If you're new to skiing or snowboarding the world of winter holidays can all seem very complicated, and the task of choosing the right ski holiday can be a daunting one. There's a lot to think about; where to go, chalet or hotel, full area pass or local pass? And if you're travelling in a group, of course you have to try and please everyone. Hopefully, though, one of the experts at Iglu Ski have either found, or are in the process of finding, the perfect package to suit you, leaving you free to turn your attention to the equally important question; what do I wear skiing?
This can be a tough one. As you might expect, it varies dramatically depending on when you travel. Although skiing is known as a winter sport, the ski season actually spans two real seasons; winter and spring, and the weather can change dramatically and very quickly regardless.
While there are those who ski in nothing more than baggy trousers, an oversized hoody, a beanie hat and wayfarer sunglasses, these guys are generally pretty awesome on the slopes and seem to have somehow transcended the need for practical clothing. For us normal people it's important to wear the right equipment. Hoodies aren't waterproof, and spending a day in wet gear will make you sad. It absolutely will affect how you perform on your skis or board and, if you're trying to learn, will make the whole process a lot more difficult and frustrating, and we don't want you to give up.
This guide will give you an idea of what to wear up on the mountain to make sure you stay comfortable, dry and safe.
What to wear skiing
If you take nothing else away from this, though, at least remember two things; layers and sun cream. Multiple layers rather than one big, thick jacket will help keep you warmer in cold weather because warm air is trapped between the layers, and if you get too warm you can always cool down by removing layers. And sun cream because, if the sun comes out, the unprotected areas of your face will get burnt. This is more prevalent with spring skiing, but the sun can make an appearance any time and its effects are more powerful at altitude. Additionally, because the sun's rays are reflected off the snow, which makes them stronger still, your skin is being hit from all directions. Most people learn this the hard way, don't be one of them.
Skiing isn't the cheapest of sports to get into, but kitting yourself out with the right stuff needn't break the bank. Over time you can invest in new and cooler clothing and equipment, but when you first start out you can get everything you need fairly cheaply from reasonably priced outdoor pursuits retailers like Mountain Warehouse, and even pick up some decent bits from the likes of TK Maxx. You don't necessarily need to buy everything, try borrowing kit where possible, and some shops even have ski clothing available to hire.
Whether you're buying, borrowing or hiring, here are the things you'll need:
With lenses that offer UV protection. You may find sports sunglasses are fine in good weather, but when the wind picks up and the snow is hammering down a pair of goggles will offer far more protection and help keep your eyeballs warm! Consider a pair with interchangeable lenses; dark for sunny conditions and a lighter lens to vastly improve visibility in low light conditions.
You can hire these from any equipment shop in resort. In Italy, children under 14 must wear a helmet. In Nova Scotia, Canada, everyone must wear a helmet. If you're having lessons with a ski school they might have their own rules, as might your travel insurance policy.
When you stop for a hot chocolate and a selfie, and take your helmet off, you'll be grateful for the extra layer on your head.
Base-layer (top and bottom)
Essential in cold weather, this close fitting layer will help retain warmth next to your skin. Opt for a quality breathable, wicking material that will draw sweat and moisture away from the skin, keeping you warm and dry.
Although a specifically designed mid-layer fleece from a ski or outdoor pursuits shop would probably serve you better, this layer doesn’t necessarily have to be anything special and many just opt for a comfortable long-sleeved top, jumper or hoody. As long as you’re going to be warm and comfortable, just go with what feels right. If it’s super cold you might want to wear an extra t-shirt as well, and you can always remove it later if you get too warm.
Waterproof outer-layer (jacket and trousers)
A good quality jacket and pair of ski trousers (also called salopettes) are absolutely essential. Their primary function is not to make you look good; they are your first line of defence against the harsh conditions of the mountain. They will protect you against strong wind, snow and sleet, keep you dry when you fall over, and prevent you from suffering friction burns when sliding down the mountain on a part of your body rather than on your skis or board.
Make sure the jacket and trousers you choose are wind and waterproof, preferably breathable as well, with ‘taped seams’ that prevent moisture from entering through the stitching.
It’s useful to have a lift pass pocket in the sleeve or in one of the pockets, waterproof zips to further enhance the waterproofness and a snow skirt (or powder skirt) in the hem of the jacket to help prevent snow from getting in the event of a spill.
A hood on the jacket will offer extra protection in bad conditions, and ventilation zips under the arms and in the groin region will help keep you cool. Then there are other features you may want to consider, such as Recco tags (rescue technology, more intended for off-piste skiing), a headphone channel, fleece linings and elasticated cuffs.
You’re going to be on your feet (hopefully) all day, and ski boots can be particularly punishing, so it’s definitely worth investing in a decent bundle (you’ll need more than one pair) of socks. Choose socks that are specially designed for skiing and made from materials that, like your other layers layers, are breathable and will help wick away moisture. A decent pair of socks will help keep you warm and will also offer much needed padding in your boots.
Again, these will need to be waterproof. Some people prefer mitts, but gloves will offer more dexterity. You can pick up a pair of ski gloves pretty cheaply, but these are vital so make sure you get a quality pair, and opt for those with a removable inner glove. These are great for a few reasons; easier to dry, better insulation properties, in warm weather you can remove the inner lining and, in cold weather, when you take the outer glove off to do something fiddly, you will still have the inner glove to protect your hands. Some inner gloves will also have that magic material on the fingertips that allow you to use a touch-screen, so you won’t even have to take them off when you want to take a photo with your phone.
Not essential, but a good idea. You’ll need water throughout the day and it’s expensive out on the mountain, and not always readily available, so it’s best to take it with you. Carrying a decent sized bottle in a backpack is better than trying to shove a small bottle in your pocket (it’ll hurt if you fall on it, too). You’ll also need somewhere to store any extra layers you want to take with you, or stash any layers you take off. Snacks are a good idea to keep your blood-sugar levels up, and cameras, sunglasses, selfie poles, piste maps...and sun cream, can all be better kept in a backpack rather than weighing you down in your jacket pockets.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, this really is important. Remember to take it from home because it’s crazy expensive on the mountain, and carry it with you all day for regular re-application. It’s also advisable to take a lip balm that has UV protection as well.
All set for your ski holiday
Hopefully you now have all you need to help you choose the right equipment for your upcoming ski trip. Essentially, you just need to make sure the clothing you wear offers sufficient protection against the elements, and keeps you warm, dry and comfortable. You don’t have to look coordinated, just be concerned with staying safe and concentrate on developing your skills. For more tips on what to take read the first ski holiday packing checklist.
You can find more information on various aspects of holiday planning in our beginner guides section. Need the perfect ski deal for your first holiday? Browse our latest ski deals.
Words by Peter Fleckney, Iglu Ski expert