Skiing Gear Explained

What’s the difference between a ski jacket and a winter jacket and a snowboard jacket? Is there really a difference? Should you care? Here, we explain the ins and outs of skiing gear, from salopettes to poles and ski goggles to helmets. We’ll talk about the different types of material, the fit, and the purpose of each item that you’ll need for your next ski trip. 

You can read more about what to wear on your first ever skiing trip as well as our pick of the best French ski resorts for beginners.

What Skiing Gear Do I Need?

For skiing, you’ll need the following items:

  • Ski jacket
  • Ski salopettes (also called ski trousers and ski pants)
  • Base layers
  • Mid layers
  • Ski socks
  • Gloves
  • Goggles or Shades
  • Helmet 
  • Hat or Chube or Snood
  • (and of course, skis, boots, and poles)

Ski Jacket

What’s in a jacket? Well, a lot. From the cut, fit, materials, weight, closing style, and purpose, there are a billion things to consider before you can even choose a colour you like.

Ski jackets are made from technical materials and should provide a good fit, that allows for movement and keeps you dry.

What Is The Difference Between a Ski Jacket And Winter Jacket?

Basically put: a ski jacket is designed to regulate your body temperature when skiing by keeping you dry. A winter jacket is designed to keep you warm. 

The difference seems subtle, but it has a huge impact on our comfort and health as skiers, boarders, hikers, and cold-climate dwellers.

Winter Jackets, Explained

Let’s start with the winter jacket or coat, something, we’re assuming, you’re familiar with and probably even own.

Coats and Jackets for Everyday Winter Use

These typical everyday wear jackets aren’t designed with technical materials or with regulation of body temperature in mind. They are designed to keep you warm. This explains why that mad dash to the bus on Monday morning made you want to throw up from self-diagnosed heat stroke despite it being only 4° outside. Your trusty coat literally cooked you during your 400 metre sprint.

These jackets and coats can be heavier, made of bird down or synthetic materials, and can reach to your ankles. You don’t really want a ski jacket to do that…

Technical Jackets for Everyday Winter Use

Unlike a typical winter jacket, a technical jacket is designed to allow you perform activities without overheating or freezing. Technical jackets usually have a snugger fit, and are thinner and lighter than a typical winter coat. Most will also have practical features like tight-zipped inner pockets and toggles to tighten sleeves. They also may have adjustable waistbands and hoods that roll into the collar.

Materials tend to be more durable, and the jackets are designed to last a lifetime. Companies like Patagonia, who specialise in technical clothing, encourage repairing any damage instead of buying new items.

There are three types of material that are used to insulate jackets: down (feathers), synthetic materials, and fleece. Down of birds are soft, fine feathers that provide excellent natural insulation. Down is super light weight, compresses really easily, and traps heat quickly and efficiently. 

Synthetic fibres are usually polyester fibres. Although not as good as down, synthetic insulation performs much better when wet.

Fleece is designed to behave like wool, offering a good layer of light insulation.

Ski Jackets, Explained

Ski jackets are all about speed and agility performance. They are cut so that when worn they make the skier aerodynamic. They also don’t get in the way of any of the movements required by a skier.

A ski jacket is designed to keep you warm, but not overheat. It has insulation and is also breathable and water resistant. A ski jacket may have pockets to store or attach gloves or ski goggles. The size of the pockets can be smaller and more compact, as compared to a snowboarding jacket.

All ski jackets will have a durable outer layer. This outer layer will be something called a durable water repellent (DWR) made of nylon or polyester. Underneath that layer is the waterproof and breathable GoreTex type material made from expanded Polytetrafluoroethylene (ePTFE) or Polyurethane (PU). Beneath that, there may be a layer of insulation. At the very inside of the jacket is the lining.

Snowboarding Jackets, Explained

Like skiing, snowboarding can be a very speedy sport, so perhaps you’d expect a form-fitting ski jacket would be the best bet for a boarder. However, when you look at the snowboarding, there are some key differences to note. The style of a boarders stance is relaxed with knees slightly bent, ready to make a turn. Snowboarding involves a lot of tricks, like little jumps, turns, and twists. These engage the whole body and require quite a lot of movement of arms, torso and legs.

This is why snowboarding jackets tend to be much bigger and baggier; a style that originated from skateboarding.

Snowboard jackets also have lots of technical aspects to them. These include waterproof exterior linings, breathable fabrics, and strategically placed pockets to attach gloves and goggles. In between riding the jacket is designed to keep the cold out too.

What Do I Need To Look For In A Ski Jacket?

