How to build a ski kit
First off, if you’re reading about how to build a ski kit, we imagine congratulations are in order: you’re thinking about getting into skiing! This is big! Fun! Swooshy! All things good!
Before you can take the time to contemplate a lifetime of fun on two planks, you probably have a busy to-do list that starts with a great big question: “What do I need to go skiing?” If you walk into a shop or conduct a quick web search, you’ll be inundated with pricey gear, clothing, and doo-dads—some of which are helpful, and many of which aren’t necessary.
If you want the insider scoop, read on. The folks on our team have all been skiing for long enough to know what really counts—other than a killer playlist for your parking-lot boot-up sesh, a willingness to learn, and ample pocket snacks.
Here’s your checklist!
- Ski boots that fit just snug enough—and don’t hurt your feet.
We’ll list the trickiest thing first so it all feels easier from there. Ski boots are the foundation of your ski ability and can make or break your day comfort-wise.Experts gravitate toward stiff, tight-fitting boots, which maximize performance. But as a beginner, you needn’t worry much about that—for you, comfort reigns supreme. Get boots that feel snug but not uncomfortably tight. Extra wiggle room will compromise your control.To get a sense of size, look up your street shoe size equivalent in “mondo point” ski boot sizes. Then, to figure out which brands and models work best for you, try on as many as you can, anywhere you can. And remember, once you buy a pair, you can up the comfort even more by taking them to a ski shop to request they heat-mold the boot liners around your feet. This is even possible with many used boots—moldable boot liners can be re-done a few times over the life of the boot.
- Ski socks that are warm and not too thick
Next up: ski socks! Sorry, your typical cotton socks and athletic socks won’t really fit the bill here. Ski socks are tall, going nearly up to your knees. This feels comfy under tall ski boot cuffs—you won’t have any sock cuffs bunching or slipping around beneath the boot top.Ski socks should also be either wool or a nice quick-dry synthetic fabric. This will keep your tootsies warm and dry. Opt for a thinner sock, which can actually help your foot stay warmer because it won’t cut off insulation or pinch like a thicker sock can.
- Long johns (also called base layers in the ski biz)
There are plenty of fancy brands of long johns (usually called “base layers” in ski shops), and we do appreciate their features—such as revolutionary fabric blends, smooth seams, perfectly shaped panels to optimize range of motion, strategically placed vents, zippers, thumb loops at the wrists, antimicrobial fabric treatments, and all that.But at the end of the day, you just need a wool or synthetic (not cotton) pair of long john bottoms and top. Bonus points if they look kinda cool.
- Ski pants with good waterproofing
Ski pants (and jackets) can be massively expensive, and some of the finer models are sure worth the investment. But to start with, snag any nice-looking pair that a) fits you (consult the brand size chart to confirm), and b) mentions waterproof fabric.Some pants are insulated, too—which is lovely if you’re a cold person and sweltering if your personal thermostat runs hot. And others have just a light fleece backing inside the waterproof outer “shell” fabric.Many have zipper vents along the thighs for anyone who needs a little A/C, and they have varying types of pockets. Pick something you’ll feel snappy in that looks like it’ll keep you at a comfy temp.
- Insulating layers for your upper half
This is an important one! Resort skiers and snowboarders build layers of insulation under their jackets to stay the right temp depending on the day. These layers can include puffy vests, fleeces, sweaters, and puffy jackets. You probably have a sense of how cold you tend to get—keeping in mind that sitting on the chairlift and waiting in a lift line can be quite chilly on a stormy winter day.The great news is that if you build up enough layers under your outer shell jacket, you can stay perfectly toasty all day—we promise. If you’re unsure of how many layers you’ll need, we recommend bringing more than you think you’ll need and then ditching layers in the car or a ski locker during the day if you’re too hot.
- A waterproof shell jacket
Don’t worry—we have an entire article devoted to choosing a ski jacket, just because it’s one of our favorite things to talk about. Give it a read, but here’s the skinny: ski jackets are similar to ski pants. If you’re new to the sport, don’t overthink it. Find a jacket with waterproof shell fabric, a style you dig, and pockets in handy places.As with ski pants, some come with built-in insulation. And if you know you’re cold 110% of the time, that might be the right move. But it’s more versatile to get an uninsulated jacket and build insulating layers underneath depending on the day’s temps.
- A helmet that fits your noggin
Yes, helmets are important! Our parents didn’t grow up skiing with them, but our parents also got more concussions than they needed to. There are several nice brands of helmets, and all you have to do is grab a tape measure and look up the size chart of the brand you’re looking at. The sizes are based on your head’s circumference.Helmets offer a variety of bells and whistles, including different vent configurations, vents that open and close to let you control airflow and warmth, and fuzzy linings to keep you cozy warm. All this stuff is nice to have, but not a dealbreaker if you’re a beginner on a budget.
