Just remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

What Clothes to Wear

I remember my first time cross country skiing. Naturally, since I was a city boy, I knew that unless I dressed REAL warm, I would probably freeze to death. No one really explained to me that cross country skiing probably generates more body heat than just about any other sport. Burn Baby Burn. And naturally, I used what I had in my closet, which was mostly cotton items. After a while those comfy cotton items soaked up all the sweat that was pouring off of me and I Froze Baby Froze. It was not a good first time out. Then there was the incident with the purple klister from an aerosol can on that same trip, but that’s another story…

But once I learned what to wear, I would forget from season to season which clothes to wear at what temperatures. Here’s what I did. I made a simple list –

  • The temperature when starting out
  • Clothes I was wearing
  • The temperature when I got back
  • How comfortable those clothes were (too hot, too warm, near perfect, a little cool or too cold.)

After one season of taking notes, I was able to refine a list of what to wear for any temperature. This trick also works great for other activities like cycling and running. 
Here’s what I found keeps me warm while skiing under most California conditions:

  • Pearlizumi Therma-Fleece tights. These lycra tights have a thin pile on the inside that make them warmer than the average cycling tights. Never once have I wished for another layer underneath while skiing. There are other brands out there, they just need to be warmer than your average cycling tights. I also picked up some polypro underwear briefs to wear underneath. Cotton briefs just soak up water and make you cold.
  • Two layers of lightweight tops, whether polyester or wool, not cotton. Usually a crew neck t-shirt and long sleeve zip turtleneck. Layers are always better than one heavier item.
  • Softshell jacket. I can’t enough good things about softshells. I think they’re one of the best inventions of our generation. The temperature comfort range is huge. Imagine skiing for an hour and rolling up to a warming hut. It’s 30 degrees out, there’s a 15 mph wind blowing and you’ve built up a good sweat. Normally that’s a nasty recipe for getting chilled. But with a softshell, there’s this warm feeling that comes over you after about five minutes. I can only assume it’s because the softshell is so breathable and the moisture next to your body is carried away so well. I own five softshells and I continue to be amazed how well they work.
  • Skiing gloves. There are many brands out there — Yoko, Saranac, Craft, Swix, Lill-Sport or Pearlizumi. They usually have a waterproofed leather palm for grip and an insulated back and fingers for warmth. You might find downhill ski gloves too warm as they usually have insulated palms as well. Make sure the cuff is long enough to keep the cold and snow from traveling down your wrist.
  • Hat. Again, I find softshell hats work better than any other hat I’ve owned. When going down those long hills it keeps the wind from chilling my head (which is usually sweating from that long climb I just finished.)
  • Socks. Any sock will do that fits well with your boots and are NOT cotton. Luckily, most modern XC boots are insulated and can keep your feet reasonably toasty.
  • Sunglasses. New snow has a reflectance of close to 97%. Sometimes it can be so bright it hurts and since they don’t make sunscreen for your eyeballs, bring good sunglasses. Stash an anti-fog cloth for your glasses in your pack. Speaking of sunscreen, bring it. Consider it sunglasses for your skin.


You will notice I tend to use Pearlizumi clothing. I like it because it also works great for cycling and running. But there lots of great brands out there, Hind, Sportif, XC Sporthill, etc. Above all, you will notice I do not wear any cotton items. For you first timers, wear ANYTHING BUT cotton. Cotton is known for its comfort — until it gets wet. And wet clothes in cold weather can not only be real uncomfortable, but downright dangerous. Fabrics like polyester, nylon or polypro don’t hold onto moisture but tend to wick it away from your body so you stay drier and warmer. Don’t wear cotton sweatshirts, jeans, pants, jogging suits, sweaters, etc. Root around in your closet to find some old polyester or wool clothes. Head to the local thrift store to find some deals on non-cotton clothing you can use for skiing.
 And when it comes time to start buying new clothes for skiing, consider bike shops. I find cycling clothing works great for us nordic skiers incredibly well. And don’t be shy about shopping the internet — there are lots of great deals out there if you are willing to nose around a little.