Waterproof Material That Is Breathable Too

GoreTex is the industry leader in waterproof breathable materials. It has 1.4 billion pores per square metre, allowing the material to literally ‘breathe’. When you’re buying a waterproof jacket, you’ll come across two rating systems on the garment label. There’s a waterproof rating system in millimetres and a breathability rating system in grams. Fabrics that are waterproof to 16,000-20,000mm and have a breathability rating of 10,000-15,000 grams are a safe bet to go for. This is because anything with a waterproof rating above 16,000 is rainproof and waterproof under high pressure. Learn more about the science to this stuff here.

Taped seams

Stitched seams are a recipe for disaster. Think wet patches that lead to cold spots and uncomfortable skiing. Taped seams seal off your jacket and will keep you warm and dry.

Long Sleeves and Snow Cuffs

Some jackets will have sleeves that cover your hands and almost all of your fingers. Others will have snow cuffs, which are stretchy inner lining of the jacket that hook over your thumb. The snow cuffs help keep snow and water out, and stop your jacket sleeve from migrating up your arm.

Underarm Ventilation Zips

As well as the smart materials that keep your body temperature regulated, an additional feature are underarm ventilation systems. These consist of zips that are a couple of inches long. They allow for your jacket to open up and heat to escape. 

High Collars

You want your chin to be permanently tickled by your jacket. Better still, if your collar reaches up over your mouth and up to your nose, the wind won’t cut through to your face. If the collar starts to get irritating, invest in a chube or snood to protect your neck and face.

An Adjustable Hood

When wearing a helmet, your hood should be able to fit over it. Without a helmet, your hood should be able to adjust to fit reasonably close around your head. You may find it a little uncomfortable or restrictive to wear a hood when you’re skiing. Some skiers find hoods can inhibit their peripheral vision and ability to turn their heads.

Lift pass pockets

Jackets usually have one or two thin pockets on the arms or by the chest. This means you can carry your lift pass in a convenient location and slide on through the lift barrier with ease.


Jackets also come with a number of pockets for your keys, wallet, and phone. Always put your phone in an inside pocket so that it’s completely protected from snow.

Snow Skirt

A snow skirt is designed to prevent snow from flying up your jacket. When this happens, your bass layer, and your clothes in general, will get wet. Some jackets either come with a snow skirt sewn in, whilst others are detachable. The skirt sits sort of underneath the jacket, at about hip height. 

Ski Salopettes

Also known as ski trousers or ski pants, salopettes are especially designed to allow for movement whilst skiing. They fit over your ski boots and keep your legs dry. They also help you move with speed and agility whilst skiing. Typical waterproof trousers are not the same as salopettes. You will need a pair of ski pants that are especially designed for skiing, with an insulating inner layer and waterproof outer layer.

Base Layers

Thermals are no longer king these days. Instead you’ll be needing base layers that wick away moisture from the skin. Technical materials in base layers keep you warm by keeping your dry. You can buy base layers in the form of underwear, leggings, tops, and bras. These clothes are made of smart and soft material that keep you comfortable and warm on the slopes.

Mid Layers

Mid layers are thin layers that allow you to add another barrier against the cold. Typically, you’ll ski with a mid layer, like a fleece. This sits on top of your base layer and underneath your ski jacket.

Ski Socks

Seamless, snug fitting, and warm, ski socks aren’t your typical woolly socks; they should fit your foot really well. Ski socks should sit around the height of your calf and not move. You shouldn’t be spending your days yanking them back up, so get a new pair if that starts to happen.


A thin and thick pair of gloves are a must-have on the slopes. A thin pair made of technical materials stop your hands from sweating and give you a good grip on your ski poles. Thicker pairs will have a breathable inner lining and waterproof and breathable outer lining. Waterproof gloves are an absolute God-send for beginners whose hands will encounter ice and snow. They’re also great for days when it’s snowing, and for protecting hands from the wind and sun on long days out on the mountain.

Goggles or Shades

An absolute must-have are a pair of goggles or sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun and the glare. On the mountain, the sun can beat down and the slopes can act like a mirror, bouncing UV rays straight into your face. Sunglasses that fit well and are designed for sporting activity are better than a fashion pair. Otherwise, go for ski goggles, which cover more of your face. They are also less likely to fly off if you take a tumble.


Helmets are an interesting one. As in any sport or risky activity, having a barrier between your skull and any objects it could collide with, is a good thing. Helmets should be an automatic yes whenever you go skiing. They offer vital protection from any sharp objects that you may encounter. Beware however; they don’t protect as much against concussion as previously thought. You can still suffer concussion if you take a blow to the head that rattles your brain about.

That being said, helmets are relatively common on the slopes. They don’t impede skiing performance and provide extra warmth, so always wear one if you can.

