From Mount Hood to Mount Baker, from Steven’s Pass to Whistler Blackcomb, the Pacific Northwest attracts snowsport enthusiasts from around the world—and for good reason. The ski terrain here is like nowhere else on earth.
Neither is the weather.
There’s the good: you’re less likely to experience bone-chilling cold in the PNW.
There’s the bad: wet snow can chill you to the bone like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
And, of course, there’s the ugly: the visiting skier donning a puffy down parka that is soaked through in equal parts sweat and soggy snow.
There’s a finesse to dressing for the ski season in the Pacific Northwest. The secret? Every layer counts—and there are a lot of layers. Here’s what you need to know.
Next to Skin: The Art of Technical Underwear
While the outermost layers get most of the attention when it comes to winter sports, it’s important to focus on the foundation: your undies. Do not underestimate the power of technical underpants to keep you happy on the slopes. Believe us: you haven’t lived until you’ve worn merino wool undergarments (Icebreaker offers solid options for both men and women).
Look for materials that are breathable and allow for plenty of movement—just say no to too-tight elastics.
As for socks, you won’t have much need for super thick ones that are meant to keep your feet toasty warm. A thinner technical sock is a better bet, unless you happen to be visiting on an unseasonably cold day.
Your base layer—that is, the top and bottom that you wear—should be a relatively light material. The key to look for is something moisture-wicking and comfortable. Scratchy fabrics are a no-go and anything too thick and heavy should be avoided. Your base layer’s job isn’t to keep you warm—we’ll get to that in a moment. Cirq makes a 100% merino wool base layer pant, while Arc’Teryx’s polyester blend is another good material for keeping moisture far, far away.
While you shouldn’t pick your base layer solely on looks, it doesn’t hurt to find some colors and styles that you’ll be confident rocking during apres. The PNW might not have the apres scene of the Alps, but their ski town watering holes can hold their own.
Adding Insulation with the Mid-Layer
The mid-layer is where your personal preferences really shine. This layer is all about insulation. The Pacific Northwest may not get as cold as other regions, but you’re still skiing in the winter in the mountains, so you need to consider how you’re going to stay warm.
Some skiers just say no to the mid-layer if they’re running hot or skiing on a balmy spring day (gotta love those long ski seasons!) Most people opt for some form of mid-layer, however—at the very least, a fleece will keep you cozy without causing you to overheat.
Nothing beats the power of a down mid-layer. This lightweight layer will pack a punch when temperatures are low, but can easily be stashed in your pack after a particularly rigorous run or when the afternoon sun starts to make things feel toasty.
The MVP of the PNW has to be the outer shell. This is your best defence against the elements—it needs to be able to prevent wet stuff from penetrating to the layers beneath, whether it’s rain or wet, heavy snow.
For both your jacket and your pants, waterproof material is everything. There is no such thing as gear that is too waterproof. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time skiing in the Pacific Northwest, this is the layer you’re going to want to invest in.
Having said that, you don’t necessarily need to sacrifice an arm and a leg for a good quality shell. Don’t forget to maintain your gear, as even high quality waterproof outer layers lose their ability to keep moisture out over time. Sometimes, all it takes is a good cleaning: follow the care directions for your gear to get rid of dirt and grime that could be affecting its ability to keep water out. You can also apply a spray (like Nikwax TX Direct Spray On) or a wash to help restore waterproofing abilities. This is a great idea if your gear has been in storage since your last epic trip out West.
The key to staying happy when skiing in the PNW is simple. Stay dry. Stay warm (but not too warm). And don’t you dare tell anyone about the secret powder stash you found.