Creature Comforts on the Slopes: How to Stay Warm and Happy During Your Next Western Ski Vacation

Think function when you’re packing for a ski trip to a western resort.
Think function when you’re packing for a ski trip to a western resort. Zach Dischner
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For those living in mountain towns, dressing for the slopes is a part of everyday life. But when you’re traveling from Florida, Arizona, Texas, or other states where winter isn’t all about bundling up, planning what to wear for a ski trip can take some thought. While the sun at high elevation is so strong you can bathe in it in the afternoon as temps reach up to 60 degrees on a sunny day, it’s not uncommon for them to plummet into the single digits within a matter of hours.

If you’re new to spending time in the Rockies or the Sierras in the winter, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you pack appropriately and are as comfortable as possible during your visit.

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Gear:

If you don’t own your own skis or a snowboard, it’s best to rent at the resort rather than at home (schlepping the stuff on and off of planes is best avoided). Most rental shops include a helmet (a must!) in a package, so you can probably save space in your luggage that way, too.

How to dress for skiing and outdoor winter activities:

A helmet, warm hat, wool socks, and quick-dry long underwear for your top and bottom. Layering is key because even though you might strip down to your guns when you’re sitting on a sunny patio for lunch, mornings and late afternoons can be frigid. Wear at least two layers under your waterproof, insulated jacket. Pants should also be waterproof. Bring an actual ski or snowboard jacket (not a Starter jacket of your favorite NFL team) and pants, plus goggles and warm, waterproof gloves or mittens. Goggles are much better than sunglasses to keep the breeze from making your eyes water while skiing or snowboarding. Mittens are warmer than gloves, but if your hands are cold on the chairlift, balling them into fists is a good way to warm up your fingers. Don’t go outside without a hat and gloves or mittens.

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How to carry skis:

Not like a stack of firewood. No. Slide the skis tightly together and put them over your shoulder (minding that there is nobody getting decapitated behind you). Put one hand over them as if carrying a knapsack. Hold your poles in the other hand with points facing the ground.

How to walk in ski boots:

Buckle your boots to where they are slightly snug but not tight. Walk with a heel-toe stride and be very cautious on ice. Small, snap-on plastic traction devices are affordable, worthwhile, and easy to pack or pocket. If you’re going to be walking for an extended period, it’s a good idea to wear winter boots or sneakers and carry your ski boots.

How to warm up if you’re freezing on the mountain:

Make sure all of your zippers are fully zipped and wiggle your fingers and toes inside of your gloves and boots. Moving your body is a great way to keep warm. Invest in a package of hand and foot warmers (they last for hours and typically cost less than $5 each). Go inside for a few minutes. Resorts throughout Colorado, Utah, and California offer delightful on-mountain lodges and restaurants that range from cozy to magnificent, and you can find hot cocoa at all of them. Hot soup or chili are ideal lunch items to ramp up your body temp.

Other necessities:

Stay hydrated. Mountain Sickness is very real, and to avoid it, drink plenty of water and sports drinks throughout your visit. Also wear sunscreen and reapply it often. As mentioned, the sun is intense up there and is magnified by the reflections off of the snow. Remember, comfort and warmth are the key ingredients to making the most out of your mountain vacation.

Originally written for Vail Resorts.

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