We just finished ranking our Top 10 Best Outdoor Adventure Vacation Destinations on a Budget. Surprisingly, some cold weather destinations made the list.
Not everyone is a fan of cold weather. Winter brings a host of unique risks and challenges not present in warmer seasons. If you live in a cold climate, you no doubt have a winter preparation checklist that will help you find fun outdoor winter activities. Winter is an ideal time to get outside and stretch your legs, as long as you have the right clothing and gear. And what better way to take full advantage of the cold season than to spend a day on the slopes.
Alpine sports such as skiing and snowboarding aren’t cheap. Even getting to the mountain can be expensive. Equipment rentals or purchases weigh on the wallet too, and for safety and comfort, skiers and boarders should buy the right apparel and gear. The high-end brands listed in this post are trusted for quality, durability, and fit. When properly cared for, they’ll remain useful – and stylish – season after season.
Every dollar you save on clothing purchases is a dollar you can put towards skiing and boarding more often. Fortunately, it’s possible to find items from trusted brands at less than suggested retail price.
Top Winter Ski & Snowboard Brands for Apparel and Gear
1. Helly Hansen
Helly Hansen‘s Norwegian pedigree gives this clothing and equipment brand a lot of winter credibility. Helly Hansen makes a full range of winter sports apparel, from heavy jackets and fleeces to boots and hats.
For high-intensity days where the balance of protection and breathability is essential, the Aurora Shell Jacket will suit your needs well. If you’re playing in extreme cold or at high altitude, try the nearly impenetrable Backbowl jacket. Full prices for jackets range from around $100 to more than $500, but you can find deep discounts at bargain sporting goods websites such as The House – for instance, a Helly Hansen Loke women’s jacket marked down to $69.95, about 30% off the suggested retail price of $100.
Other notable men’s and women’s winter apparel and gear options from Helly Hansen:
- Merino wool base layers
- Snow pants
- Knit beanies
- Neck warmers
Helly Hansen is actually a year-round brand. Aside from snow sports, it makes high-performance apparel, such as water- and salt-proof jackets, for competitive sailing and other water sports. Helly Hansen also dabbles in general outdoor activewear and lifestyle wear, such as cotton t-shirts and dresses.
You can find Helly Hansen products at its branded retail stores around the United States, online at HellyHansen.com, and at select physical and online sporting goods retailers.
Arc’teryx is a high-end Canadian apparel brand that’s “built for mountains.” It specializes in high-tech winter gear that can withstand the most punishing conditions you’re likely to encounter on your skis or board. In harsh weather, try one of the Gamma or Theta hardshell jacket options. In more temperate conditions, opt for a Gamma softshell or Squamish windbreaker hoodie.
Other notable apparel and accessory options include:
- Waterproof snow pants
- Sweat-wicking base layers (synthetic and natural fibers)
- Mid-layers and fleeces
- Shells (including removable)
- Insulated jackets and coats
It’s worth noting that if you’re into warm-weather rock climbing, Arcteryx has a high-tech apparel and equipment line devoted to your passion. Check out its flexible rock pants and super-strong harnesses.
Arc’teryx clothing and gear tends to be a bit spendier than Helly Hansen’s. Full-price men’s jackets start around $150 and range north of $600, depending on heaviness, while men’s top base layers fall in the $60 to $70 range. Look for discounts at online retailers such as Sierra Trading Post, which routinely slashes Arc’teryx prices by 50% or more, or check out post-season clearance sales at outdoor sports specialists such as Backcountry.
3. High Sierra
High Sierra is a full-range, year-round clothing, apparel, and gear brand. Though skiing and snowboarding aren’t its focus, it does offer some notable insulated and waterproof jackets that work well in cold, snowy conditions. Plus, it’s more budget-friendly than Arc’teryx and Helly Hansen: Its online shop includes several jackets that sell for less than $100.
For even deeper discounts, check out its onsite clearance rack, though keep in mind that selection is limited and tends to be limited to a handful of categories, based on what High Sierra needs to get rid of at any given time.
Founded in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, by two ski instructors, SmartWool is a “by skiers, for skiers” kind of brand. Its wheelhouse is high-quality, high-performance wool socks that stay remarkably dry and comfortable in wet or snowy conditions. However, it also makes a surprisingly diverse lineup of other apparel and gear items, such as merino wool jackets (roughly $150 to $300, full-price), hats and beanies, gloves, and form-fitting crews and tees.
