Dressing for backcountry skiing is a lot like dressing for a day of skiing at a resort, with two notable exceptions. One, backcountry skiers need to dress for climbing up the hill as well as for bombing down it. And two, even on the warmest days, backcountry skiers should bring enough clothing to stay protected for hours in the outdoors, in case plans go awry.
The key to comfortable backcountry skiing is to dress in layers. A lightweight merino or synthetic thermal baselayer wicks moisture away from the skin and for many backcountry skiers may be all the warmth they need during bootpack hikes or steep climbs. Your body generates a lot of heat while climbing. For the ascent, it’s often better to just wear baselayers and let excess heat and moisture escape.
For the descent, choose either a technical backcountry jacket or a puffy insulating jacket--either down or synthetic--to trap body heat in. And in case the weather turns ugly, or if you chose a puffy insulating jacket, always bring a lightweight waterproof shell. Backcountry ski touring demands more agility than most resort skiing, so go with a stretch softshell pant that offers total freedom of movement, along with dependable wind- and water-resistance. Women are often colder than men, so they might want a heavier baselayer pant underneath.
Backcountry Ski Helmets
Helmets aren’t as common in the backcountry because of their weight and bulk, but more and more backcountry skiers are bringing them along for big descents.
If you feel like you’d overheat wearing a helmet on the way up the mountain, just clip it to your pack (make sure it’s right side up if it’s snowing). Always remember to put your helmet back on to head downhill. Even though you’re out away from the crazy crowds that threaten to swerve you into a slow sign pole, there are still plenty of rocks and trees and potentially unforeseen obstacles out in the backcountry. Wearing a helmet is always worth it to lessen your risk of head injury.
Must-Have Touring Accessories
A warm and wicking hat is a must, as are quality sunglasses that won’t fog for the climb, and protective goggles for the way down. On the hands, opt for a glove liner or lightweight ski touring glove for uphill travel, and a heavyweight outer glove for downhill travel. And with ski touring’s larger potential for creating blisters, we recommend a lightweight, wool, ski-specific sock.