There’s a reason people don’t ski in jeans. On the hill, your legs are the most exposed part of your body, so it’s important to have warm, waterproof, breathable pants that fit your style of skiing or riding.
They style of pant you pick will depend on how you like to layer, how cold you get, and where you like to play.
Pants: Just like your chinos or your grandpa’s chinos, snowpants have a zip fly, or an elastic waist. And they’re easy to vent. But comfort comes at the cost of a bigger risk that you will = get snow down your pants if you take a monster spill.
Bibs: Some skiers and snowboarders prefer bibs, which come up to the chest and have built-in suspenders, because they provide extra warmth to your core, and they prevent snow from getting into your business. They are harder to remove than snow pants when nature calls.
One-piece: After dying out in the early ‘90s, one-pieces have made an un-ironic comeback. They’re warm and efficient, because they hold in all of your body heat, but they can make layering and using the bathroom more laborious.
Fit: Fit varies a lot between brands, and depends on what the pants are designed for. Park-focused brands like Oakley tend to cut their pants baggy, while more mountaineering-oriented brands, like Mountain Hardwear, tend to style their pants slimmer. Adjust your fit to your skiing or snowboarding style: If you spend most of your time hiking in the backcountry a puddle of pants around your ankle might be inefficient.
Water Protection: Waterpoofing comes from a membrane in the fabric, like GORE-TEX® Pro Shell, or from a coating that’s applied to the outside of the fabric. A fabric’s water resistance is measured in millimeters of water it will hold before it leaks, so a pant that’s rated 20k waterproof was tested to hold 20,000 mm of water over one square inch of fabric without dripping.
Breathability: The level of breathability you need depends on your level of activity (read: sweatiness). Breathability comes from the fabric, and is usually inversely related to waterproofing, although some fabrics, like Polartec NeoShell, are built to be both. It’s measured by how many grams of water evaporate through the fabric in 24 hours. For instance, fabrics rated as 20k waterproof, pulled 20,000 grams.
Insulation: Some snow pants feature built-in insulation, usually fleece or a synthetic material like Primaloft. Your other option is a shell pant, with no added warmth, which you can layer under.
Gaiters and Reinforced Cuffs: The cuffs of your pants will take the biggest beating, due to ski edges and exposure. Look for pants with reinforced cuffs, or scuff guards on the inner hem that will prevent them from getting roughed up. That reinforcement is a typical difference between ski and snowboard pants because snowboarders don’t need them. Internal gaiters keep snow out of your boots.
Seams: Any seam or zipper is essentially a hole in your pants and a way for moisture to get in. You want to look for jackets that have sealed seams. There are three main ways that seams are sealed.
Fully taped: Waterproof material is sealed over the edges of the seams.
Critically taped: Similar, but the material is only over the seams that are exposed to the most moisture.
Welded: Instead of a seam, the edges of the two fabrics are bonded together. It’s the lightest and most waterproof, but also the most expensive.
Pockets: Women’s pants often have smaller jeans-style pockets, which are less bulky, but aren’t great for stashing stuff. A cargo or thigh pocket is convenient for things you need to access often, so you don’t have to go searching under your jacket.
Reinforced seat and knees: Even the most waterproof pants get a little leaky when you’re sitting on wet chairlifts. Look for pants that have double layers of fabric in the seat and knees, the places where you’re going to have the most contact with snow and other soggy surfaces.
Vents: To release some heat on hot days, or when you’re hiking, many ski pants come with inner or outer thigh vents, or both. Both gives you good cross ventilation, outer thigh vents tend to be bigger.