Hat or Chube or Snood

Keep your neck, face, and forehead warm with a snood, or balaclava. If you don’t fancy something over your head, stick with a chube, which is basically a neck gaiter that comes up to your nose. If your jacket has a high collar, you may not fancy or need a chube or snood, but beware that collars and zips can rub against your neck.

Skis, Boots, and Poles

Ski boots are especially designed to fit or ‘click’ onto a ski. Poles are optional depending on the skiing style and skill level of the skier.

Different Types of Skis

Piste or Carving Skis

Typically, you’ll pick up a pair of carving skis when you go for your next ski holiday. They have an hourglass shape that makes it easy to turn and they work really well on groomed pistes. For beginners and intermediates, the skis will be softer and more flexible, whilst more experienced skiers will be able to work with skis built to perform at high speed. These skis tend to be much sturdier, and can hold an edge on more difficult terrain.

All Mountain Skis

With an all mountain pair of skis, you can pretty much head anywhere. They look quite similar to carving skis, but are much wider underfoot. This gives a float effect, that helps you ride across powder.

Freeride Skis

A smidge narrower than all mountain skis, these skis usually have something called a tip rocker, whereby the ski gently curves up before the shovel. They are designed for riding both on and off-piste, and the tip rocker helps the skier change direction whilst maintaining grip on the terrain.

Powder Skis

Wider and longer than the standard carving skis, these skis are designed to max out on performance in deep snow. Powder skis can get very technical, with all sorts of subtle adjustments to the shape, length, and width to aid with maneuverability and flotation in deep powder.

Big Mountain Skis

A preffered ski for competitors taking part in freeride skiing tournaments, as well as extremely advanced skiers who enjoy aggressive big mountain terrain and skiing style. These skis tend to be wider and longer to aid with stability when maneuvering at high speed.

Race Skis

Much like the shape and size of standard on piste skis, race skis are designed to handle much faster speeds, so tend to be stiffer. Slalom skis are designed to allow quick turning on firm terrain. 

Park Skis / Twintip Skis / Freestyle Skis

For those who spend their days in the snow park, park skis are super soft, with design features like a turned up tail to allow for backwards landings. Some skis are even completely bi-directional.

Touring Skis

Some touring skis are specifically designed for their purpose and weight much less than your average ski. However, increasingly, manufacturers are creating touring bindings that allow skiers to use their skis on multiple types of snowy terrain. Skins are required for ascending up the mountain; they are strips of material that attach to the bottom of the ski, giving a grip that allows skiers to walk their way up.

Telemark Skis

Telemark skiing sees a skier slide a single ski in front, make a deep bend in the knees, and create an effect of a single ski making a turn. Easy-turning telemark skis are what beginners usually start out with, before progressing on to specialist sturdier models. Increasingly, telemark skiers add telemark bindings to freeride skis, to modify them for each skiing style.

Cross Country Skis

These skis can travel over, and across, many types of terrain. This is due to the bindings allowing you to lift up your heel and adopt a ‘walking’ motion to gain momentum. Most skiers opt for a waxless ski that allows a grip for forward movement; there are special grooves on the bottom of the skis that cause this to happen. 

Cross Country Racing Skis

For cross country racing that takes place on groomed cross-country trails, skiers will choose from one of two types of cross country racing ski; the traditional diagonal stride and a skating ski.

Ski Boots

When you first try one on, there’s no two ways about it: ski boots are uncomfortable things. They are stiff, the padding inside feels bulky, and already your body is put under a slight strain because you are forced to lean forward slightly. This is typical and totally normal with any ski boot. To increase comfort and fit, footbeds can be inserted into the boot, and the correct ski socks must be worn.

Ski boots have the ability to ‘flex’, which means they can bend forward at the ankle joint. Ski boots must provide good support, meaning a requirement of some rigidity, and also must be flexible to allow for movement, shock absorption, and aid with the skier’s balance. Flex is measured on a scale of between 50 to 150. Typically, skiers are comfortable at a flex of 80 to 110.

Ski Poles

Poles have a number of uses for skiers. On the piste, poles can assist you with finding your balance and making shorter, neater turns. Having the feeling of something in your hands that occasionally touches the ground can give a great feeling of confidence. If you’re ever needing to head up the mountain, your poles can be a life-saver and pushing you up the hill.

Poles are also mighty useful for prodding about for lost things in the snow, knocking the snow out your bindings, and undoing your bindings.

Prepare for the Upcoming Winter Season

We’re halfway through the summer and we just can’t stop thinking about the snow. If you’ve never been skiing before, you’re welcome to take your first leap on a trip with us. Our online trip builder guides you through all the bits and pieces you need to consider for a ski trip, and helps you find the best value holiday that suits your group size and schedule. Learn more about WeSki and our trips by visiting our website.

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