Group of five skiers heading down a ski run

Bluebird to whiteout: what to wear when you go skiing

Wherever you live in our beautiful nation, one thing is pretty much guaranteed each year: snow, which is a big bonus for ski bums everywhere. But as any dedicated rider knows, each ski day is at the mercy of the weather gods (cue sacrifice to Ullr). Morning flurries can do a 180 in the afternoon and turn into a bluebird day, or temperatures can drop so low that you need a warm-up after every lap (this happened to me once at Castle Mountain – so cold).

Whatever the weather, these expert tips will tell you how to stay warm while skiing. Spring Harrison, MEC senior apparel designer for backcountry, breaks down what to wear on any given ski day:

Colder than a polar bear’s pajamas (really cold)

If you’re anywhere east of Chilliwack, BC, you know frigid temps. “When it comes to beating the cold, nothing is warmer for its weight than down,” says Spring, who suggests grabbing an super-lightweight piece like the MEC Spicy Hoodie or Commix Hoodie to layer under your jacket to keep you warm. They’re made of ultra-strong ripstop nylon to resist tears and are treated with DWR (durable water repellency) to shed light snow or rain, which makes this essential even more resilient. Plus, they pack down so small you can stash it in your jacket pocket if you get too warm.

The Spicy Hoodie packs a lot of warmth in a small package

Pair your insulator with a ski helmet that has closable vents so heat can’t escape, an MEC Merino T3 base layer (our warmest merino thermal, so it’s the best base layer for cold weather) and some super warm ski socks. “It’s all about managing warmth,” adds Spring. “When you’re trying hings on, make sure everything is adjustable to prevent drafts – like cinchable cuffs or collars – and create a microclimate in your jacket. All MEC jacket hoods fit over helmets, which is great for keeping you warm on the chairlift.”

Whiteouts and bad visibility

In whiteout conditions, two things are key. The first is making sure your ski jacket and snow pants will stand up to lots of wind and snow. If your local hill tends to have wet snow, look for a jacket or shell with GORE-TEX, since it will stand up to sleet and pelting flakes.

Skier wearing rose-coloured ski goggles

The second is to wear ski goggles with the right lenses, depending on what conditions are causing the bad visibility (for darker days, look for lenses with a higher visible light transmission, which lets more light):

  • Pink lenses: great for flat, low and mid-light conditions on cloudy, overcast days.
  • Yellow lenses: best for flat light and spotting moguls, ridges, jumps or uneven terrain since they filter out brightness without masking sharpness – ideal for snowy conditions.
  • Amber or orange lenses: good for foggy, overcast days and will also help you spot jumps and bumps.
  • Green, violet or blue lenses without any addition of black or red hue lens tints: help in partly sunny to low-light conditions by reducing eye fatigue and enhancing visual detail.

Half sun, half snow

On these days, layer, layer, layer. If you’re wondering how to layer for skiing, Spring has some tips. “It’s all about versatility,” says Spring. “Our most basic MEC ski pieces have synthetic insulation, so they won’t absorb sweat when you’re hiking or skiing hard, but they also won’t leave you freezing when you stop and cool down. The MEC Obsession line has incredibly breathable insulation, which makes each piece great for long lift lines.”

The Khione and Centre Point jackets are also great outerwear pieces for all conditions because they combine waterproofing with insulation,  plus they have a bevy of pockets to stash extra layers, socks, a thinner pair of gloves, sandwiches to eat on the chairlift – you name it.

Skier wearing MEC Khione jacket and carrying skis

MEC Khione Jacket, waterproof-breathable and insulated

Bluebird conditions and spring skiing

Keep things layered and light with a synthetic compressible insulated jacket and outerwear shell and pants. Make sure your jacket and pants have lots of venting so you can cool off after the sun warms you up.

 

Skier wearing dark-coloured ski goggles

For your ski goggles, these are the days for black, brown and red or vermillion lenses, which generally have lower visible light transmission. They’re ideal for bright conditions since they block out a significant amount of UV light. They may not always appear to be those colours on the surface, but may have a cool gradient or rainbow effect and can include polarization to help cut glare.

Want to dial your ski set up even more? Learn how to layer.

Kim Budziak

Wordsmith, avid skier and rookie road biker. Firmly believes the best days are the snowiest ones.