There’s no doubt that wearing the right technical apparel will make your day on the slopes skiing or snowboarding much more enjoyable. The right gear will keep you dry on the outside and inside and help your temperature stay just right. When you’re comfortable, you can focus on how much fun you’re having instead of being bummed about how wet, cold and miserable you are. The whole goal, after all, is to have fun!
This guide will walk you through the technical apparel you’ll want to have so you can enjoy everything winter has to offer in comfort! It’s best to think in terms of layers as you build your winter outfit. Starting with a base layer, adding a mid layer if needed, and lastly topping things off with an outer or shell layer. Let’s begin!
Your base and mid layers are key for keeping you dry on the inside as well as helping you maintain an ideal body temperature no matter how long you’re out shredding it up.
The number one thing you need to know is “cotton kills”. Cotton is a very comfortable fabric to wear, and it also absorbs moisture really well. The problem is that it holds that moisture really well too. We’ve all been active on a hot summer day wearing a cotton shirt; it doesn’t take long for that cotton shirt to be soaked, and it takes what seems like forever for it to dry out. Being active in the cold still produces sweat. Now imagine wearing a wet t-shirt (or even worse, wet socks) while outdoors in the cold for a long period of time. Wet and cold is a fun KILLER.
There are many synthetic and wool base layer and mid layer options designed to expertly keep you dry and regulate your body temp. There’s also socks with specific cuts and strategically placed padding to fit inside a boot. The goal is no cotton against your skin; you need something that will wick the moisture away from your body, keeping you dry and, ultimately, keeping you warmer.
Once you’ve selected your base and mid layers it’s time to consider your outer “shell” jacket layer.
What is the difference between a casual winter jacket and a technical ski or snowboard jacket? At the core, these two jackets are designed to do completely different things. Let’s break down the basic differences:
Standard Winter Jacket Features:
Technical Ski or Snowboard Jacket:
A technical jacket will have water-resistant coatings, seams, and zippers designed to keep you dry. Most jackets will provide you with a waterproof rating: 5K, 10K, 20K, etc. We could go through and explain the rating system, but what you really need to know is the higher the number the more waterproof the jacket, and generally the longer the coating will last. If the jacket uses Gore-Tex, then you know you have a piece that has best in class protection you can rely on. You may see “critically taped” & “fully taped” seams when you’re researching jackets. Fully taped is exactly what it sounds like. It means every seam on the jacket is sealed so as not to leak, whereas critically taped focuses only on the seams that are most exposed. With these technical fabrics come some extra care, so be sure to read the washing instructions since detergents and hot dryers can potentially break down the coating faster.
Vents and moisture-wicking liner:
A technical jacket will also use vents and a lining that wicks moisture away from you to help you stay dry and comfortable from the inside. This is another reason to invest in good base and mid-layers: you may have spent money on an excellent technical jacket, but wearing cotton underneath is stopping the lining of the jacket from doing its job by holding the moisture next to you instead of allowing the jacket to pull it away from you.
Not all liners are created equal. Here’s two notable ones we love and recommend checking out:
Burton’s Living Lining:
The Living Lining is designed to adjust to your body temp. When you’re cold the fibers contract to hold heat in. As you warm up the fibers open allowing heat and moisture to escape.
Helly Hansen’s H2Flow System:
The H2Flow system works on the idea that enabling strategic airflow around the core of your body both keeps you warm and allows heat and moisture to escape simultaneously.
A shell is a thin jacket designed to be highly waterproof and breathable without insulation. Since there is no insulation, all your warmth is going to come from your layers. On a warm spring day, you might only use a base layer, but on a cold day, you might have a base layer, mid layer, and a vest underneath.
Insulated jackets come in a variety of levels from light to super-warm, and down to puffy. Depending on the level featured, less layering underneath will be required.
What’s right for you? That will depend a lot on where you are riding/skiing, and how hot/cold you run. For example, the northwest is really wet and mild, so most people in that area use a highly waterproof and breathable shell. The upper Midwest is very cold and dry, so most people there are willing to sacrifice some waterproofness for the extra warmth in an insulated jacket.
Lastly, a technical ski or snowboard jacket will have additional features specific to the activities they’re designed for. A couple of common examples include:
Snow pants are pretty straightforward. Again, staying dry is better. There is a huge variety of options out there for snow pants. Just as with jackets, pants will typically have a waterproof rating.
Here are a few general tips to help guide you:
This one is a no-brainer (see what we just did there). Helmets vary in construction and features but are all designed for one critical function: to protect your head.
So, if they’re all designed to protect your head, what do you get as you go up in price?
MIPS Brain Protection System
To take protection to the next level, you may want to consider a helmet that uses a MIPS Brain Protection System. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. They are designed to protect against the rotational forces that occur during a crash.
Why you want MIPS
All helmets are going to protect against the blunt force impacts that a rider experiences during a crash. This protection would be good enough if all crashes are perfectly linear where the rider falls headfirst into something. But most crashes aren’t linear at all, they occur at an angle and when the head hits the ground at an angle, a tremendous amount of rotational force is applied to the brain. These forces can cause the brain to move around inside our heads, causing damage to the brain tissue. This can lead to concussions and other severe brain injuries.
How MIPS works
MIPS Brain Protection Systems allow the head to move inside of the helmet, deflecting much of that rotational force that would otherwise be transferred to the brain. Look for the yellow MIPS label to be sure that you have MIPS Protection!
Remember, most helmets are built for one major impact. It may look OK on the outer shell, but it is not going to protect you the way it was designed to on the next impact. We recommend always replacing your helmet after a crash to ensure you stay protected.
Check out all of our great snow helmets here.
Gloves and mittens come in a variety of insulation and waterproof levels, which is great because this allows for a lot of personal preference. What is ideal in Colorado is not always the same as what is perfect in Minnesota. Depending on where you are and how easily you get cold, there are options for you. As a general rule, mittens are warmer than gloves.
Face protection comes in a variety of forms: sun blocking balaclavas, neck gaiters, fleece hoods, a classic scarf, etc. There are literally a million options. Pick what works for the conditions you’ll be in. Also, because there are so many options, this is an inexpensive way to show a little individual style on the hill.
Check out all of our great winter face protection here.
Goggles are better than sunglasses. Sunglasses can work, but goggles provide these perks that most sunglasses don’t:
Check out all of our great goggles here.
Now that you know how to dress for success during the winter season to stay comfortable, warm, and safe, you can focus on having more FUN! Buy everything you need at shopERIKS.com or swing into your favorite ERIK’S location to get outfitted with the best winter gear and apparel brands on the market.