- Goggles with a good lens for the conditions you’ll ski in
Here’s another subject we love rambling on about—you can read our whole article explaining ski goggle tech here. To summarize, goggles are way better for skiing than sunglasses are. They do a lovely job keeping the wind and snow out of your eyes, keeping your face warm, and using various tints and technologies to enhance your ability to see the snow surface.For super bonus points, get the same brand of goggle as your brand of helmet. Most brands coordinate the ventilation systems between the two, meaning the warm moist air evaporating out of your goggles gets directed right into the front vents of your helmet and whisked away. We love that kind of proactive problem-solving.
- Gloves or mittens—maybe with liners
Next up: gloves or mittens. We find that colder people like mittens, while warmer folks do great with gloves. (Mittens do compromise dexterity a little—if you’re fiddling with your boot buckles, bindings, etc. they can be fumbly.)Whether you gravitate toward gloves or mitts, make sure the manufacturer lists waterproof outer fabric. They may be synthetically insulated or down-insulated. We usually recommend synthetic insulation, as it stays warm even if it gets wet.And lastly, you might opt for lighter fleece “glove liners” to wear inside. Think of them as long-johns for your hands! They add a little extra warmth. And, as a bonus, you can slip your outer gloves or mitts off for more dextrous activities (like checking your phone or adjusting a boot buckle) and your liner gloves will still fend off the cold.
- Ski poles sized for your height
Poles are low-tech and easy peasy. If you’re a beginner and you’re just resort-skiing, no need to overthink it. Snag a pair on sale. To select a size, hold them upright, grips in hand and pointy ends touching the ground. Your arms should be bent at a ninety-degree angle at the elbow, more or less. Presto. (There are also online size charts available if you want to order unseen.)You’ll see poles on the market that are adjustable length, but that’s really not a biggie for resort skiing—it’s a favored feature for backcountry skiers.
- And finally, skis!
Woot woot … this is the most fun part. Shopping for your first pair of skis can feel overwhelming. Here are just a few things to keep in mind: don’t pay full retail. Don’t hesitate to get a pair marketed to beginners—there’s no coolness factor that expert skis can buy you. (Without the skills to drive a hard-charging ski, you’ll just face a steeper learning curve.) And don’t fall for a ski marketed as a “powder ski”—you don’t even ski powder yet, and that’s okay! You’ll want a pair touted for groomer prowess and all-mountain capability.Nearly all the major brands make a reasonably good beginner ski. Just ask around, do a little internet research, and read reviews for a few models to watch for. Then you’ll know what to browse UnNew here on Geartrade.Size-wise, get a pair that are about chin height standing up—they’ll be easy to steer and maneuver. (Ski length sizes are listed in centimeters.) No need to overthink your first pair. It’s like your first car—get something sturdy and ideally cheap. You’ll ding ‘em up, rove around, stall out a little, and finally harness that feeling of cruising nice and smooth. In time, you’ll move up to a more performance-oriented ski—and by then, you’ll know what to do with it!
Many beginner skis can be bought with bindings. The type of binding you’re looking for is “alpine bindings.” That’s a schmancy way of saying “resort skiing bindings.” You’ll have the easiest time if they’re labeled “demo bindings,” which means they adjust very easily to any boot size. Any ski shop can take care of this task for you in a matter of minutes. If your skis of choice don’t come with demo bindings, zero worries—a ski shop can adjust them (possibly needing to remount them) if you bring in your boots as reference.
While the shop is adjusting the bindings, they’ll ask about your weight, height, and ability. They’re not prying for the sake of prying—they factor these things in when adjusting your “DIN setting,” which determines how tightly your bindings will hold to your boots in the event of a wipeout. (You want the binding to release your boots from your skis in a big crash—that spares your ligaments any icky twisting.) Everyone crashes, and if you’re trying hard, you crash often! Just keep your ligaments intact with the right DIN setting, any crashes can be treated with a good hot tub session and maybe a hot toddy.
We know that’s a long list, but hopefully it makes you feel a little more organized. There are a million novelty items that may or may not add to your ski day—face covers (“buffs”), goggle-squeegee-sponges, boot heaters, pocket-sized ski wax, hand warmers, and the like. All that’s up to you.
We like keeping a little lip balm in our pockets, along with our ID and cards. Sometimes it’s nice to carry a pocket-sized water bottle for hydration, and maybe an extra battery charger block for our phones. (Phone batteries die in the cold!)
You’ll dial in your kit very shortly, and soon you’ll be cruising the resort with an easy familiarity. You’ll have a favorite run, a favorite bar snack, and a favorite parking spot. By then, you’ll be a real local—and we can’t wait to welcome you there.
Of course, getting into skiing can come with a costly price tag. You can find everything described above here UnNew on Geartrade for a fraction of retail price. Just do a simple search, browse around, and rake in the deals. Skiing never did feel quite so welcoming.
Beth Lopez is a seasoned writer and creative director who loves to tell tales of adventure and discovery—and finds writing a powerful way to give a voice to people, causes, and places. Beth runs amok in the Wasatch mountains when untethered from her computer. She believes there’s no such thing as a bad ski day and considers animals her favorite people. Don’t tell her mother about her Instagram mountaineering photos.
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