One of the biggest concerns most skiers have is how they are going to stay warm throughout the day. Some of the best days of skiing can happen when the weather is the coldest so it's important to make sure you are fully prepared. Two things occur when you aren't dressed appropriately or fail to take precautions for the weather: one, you don't enjoy skiing as much and two, you don't ski as well!
For all of the tips listed below, remember the main principle underlying them. Throughout the day, you want to be warm and comfortable. That means that you should be able to move easily while wearing all of your gear and nothing should feel constricting or tight.
The biggest factor in staying warm during extremely cold conditions is to wear multiple layers. Generally, the three-layer system is recommended as it gives you the flexibility to add or remove layers as needed. Closest to your body is your base layer. These clothes are designed to wick away sweat and keep in your body heat. Some of the best clothes for your base layer include long sleeve t-shirts, thermal underwear/leggings, and turtlenecks.
On top of that you have your mid layers, which commonly consist of fleece jackets, hoodies, or vests. This layer is also designed to keep your body heat in. Here is where you can add or remove layers as appropriate for the temperature. Because you'll have your ski jacket over top of everything, these clothes don't have to be waterproof. Instead, just focus on warmth and comfort.
The final layer is the outer layer which is primarily your waterproof ski jacket. This will help protect you from the snow and elements as you ski all day.
One of the most common areas to get cold first are your hands and feet. For your feet, first make sure that you have good ski socks. Many skiers swear by Smartwool socks as the standard in terms of durability and warmth. If you are expecting extremely cold temperatures, you can choose to wear multiple pairs of socks. If you are considering this though, be careful to make sure that your foot still fits securely into your ski boots! You do not want to cut off circulation to your feet because your ski boots are too tight.
For your hands, every skier needs waterproof mittens. During extremely cold temperatures, mittens are much better than gloves because they keep your fingers together which allows them to share body heat. If you plan on venturing out in sub zero temperatures, you may want to consider a glove liner as well. Glove liners are made out of lightweight and thin material and are designed to fit within your gloves as an added layer of protection.
Once you have on most of your cold weather gear, do a quick self-assessment. Are there any areas of exposed skin? If you want to stay warm throughout the day, try to minimize the amount of exposed skin to the elements. Common areas that people forget about are the wrists, the neck, the face, and the ears.
Many skiers will have a small gap exposing their wrists between their gloves and their ski jacket. To eliminate this, try to pull your gloves tightly onto your hands and cinch them around your wrist. Then, pull the cuffs of your ski jacket so that they are over top of your gloves and use the Velcro straps to tighten your ski jacket around your gloves forming a tight seal.
For the neck and face, consider buying a neck warmer or a balaclava. Balaclavas surround your entire head meaning that they are ideal during extremely cold temperatures. For milder weather, a simple neck warmer or a buff may be all that you need.
For your ears, the best recommendation is to either wear a hat underneath of your helmet or a pair of ear warmers. While some helmets will have insulated earpads to protect your ears, you'll want to supplement that with a thin beanie that fits underneath your helmet.
For really cold days, consider bringing along hand warmers and toe warmers. Hand warmers typically cost $1 to $3 for a packet of 2 and are sized perfectly to fit inside the pockets of your ski jacket. Once activated, they take 15 to 30 minutes to start producing heat and then will do so for the next 3 to 5 hours. Most skiers choose to activate their hand warmers and then place them inside of the main pockets of their ski jacket. Then, on the ski lift, they can place their hands in their pockets and warm them up while traveling back up to the top of the slopes.
While less common, toe warmers are a variant of hand warmers designed to stick to your feet. Typically, you'll activate them, place them on the bottom of your feet, and then put your feet in your ski boots. Toe warmers are generally only recommended if you plan to ski for hours in subzero degrees.
Nothing tastes better on a cold day than drinking a hot chocolate while sitting by the fire. Even if you have multiple layers on and are prepared for the conditions, you should still try to take frequent breaks throughout the day. Taking a short break and relaxing inside of the ski lodge will allow you to warm up and recuperate before getting back out on the slopes.
As they say, prepare for the worst but hope for the best. If you follow all of the tips above, you should be fully prepared for temperatures down below 0 degrees. If it's warmer than that, use the flexibility of the 3 layer system and remove some layers.
A common place to add or remove layers is the middle layer. If it is extremely cold (less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit), you may want to wear a hoodie and a jacket for your mid-layer. If it's average (around 20 – 40 degrees), consider wearing just a hoodie under your ski jacket. If it's extremely warm for skiing ( > 40 degrees), you may not even need a mid layer at all. During spring skiing, many people go in just their base layers and ski jackets to ensure they don’t overheat on the slopes.
Above all, remember to dress in layers, prepare appropriately, and take frequent breaks and you'll be able to ski during any weather conditions.