have found is the struggle to use your fingers to do such menial things like zip your jacket up or take a photo. But I guess you can't win them all.




STOCKING CAP


Stocking caps or beanies are great for those days when the temperature is just absolutely freezing or when you want to look cute in the ski lodge. I have a sweet burnt yellow one for both occasions.




HEADBAND


I typically wear a headband under my helmet when skiing unless the temperatures are relatively balmy (then it is just the helmet and maybe a buff protecting my ears). Either way, this is a good piece of gear to have because headbands are nice and warm without being too bulky.




BUFF/GAITER

/ Smartwool Reversible Gaiter (this one is super comfortable and breathable)


I swear by buffs/gaiters (is there an actual difference?). I wear one during most adventures no matter the season. The thinner fabric is breathable and not very constricting, while the protection against the elements (sun, snow, wind) is top-notch. I have two options that I rotate through because they can get gross quickly.




Girl hikes up a mountain carrying skis.



HELMET


Safety first. Always.




GOGGLES


My newest ski gear addition are these cool Smith ChromaPop goggles (I won them in a lottery) and I absolutely love them. They are great in many different types of lighting and weather environments, plus they fit my face well, don't get fogged up easily and match my helmet.




SKIS




SKI POLES


I use standard Atomic ski poles for both downhill and uphill skiing. They are simple, straightforward and comfortable.




BACKPACK


Unless I am heading into the backcountry, I don't tend to wear a backpack (it can be kind of a hazard on chairlifts). But when I do need one, I like to have one that fits my body snuggly, has lots of pockets and can carry plenty of important gear (like avalanche safety gear).





Girl looking out towards snowy mountains while skiing.



Ski gear and ski layering can be a tough thing to figure out - especially when you are exploring a volatile environment where the weather can change quickly (i.e. the PNW). Add on the fact that ski gear isn't exactly cheap and you will likely find yourself feeling a bit out of your depth.


But here is some (hopefully) good advice: don't stress about having the most top-notch gear, especially when starting out. While it would be great to buy all of the primo ski gear out there, it isn't necessary. You can very likely get by with gear that won't break the bank (for example, I wear a thrifted mid-layer jacket a lot of the time, my skis are from an end of season sale at a demo shop (aka used), and my goggles for the longest time were also from a used gear shop). Don't let the fear of not wearing the best ski gear hold you back from actually skiing.


Okay, stepping off my soapbox now.


Hopefully, this ski gear guide helps you figure out what items you should have when you plan your own epic ski adventure. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out or leave a comment below.




 

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