A Layer by Layer Guide to Dressing for the Ski Season in the Pacific Northwest

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.

PNW LayeringThere’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 SkinNext 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.

Moisture-Wicking Base LayerA Mois­ture-Wick­ing Base Layer
A lot of peo­ple hate the word “moist”. It makes PNWers cringe, too, because it’s the fastest way to ruin an oth­er­wise per­fect ski 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.

Mid-LayerAdding 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.

ShellThe Shell
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.