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Everything You Need for Your First Ski Trip

What to buy before hitting the slopes.

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A model wearing a skiing base layer on a wooden table
You need a base layer, even if you’re just hanging by the slopes.
Photo: Sweaty Betty

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So, you’re an adult human going skiing for the first time. What the hell do you wear?

The basics of what you’d normally wear in the snow remain the same, though ski outfit details depend a lot on where and when you’re skiing. There’s a surprising amount that can vary. Big mountain or ski hill? January snowstorm or late April spring skiing? Just know that the goal is to stay warm, dry, and safe.

Ski clothing can also be intimidatingly expensive, which means that borrowing from friends is a good idea for beginners. And there are places where you can rent stuff, too! But if you want or need to buy, we’ve got you covered. I, a known Cold Person, have been skiing since I was very small in all sorts of weather scenarios. I am deeply invested in not developing frostbite while looking reasonably cute, and I am here to advise you.

This list may not apply to ski racers or the sort of people who jump out of helicopters to ski powder. For leisure skiing in cold places, here are all the things you should have, listed in the order you’d put them on your body.

Sport sunscreen

Altitude increases your risk of sunburn, so apply some sweat-proof sunscreen to your face and neck before you even get dressed. Goddess Garden Organics Sport SPF 30 ($11.69) will do the trick. If you like a higher SPF, try Neutrogena Cooldry Sport Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($4.78).

Thermal underwear

This is the first layer you’ll put on over your underwear — and may I recommend some breathable cotton underthings like the Gap Breathe Bikini ($10), as well as a sports bra like the Old Navy Medium Support Mesh-Back Sports Bra ($18)? Thermal underwear is your base layer, which will ideally wick sweat away from your skin while keeping you warm.

The Ekouaer Women's Long Thermal Underwear Fleece Lined Winter Base Layering Set ($29.99) is cost-effective; this Kari Traa Women's Sjolvsagt Base Layer Set ($66.95) is fun; and the Sweaty Betty Drift Ski Base Layer Leggings ($105) and Drift Long Sleeve Ski Base Layer ($105) are very Instagrammable.

Ski socks

A controversial question: Should you wear ski socks under your thermal leggings or over them? I personally wear them under because sometimes the hem of my socks gets caught between my ski boot and my leg and bruises me. Others wear them over without incident. Either way, the Burton Women's Weekend Socks ($19.97 for two pairs) or the Darn Tough Yeti Medium Ski Socks ($26) are fun.

A fleece

This is your “mid layer,” or insulating layer, so what you’ll want to wear depends on the weather. Sometimes you’ll want a light and breathable fleece, like the L.L.Bean Swix Myrene Midlayer Top ($70). If the weather is nasty, a heavier layer like the Patagonia Cotton Quilt Snap-T Womens Mid Layer ($149) is good. For an all-weather pick, the Columbia Benton Springs Full Zip Fleece Jacket ($29.99) is a winner.

A ski jacket and pants, or a one-piece ski suit

You want your outer layers to be very waterproof and to fit you properly. I like ski pants with a bib (aka ski overalls), such as The North Face Shredromper Bib Pant ($198.95) or the Boulder Gear Women’s Pinnacle Bib ($99.95), because getting snow down your butt crack after a slopeside tumble is a really unpleasant experience.

For normal pants, the Columbia Bugaboo Pant ($95) is popular. Jacket-wise, Roxie’s Andie Hooded Jacket ($199.95) and the Spyder Avery Jacket ($199) are comparable. Want to go all in and get an ’80s-style one-piece? Topshop has a SNO Long Sleeve Ski Suit ($320) in white and hot pink.

A helmet

Some people choose not to wear helmets, and those people are morons. Please do not launch yourself down a frozen mountainside, at speed, without head protection. REI has a great guide to finding the ideal helmet and what different technical terms mean, with the main takeaway being that you should get a helmet that’s ASTM F2040- or EN1077-certified (those are safety regulations).

The Lucky Bums Snow Sport Helmet ($33.96) is EN1077-compliant, but I strongly recommend going to a gear shop in-person and asking for help. Someone will be able to explain the different helmets and explain what a proper fit looks like. I went to Paragon Sports in NYC for my most recent helmet, the Giro Women's Lure Snow Helmet ($99.95).


Protect your eyes from those mountain rays and icy winds. The basic Traverse Varia Goggles (from $19.99) are a good start, and The Grayne Canyon Whiteout Goggle ($39.95) has an anti-fog lens for all-weather skiing.

Ski gloves

Last but certainly not least, the handwear. I’m partial to mittens, like the Eddie Bauer Women’s Lodge Mittens ($45). For fingered gloves, the Andorra Women's Classic Zippered Pocket Touchscreen Ski Glove (from $19.99) will allow you to text on the chairlift (but not on the slopes, people!).

And a couple of things you might need:

A neck warmer

Especially when it’s icy out, the feeling of frigid mountain winds on your neck can be... unpleasant. The Land’s End Women's Midweight Melange Fleece Gaiter ($19.95) is a good place to start.

Even more layers, if you run super duper cold

I am always cold, so I simply add extra layers when skiing. Under my thermal underwear set I wear a pair of basic black tights (yes, I’m aware that’s weird) and another, lighter thermal long-sleeved tee like the Uniqlo HeatTech Scoop Neck T-Shirt ($9.90).

I also sometimes wear an attractive balaclava under my helmet and neck warmer, like this Outdoor Research Ninjaclava ($31.95). I take a lot of breaks to warm up with hot chocolate. And on the coldest days, hand and foot warmers ($4.50 for 10) save my sanity.