Snowboarding involves 3 minutes of sweating followed by 10 minutes of sitting on the chairlift in a 40 mph wind, so clothing needs to wick moisture away and block the elements. Dressing for cold weather involves four primary layers: Base, Insulating, Outer and Top.
Long underwear: Look for long underwear that is relatively tight fitting and made from something like silk or a polyester-based synthetic to wick away sweat (i.e. Capilene, Polypropylene). You’ll need both a top and bottom. Word of warning on the Polypropylene – it holds BO like no other.
Budget work-around: If you don’t have long-underwear, on top you could use a stretchy camisole, football or bicycling jersey. Down below you could use pantyhose, tights or leggings in a pinch. Just know that a day of smashing around in a tight fitting boot will probably ruin your fishnets anyhow.
Socks: Snowboard turns start with your feet, so don’t kill them with cotton. There is a weird misconception that thick socks or layers of cotton socks will keep you warm – when in fact, they bunch up, encourage sweating, and make you colder. Rick and I love SmartWool—they are comfortable, sleek, warm and worth buying. You can also wear them to hike or just sit around the house on a cold day (as I am doing right now).
Budget work-around: If there is some kind of emergency that prevents you from getting proper socks; silk trouser socks or pantyhose under a pair of socks (ideally wool or polyester) could work. The silk will wick moisture away and keep you warmer, but your feet are more likely to slip around the boot—just spend $19.99 on a pair of decent socks.
I own a light-weight fleece, a cold fleece and a super-duper Minnesota thermal under-jacket that I bring out when it is -10 F or lower. Look for fleece, wool or down and might as well get one that looks nice, since this is something you can wear around town.
Budget work-around: Fleece pajama pants work fine here –that’s actually what I use. Fleece pajama tops or wool sweaters will do the trick if you don’t want to invest in a more substantial fleece jacket.
The outer layer protects you from wind and water. If you plan to show up in jeans, sweat pants or a track suit, please go buy some proper outerwear. Even if you are not convinced you will snowboard again, you can always use waterproof outerwear to walk the dog or shovel the driveway. If you live in a warm climate, consider buying a light-weight, waterproof shell and layer more heavily. The light shell can be used at home as a rain coat or windbreaker.
Look for jacket and pants made of some kind of nylon. Under-arm and crotch vents that zip up and down are terrific and prevent you from overheating. The degree of water resistance is indicated with a measure of 1,000MM to 20,000MM (20,000MM being the driest). If money is no object, Gore-Tex® is the best. Brands like Patagonia, Arc’teryx, Marmot, The North Face and the AK line of Burton are top of the line. Most other snow-specific clothing will work just fine (and not cost a ton of money).
Jackets and pants also have a listed measurement that reads in grams (g). It is usually a similar number to the water resistance, between 1,000g and 20,000g. This tells you how breathable the jacket or pant is. The higher the number, the more bereathable.Breathablility is important because as you ride, you sweat, if your jacket and pants don’t breath well, all that sweat stays inside and gets you wet.
Jackets and pants can also come with insulation. You can look for insulating brand names like Primaloft, Outlast or regular down. SnowProfessor suggests using a shell for your outerwear and insulating with other pieces for the most versatility. This allows you to use the shell in warm weather and the shell + other insulation when it is colder; eliminating the need for multiple jackets (light and heavy).
Budget work-around: If you are looking to save money, invest in better quality pants since your bottom will be in direct contact with the snow, chairlift, etc. Really don’t want to buy? Ask your rental shop about renting outerwear too.
Sunscreen: If you are riding in the mountains, snow glare and elevation mean the sun is strong – like, crazy enough to burn and blister in one day. Use 30+ sunscreen and lip balm.
Goggles: While there are a variety of lenses out there, a basic amber or persimmons tinted lens will generally work in most conditions. At the very least, you will need sunglasses (yes, it is possible to sunburn your eyes).
Helmet: You can wear a hat, but we recommend a helmet for obvious reasons (I could link to dozens of articles about accidental deaths and brain damage from alpine falls). Some hills even let you rent a helmet as part of your package. Try some helmets on and pick one that fits snug, is comfortable and fits your goggles. If you are planning to wear a headband or earmuffs, you should really consider Snowler-Blades.
Gloves or Mittens: Any decent pair will do. Just ensure you have enough dexterity to buckle and un-buckle your bindings.
Budget work-around: If you will be using rope tows (common on beginner slopes), save your good mittens and opt for insulated leather work gloves (the kind sold at hardware stores for under $20). Rope tows can tear apart good mittens in a matter of minutes and those leather “glove protectors” are a piece of junk.