Ski Gear Essentials Guide
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Ski Gear Essentials Guide

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 Trew Powfish Jacket,  a very stylish, lightly insulated piece for men and 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 Rush Jacket for men is ideal for the backcountry, with nice, simple styling and Gore-Tex fabric.

New year, new Sentinel. Longer and light with even more protection. Photo by Kris Harris

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 the stylish Strafe Nomad Bib pant for men and the Trew Chariot bib for the ladies.

Backcountry Skiing Recommendation

A dialed backcountry pant is a tall order. This piece of gear needs to be lightweight but sturdy, keep out the elements but stay breathable, and provide utility through well-designed features, but stay fashionable (because even in the backcountry fashion is key). This holy grail is achieved with the Arc’teryx’s Shaksa Pant for women and Stinger Bib for men. Impeccable design combined with high-end materials make for ideal backcountry ski or snowboarding pants.

Shashka bibs on the go! Photo by Abby Cooper

Gloves

Skiing Inbounds Recommendation

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. The Dakine Fillmore Mitt is a classy option.

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. Dakine makes a nice lightweight Gore-Tex mitt for touring, the Impreza.

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 many 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. Have look at this year’s Salomon Shift Binding. It promises to be a category-changer, for sure.

A highly anticipated release, Dynafit’s Hoji Pro Tour 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 Hoji is a boot for everything, including occasional on-piste mogul bashing days.

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 gram 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 fittest 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 fiber, there are some great, lightweight but performance-oriented options out there.

For lightweight powder performance, look no further than Black Crows’ Anima Freebird. A 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.

Black Crow Skis and big terrain, the perfect pair. Photo by 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 Code helmet and the brand-new Smith I/O Mag goggle. The Code 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 helmet’s simplicity hides some of it’s technical safety features, like MIPS technology.  The new I/O Mag goggle features an industry-changing magnetic frame to lens connection. To back up that simple, solid system, there’s locking tabs on either edge of the lens, adding an extra element of security, handy when tommy-hawking down the Waterfall on Whistler Peak.

Smith Code and IO goggles make for the perfect combo inbounds or out. Photo by Kris Harris

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.

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!

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.