Ski Gear Essentials Guide
| Mountain Gear |

Ski Gear Essentials Guide

When recreating amongst Whistler’s high alpine peaks, it is easy to forget this mountain adventure hub’s proximity to the ocean. The warm, wet and wild Pacific Ocean is about 60 kilometres away and can affect the weather in the mountains greatly. In the winter, powerful storms stack up over the Pacific Ocean, building up strength and hammering the Coast Range with all their fury. While these storms bring the snow Whistler is famous for, they also bring a wide variety of weather conditions that, if not prepared for, can make a day out in the mountains miserable, pretty quickly.

Without a doubt, backcountry and lift served skiing or snowboarding is gear intensive. The goal of this ski gear essentials guide is to give you some direction when shopping for new gear and to help you make a purchase that will not only make you happy, but that will perform flawlessly on the mountain. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, park rat or a backcountry shredder, having the right gear will make or break your day. We all encounter the same weather here in Whistler, regardless of how we choose to enjoy it. What sets everyone apart is the way in that they access the mountains in the first place.

On Piste vs. Backcountry

When thinking about gear to purchase, the type of skiing or riding you’ll be doing has to be taken into consideration. This is pretty obvious with hard-goods like boots and boards, but when it comes to outerwear, there are some subtle differences that can affect your day greatly.

Riding the chairlifts can be a cold, windy experience, where warmth is critical. Once in the backcountry, warmth can be your worst enemy. If you’re sweating on the skin track with improperly ventilated clothing and then freezing at the top of the climb, a day in the mountains can take a turn for the worse very suddenly. In light of this, our ski gear essentials guide offers both inbounds and backcountry solutions for the gear discussed.

Skiers lined up at the top of a slope.

Prepare for fun. Our ski gear essentials guide helps you choose the best gear for a great day skiing. Image: Abby Cooper

Ski Gear Essentials Guide

Looking for a particular piece of gear? Jump ahead to a specific category covered in our ski gear essentials guide by clicking on the item below:

Jackets
Pants
Gloves
Boots
Skis
Goggles and Helmets

Jacket

Skiing Inbounds Recommendation

Outerwear for on-piste can be lightly insulated to provide greater comfort on those cold days. If not insulated, think about getting gear that uses thicker materials, both for the warmth factor, and to withstand the rigours of hill skiing or riding. Make sure there is room for layering in case of extra cold days. Bonus if the jacket has a small pocket on the left arm for your Whistler Blackcomb lift ticket! We dig the Strafe Theo Jacket for men or the Strafe Silver Queen Jacket for women.

Backcountry Skiing Recommendation

With backcountry-focused outerwear, weight and breathability are two big factors. Look for jackets that can be easily stuffed into your pack for big climbs, and come with well-placed pockets for other gear and snacks. Also, good ventilation from pit zips and the use of proven materials such as Gore-Tex or Polartec are critical to backcountry enjoyment.

Arc’teryx’s Sentinel Jacket for women or Arc’teryx Saber Jacket for men is ideal for the backcountry, with nice, simple styling and Gore-Tex materials.

Women's Arc’teryx ski jacket

Simple style, quality product. Arc’teryx ski jackets are a great choice for the backcountry. Image: Abby Cooper

Pants

Skiing Inbounds Recommendation

With your butt plastered on cold, wet chairlift seats for a good percentage of the day, you want a pair of pants that are waterproof and can hold up to the wear and tear of hill shredding. Strategically placed pockets are nice to hold spare change, your phone and wallet. We dig matching brands for ultimate compatibility, so our clear choice for inbounds pants is the stylish Strafe Theo Pant for men and the Strafe Cloud Nine Pant for the ladies.

Backcountry Skiing Recommendation

One word: ventilation. A good day in the backcountry relies on this, and there’s nothing better for venting than big ‘ol side zips to let the cool mountain air flow in, and last night’s bean burritos waft out. The side zips on Arc’teryx’s Sentinel Pant for women or Saber Pant for men are more than ample. The zips, combined with a warm flannel liner and roomy pockets, make for an ideal backcountry ski or snowboarding pant.

A skier in black ski pants.

Choose wisely. The right ski pants can make or break your day on the slopes. Image: Abby Cooper

Gloves

Skiing Inbounds Recommendation

Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of Hestra gloves. When choosing a glove or mitt for on-piste use, you want something that is warm but still dexterous and fits well. The Hestra Leather Fall-Line boasts all these benefits and looks pretty cool to boot. Seem to have extra cold fingers when on the slopes? Opt for a mitt to keep your hands extra toasty.

Backcountry Skiing Recommendation

A true backcountry aficionado carries two pairs of gloves. The best combination is one pair of warm, waterproof gloves (see inbounds recommendation) and one lightweight pair for touring and general use. An ideal pair for ski touring is the Hestra Ergo Grip Active. With a leather palm and Gore Windstopper panels, this lightweight glove keeps your hands warm on the way up and can double as a main glove on warmer spring days.

