I don’t ski in jeans, but I did ski in leggings for a very long time. I was 22 years old when I first started learning the sport and had just recently gotten over my Floridian aversion to clothing heavier than T-shirts and flip-flops. My friends even offered to lend me ski pants, and I’m sorry to say that I refused. To me, leggings weren’t a faux pas, they were just the most nondescript thing I could wear while recreating. In the resort parking lot, I saw a parade of rightfully confident snow athletes who could pull off their bizarre color combinations, comically large pants, and animal onesies, because they could also pull off something called “hucking.” I didn’t know what, exactly, that was, but it struck fear into my heart. Surely I wouldn’t need such large pants—surely the large pants would be overkill—until I was “shredding” knee-deep in “pow” and could use either of those words unironically. A small, salty part of me also suspected that this fixation with crinkly fabrics and gapless goggle-helmet combos was just for show. How else would a middling skier signal to others that they get it?
As I pluckily continued my ski education, I found more reasonable ski gear. I graduated from a men’s raincoat over a sweatshirt to an insulated jacket, and from running socks to knee-highs. Finally, my roommate forced me to accept the periwinkle ski pants she’d worn in high school. By year two, I had something resembling a utilitarian skiing outfit: a nonwaterproof, faded maroon jacket that doubled as my everyday winter coat, white ski boots (with a possible blood streak over one toe), thick folded-over wool socks, absolutely massive lavender mittens, goggles with a lime green strap, and a neon pink buff.
Still, I stopped short of fully embracing what I considered real ski fashion, including a continued refusal to purchase clothes made specifically for skiing. My reasoning has always been that my gear is good enough. Why spend money on a jacket that you can only use for one activity? Not to mention that ski apparel has always seemed—no offense, hucksters—way too ugly to be that expensive.
For starters, why is it all so big and intense looking? Everything from goggles to boots seems at least twice as bulky as it needs to be. This wouldn’t be as noticeable if ski apparel didn’t also insist on drawing attention to itself with a overboard use of color blocking and zippers (it took me a while to figure out that pit zips have a real purpose). My friends looked very put together, but they also looked like astronauts, all shiny and streamlined and like they probably spent a lot of time picking out an outfit with professional-grade coordination. Because, as good skiers, they deserved it! I wasn’t exactly spending hours in wild conditions, so why play dress-up like a real skier? Why not just wear the same jacket I wore to work all week?
For starters, why was it all so big and intense looking? Everything from goggles to boots seems at least twice as bulky as it needs to be.
To my surprise, I spent a lot more time both pondering my layering technique and being cold than all my friends. It seemed like more effort to look like a real skier, but I realized my friends were just cobbling together the correct layerable, warm items and didn’t really care what the finished outfit looked like. Turns out that wearing any combination of boxy Gore-Tex pieces is a pretty fail-safe way to a harmonious appearance. And there’s a reason that’s the default: even those of us struggling downhill are still basically astronauts, rolling around on a hostile planet.
Toward the end of last year, a kind friend (coincidentally, the editor of this piece) quietly left a waterproof shell with pit zips in my office. Point taken. I have spent every ski day since basking in the glory of a jacket that actually keeps snow and wind out.
The only problem: the jacket is turquoise. And yes, it’s still being used with the periwinkle pants and slightly different shade of periwinkle mittens.
This brings me to the other confusing aspect of ski fashion: atrocious colors. Ski jackets don’t come in objectively bad hues. Neon yellow, red wine, and turquoise are all tones I like on their own. But ski designers seem to have a problem with making their wares in shades so specific that they will go with precisely one other color, to say nothing of the prints. You’re all but guaranteed to mismatch if you venture beyond neutrals. And don’t you deserve to venture beyond neutrals? After learning all the proper ways to wear ski gear—you cannot have a gap between your helmet and goggles! your socks must be so much thinner than normal and your mittens so much bigger!—it feels wrong not to have fun with the parts of your outfit that don’t come with any rules.
It took me a while to realize that matching isn’t the point. In my informal research for this story (texting my friends with long questions about how they pick their clothing), the most universally agreed-upon element of a good ski outfit was “a pop of color.” Appreciating this concept requires a 30,000-foot-high view—or however high a chairlift is—rather than a nitpick of complementary tones. I can immediately spot my friends from afar based on their specific jacket-pants combo. And I’d like to think that my periwinkle pants are as unique as a second set of fingerprints. This is important for linking up with the people you didn’t carpool with. Seen from up high, we’re all special little pops of color on a white expanse.
Ultimately, the more committed you are to spending time in the snow, the happier you are to pair the least appealing versions of any given color (here’s looking at you, weak lime green, periwinkle, and washed-out turquoise) if it means the best fit. The affection I now feel toward my new warm, waterproof, pit-zipped ski gear is probably what a cockroach feels for its crunchy, protective exoskeleton. I may not be everyone’s ideal of beauty, but I will endure everything the elements throw at me.
Besides, it turns out that the more ridiculous you look while skiing, the less out of place you are. One day maybe I’ll be confident enough to wear a neon onesie, and I’ll feel glorious, if not stylish, and no one around me will blink an eye.