You're going skiing/snowboarding? Yes! Good for you! Ski holidays are so much fun in so many ways but they can also be a bit of a nightmare to prepare and pack for if you've never actually gone on one before. If you don't have a good friend who is a seasoned skier or snowboarder to ask, consider me that person. I've compiled a list of the really essential things you need to pack for your first winter sports trip. I've also pitched in with some personal experience and advice about the kind of items these should be, as well as giving you a few ideas for non-essential but possibly very useful things to have as a first time skier or snowboarder. And check out this post if you want some general advice for your first ski or snowboard trip,
(P.S. If you're also travelling with kids, check out this packing list specifically for a toddler's first ski trip, and you can also have a look at this post with advice for preparing for your first snowsports trip with a toddler.)
Where to buy ski or snowboard clothes?
Before you find out what should be on your packing list for your ski or snowboard holiday you may be curious as to where you should shop for all this stuff. If you're based in UK or Europe, I highly recommend checking out Decathlon, where you can find (and buy online!) all the gear listed below at a very reasonable price. It may not be the best of the best but it will certainly do what it's supposed to (keep your warm, dry and active). Also in the UK I used to buy a lot of my snowboard gear in Snow and Rock or Millets, but now I live in the Netherlands I usually turn to Amazon, Decathlon or local specialist stores to buy stuff in brands I know and trust. Speaking of which I really like Burton, Dakine, Salomon, North Face and Helly Hansen. Needless to say, try and get things that are in the sale (they'll be out of season not faulty!) and look out for online (and physical!) outlet stores.
Try not to wait until you're in the resort (especially at the beginning or middle of the ski season) as clothes and equipment will be more expensive in shops then. Towards the end of the season you are more likely to find bargains with shops selling that season's clothes and possibly selling off rental snowboards, skis and boots, which is how I bought my first snowboard, bindings and boots in a deal.
Essential things to pack for your first ski or snowboard holiday
Ski trousers and jacket - These two items of clothing (and possibly the next one) are the ones that will make or break your first ski trip. If your trousers aren't waterproof, and if your jacket doesn't fit well, or have space for your layers (and pockets aplenty for snacks, ski pass and other essentials) you will find skiing or snowboarding harder than you should. When trying on potential skiing trousers and jackets, move your body. Jump up and down, wave your arms around, and check that there's "a seal" both at the base of your jacket (an inside seal is also fine) and at the top of your trousers, because snow will sneak in anywhere given half the chance. To this day I have a nasty scar on the side of my stomach from a "snowburn" when I didn't fasten up my jacket properly and I had a big fall. The good news is that all-in-ones have seen a bit of a resurgence so that could solve a lot of problems! If you're snowboarding, you need to know that you're going to spend a long time on your bottom so really do check your trousers are waterproof (ask the shop assistant to maybe prove it by dripping a few drops of water on the material) and you may want to wear shorts as well to give yourself an extra layer for the cold wet snow to get through! I wear Burton snowboard trousers and jackets and have found them long-lasting and pretty sturdy.
Gloves - There is nothing worse than snowboarding or skiing with soggy, wet, cold gloves. Trust me. Get good ski gloves. Mittens supposedly keep your hands warmer, but I prefer gloves with fingers. Ones with long arms and a "seal" at the wrist (again to keep snow out) are best. Invest in a decent pair with good reviews and for the love of all that money you have spent on a ski holiday, practice attaching them to your ski trousers so you DON'T LOSE THEM! These are like the ones I have and they are so much better than many others I've had in the past. These are like my partner's pair and he's had them nearly eight years.
Socks - Decent skiing socks will greatly reduce a number of the many possible aches and pains ski or snowboard boots will give you in the early days. Wool-mix socks are best because they will stay dry(er!) and warmer than most other socks. These are the like the ones I have and love. Also wool ones will not get as smelly as others so you only need a few pairs for a week's ski trip.
Hat - While I hope you'll be wearing a helmet, if the weather is going to be cold you may want to consider getting a thin hat that can go under a helmet. Either way you may want to have one for when you're having a coffee or beer or a quick rest from skiing, just to keep warm.
Goggles - Goggles protect your eyes from the sun, the snow and from revealing the dirty looks you're giving your ski instructor (we've all been there!) so they're not to be left at home. There is seemingly no limit to the amount of money you can spend on them but it's fair to say that a decent pair (with either interchangeable lenses or a good all-weather lens) will cost between $30 - 50 USD. Again, you could ask around friends to see if they have some you can borrow - this is definitely what I did for my first few ski trips.
Sunglasses - While a decent pair of goggles should cover you for all skiing or snowboarding conditions, there may be some days when the sun is so bright and also the weather is warm enough that sunglasses suit you better. Because we usually go snowboarding later in the season (March) we are hopeful for a few sunny days so I have a cheapish pair of sports sunglasses in my bag as well as my goggles. (I say cheapish because did you know that snow can scratch sunglasses' lenses? Also you may lose or break them if you have a big fall - though these claim to be unbreakable!?!