Hestra touring ski gloves

On the move. Hestra’s Ergo Grip Active gloves include features ideal for ski touring.

Boots

Skiing Inbounds Recommendation

Ski boots have come a long way from the rear entry vice grips of the past. Today’s boots have comfortable, heat-molded liners, walk modes, and light weight materials. No more need to drag around a couple of boat anchors on your feet all day. Dalbello’s Krypton series has a boot for everyone, from folks hitting their first black diamond run, to pro shredders hucking Air Jordan above Whistler’s Peak Chair.

Backcountry Skiing Recommendation

Nowhere has the evolution in boot performance been so noticeable than in the backcountry segment. Many companies, both backcountry-focused and traditional alpine-focused, are coming out with touring models that are lightweight, comfortable and high performance. As most binding systems are moving towards tech pin style design, look for a boot with the tech inserts, even if you don’t currently use that style of binding. You will soon.

Despite many contenders, Dynafit’s Vulcan rises to the top of the heap as a high-performance ski touring boot. Light and flexible enough for long days out, but with stiffness in ski mode that rivals alpine boots, the Vulcan is a boot for everything, including occasional on-piste mogul bashing days.

A skier in touring boots and skis.

Advanced technology. Dynafit’s Vulcan is a high-performance ski touring boot.

Skis

Skiing Inbounds Recommendation

You can’t have a ski gear essentials guide without skis! And while there’s never going to be one ski that can attack all conditions, there’s a few options out there that come close. Whistler conditions can go from deep powder in the alpine to icy groomers mid-mountain, to rain-soaked slush at the base, and that’s all in one run. Given the variability in the conditions, look for a ski that has a wide enough waist to handle powder or other soft snow conditions on the upper mountain, but something with enough shape that you can hold an edge on the harder slopes of, the lower mountain. Volkl’s 100Eight model boasts a wider waist that handles deep snow like a champ, and its lightweight but aggressive construction ensures the ski will not shy away from carving up the hardpack.

Backcountry Skiing Recommendation

It’s all about the grammes when it comes to picking a good ski for the backcountry. Too heavy, and those anchors a.k.a skis will sap the energy out of even the most fit of ski tourers. Too light and flimsy, and you might as well be cross-country skiing. Ski manufacturing has come a long way recently, and with the introduction of materials like carbon fibre, there are some great, lightweight but performance-oriented options out there.

For lightweight powder performance, look no further than Black Crows’ Anima Freebird. An 115 mm waist will float the skis in powder, and the feather-light construction will help you get back up the mountain for another lap.

A pair of G3 skis

Style matters. Choosing the right skis dependents on your usage and the conditions. Image: Abby Cooper

Goggles & Helmet

One of the benefits of a company that produces both goggles and helmets is the two items are bound to work well together. This is the case with the Smith Maze helmet and the Smith I/O goggle. The Maze is a simple and stylish lid, perfect for laps through the terrain park, or stashed in your pack in anticipation of a big backcountry descent. The I/O goggle features an interchangeable lens system so that you can manage your lens dependent on the weather. The frame is nice and large too, providing good peripherals on the mountain, to avoid any out-of-control gorbies whizzing by.

Ski helmet and goggles

The perfect pair. Choose compatible goggles and a helmet for comfort and a good set up. Image: Abby Cooper

Where To Go?

So you’ve read our ski gear essentials guide and are now wondering where to get all this gear that will work perfectly for a Whistler adventure? Local Whistler shops, of course! Escape Route has been Whistler’s backcountry specialist for decades and can not only outfit you with everything you need but also answer questions about current conditions, resources or guiding services. For your on-piste needs, Can-Ski or Coastal Culture shops are both great options.

A traveler walking down the Whistler Village Stroll.

A stroll away. Whistler’s Village Stroll is home to plenty of great ski shops. Image: Oyster Photo

With smart gear choices, your time in the mountains can be that much more enjoyable. Rather than worrying about equipment failing you can concentrate on beating your friends to the bottom of Peak to Creek or breaking trail up to that untouched backcountry powder run. So, gear up and get out there!

If you’ve enjoyed our ski gear essentials guide but still want to learn more, check out our Guide to Finding the Right Custom Ski Equipment, Quick Guide to 2016’s Best Ski Goggles, Ski Layer Guide for what to wear under your shell, recommendations for the top winter jackets, or Essential Backcountry Ski Touring Gear List.

Joe Schwartz

From hucking to hillclimbing, Joe has run the full gamut of the mountain bike spectrum. He currently resides in Squamish; riding singletrack, skiing powder and reminiscing about the good old days.