Face/neck warmer -Even if it's not freezing, if there's any kind of wind, you'll be glad of a neck warmer keeping the cold gusts out of your body and possibly ice or snow being blown in your face. I've been using Buff warmers for years though I've never been very adventurous trying out all the different combinations that are possible with it. I normally just pull it up and tuck it in under my helmet. If it's going to be really cold (below freezing) where you're going I recommend looking into getting a neoprene face cover or a proper balaclava. When we snowboarded in Lapland this was essential and I wore it every day (it was around -25 C on our coldest day!).
Waterproof, warm shoes (with a good grip) - While many people will just wear trainers around a ski resort, I've learned the hard way that a sudden snowfall can leave you stuck or on your bottom. Because we regularly go to cold and snowy climes I invested in a pair of these Sorel boots a couple of years ago (and they still feel brand new to me so I think I'll get several more years or even decades out of them!) and they keep my feet warm and dry, and my body upright!
Comfortable underwear - Ladies, you may need a sports bra. Gents, dig out your favourite boxers (holes or no holes, as long as they're comfy) and a big tip for everyone - leave the g-strings at home; they will not keep your bits warm and could cause serious injury in a big fall!
Thermals or layers - Here's the deal with thermals; they're great when you have really cold days - in fact, they're essential. But if you're not expecting temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius, I personally think you don't need thermals but instead try to have lots of layers on which you can remove or add according to your temperature. This is because you're going to be moving a lot and when you're learning to ski you use A LOT of muscle and calories and energy and... what I'm trying to say is you will SWEAT. So, unless the weather for your trip is predicted to be freezing or below (or the weather forecast is going to vary) I wouldn't worry about thermals too much. I personally have some Helly Hansen tops and bottoms and they've lasted me several years and are still going strong.
Lots of warm and comfy clothes - For when you're done with skiing and chilling in the bar or in your hotel room, give yourself the gift of comfort - because look around, everyone else is! This is one of the reasons ski holidays are so great!
Lip balm - I will always, always include this as an essential item because I don't know anybody who doesn't get chapped lips when up on the mountain - men included. Do yourself a favour and get a decent lip balm (or two because things magically disappear on the snow though something like this should stop that!)
Paracetamol/ibuprofen (or other painkillers - Learning to ski or snowboard hurts. No matter how fit you are or how much exercise you usually do when you learn to ski or snowboard you use muscles you didn't know were hiding in your body. So bring the painkillers and take them!
Tissues - As well as chapped lips, you'll find the cold air will make your nose run so come prepared with little packs of tissues.
Sun cream - Even if the sun isn't forecast to come out the days you ski, I strongly suggest having a decent sun protection lotion with you and putting it on your face every morning because the sun can come out or even pierce through the clouds and bounce up off the bright white snow. And trust me, NOBODY looks good with a panda eyes Goggles tan.
Sense of humour... - Learning how to ski or snowboard for the first time could be the worst experience of your life... or the funniest. I know which one I would choose, and you can easily do just that by packing your sense of humour and leaving at home all expectations of nailing your first black run on day two.
Optional things to pack for your first ski or snowboarding trip
Helmet - While I think a helmet is essential to be worn on the slopes, I don't think it's something you have to buy and bring yourself because you can hire helmets from ski rental shops in resort. Either way be prepared to wear one as more and more destinations are introducing a policy of compulsory helmet-wearing - no bad thing, especially for beginners.
Ski or snowboard boots - Again I definitely don't think you should invest in ski or snowboard boots before you try the sport, however, if you do have a friend or family member with some boots (and the same size feet obviously!) and they're happy for you to take them (yep, no stealing!) then go ahead and try them on and consider taking them. I didn't buy my own ski or snowboard boots until I was capably going down red runs. In many ways borrowed or rental boots are better because they've been worn in and are already tried and tested!
Snack bars - Learning to ski is exhausting and will use up a ton of calories. If you're having lessons you may have to wait until a certain time before you can grab lunch or a snack so have some with you - the pockets on your ski gear should be big enough to put muesli bars in. I like these ones.
A suitable backpack - Some people hate having a bag on their back when skiing or snowboarding, others find it a necessity to carry their gear, sandwiches, water, hip flask (another non-essential item you may want to consider packing!). My best advice is to try and avoid it when you're learning to ski (especially having lessons) as it may affect your balance but if you can't avoid it (as I nearly always can't because I have a two-year-old who needs ALL THE THINGS) make sure you get a good one that is waterproof and can tie around your middle. This is like the one I have and I often use it for running in as well as my general day bag for work and while out with my son.
P.S. If you're also travelling with kids, check out this packing list specifically for a toddler's first ski trip, and you can also have a look at this post with advice for preparing for your first snowsports trip with a toddler.
And that's it! If I've missed something you think is an essential item please let me know in the comments... Now go have fun getting ready for your first ski or snowboard trip! You're going to have so much fun...
Frances M. Thompson
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