SmartWool’s signature socks come in a dizzying array of patterns and configurations. They’re not cheap: expect to pay at least $20 for a pair, and possibly more. For best results, they need to be paired with moisture-wicking base socks, particularly if you plan to use them on the slopes for long stretches. That further adds to their cost.
On the bright side, SmartWool socks are incredibly durable. SmartWool’s website doesn’t have much in the way of clearance sales or other discount opportunities, but does offer free shipping on all orders over $50.
Burton and SmartWool have similar corporate pedigrees, though Burlington, Vermont-based Burton’s is more accurately described as “by riders, for riders.” Burton specializes in snowboards and snowboarding equipment, including boots, bindings, and helmets, as well as minor accessories, such as knee pads.
Prices vary widely, depending on quality and features – for instance, helmets can cost as little as $50 and as much as $150. Similarly, some high-end Burton boots go for more than $400. However, if you’re a full-grown, frequent snowboarder, Burton’s prices are fair, considering the brand’s overall quality and durability.
Burton doesn’t stop at snowboarding equipment and gear, though. It also sells pretty much every article of clothing an alpine sports enthusiast could want, including snowboard pants, snowboard jackets, fleeces, underlayers, and more.
Unfortunately, Burton’s branded outerwear can be very expensive – some jackets retail for more than $1,000. Still, it’s possible to find discounts of 30% and even 40% in its clearance section. For instance, an Ion snowboard boot, regularly $469.95, goes for $375.96, while a $1,120 Junkers coat is a relative steal at $840. Another option for solid Burton discounts: coupon sites such as RetailMeNot, which offer time-limited promo codes for site-wide or select merchandise deals.
6. Kari Traa
Kari Traa is another Scandinavian clothing and accessory imprint with an impeccable reputation for quality and style. It focuses primarily on women’s outerwear, including heavy-duty parkas and lighter fleeces. Lightweight wool apparel, high-strength base layers, and accessories (including non-specialized items, such as sports bras) are available as well.
It’s worth noting that Kari Traa’s online merchandise is denominated in Norwegian krone (NOK), which are worth anywhere from $0.10 to $0.20 apiece. Per Seeking Alpha, the krone is not as closely correlated with the price of oil as commonly assumed, but it has fallen precipitously relative to the U.S. dollar since the early 2010s, making Kari Traa’s clothing more affordable for U.S. consumers. For instance, at NOK 1,999, the Tvilde Parka costs about $240 at the $0.12-per-krone mid-2016 exchange rate. In 2012, when the krone was worth about $0.18, the same parka cost about $360.
If you don’t want to convert dollars to krone all day, have Kari Traa’s distribution network do it for you. The brand is available in select stores around the United States and is becoming more prevalent by the year.
7. Mountain Hardwear
Mountain Hardwear is a high-end outdoor apparel and equipment brand owned by Columbia Sportswear. Like Arc’teryx, Mountain Hardwear devotes a lot of bandwidth to climbing and other non-snow sports. But it also has a great lineup of skiing and snowboarding clothing, including light and heavy jackets (up to $500 full price), snow pants, heavy-duty gloves (up to $150 full price), scarves, beanies, and fleeces.
The company’s website is probably the best place to find its entire merchandise lineup, though major sporting goods stores (including Dick’s Sporting Goods and REI) carry some items in-store and online. For deals, check Mountain Hardwear’s website first – in-season discounts up to 30% (for instance, a women’s downhill parka, full-price of $380, marked down to $280.90).
Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based Stio is a high-end outdoor clothing and accessories brand that focuses on functional, but non-technical items: light to heavy jackets, fleeces, insulation layers, base layers, beanies, socks, and more. Its options cater to the whole family – men, women, and kids.
Among fashionable skiing and snowboarding brands, Stio isn’t outrageously pricey – full-price jackets are available for as little as $150, though some heavier-duty options range close to $500. Better yet, Stio always seems to be running broad-based onsite sales covering multiple merchandise types. Some discounts, particularly for off- and post-season items, are eye-catching – for instance, a year-old women’s Modis hooded jacket marked down to $71.60 from $179. Free shipping is available on website orders of $100 or more.
Some famous alpine brands only do a few things – but they do them exceedingly well.
9. Smith Optics
Smith is mostly about eyewear. Its high-tech goggles, complete with sophisticated anti-fogging and glare reduction capabilities, are critical for serious skiers and snowboarders for whom safety and enjoyment are synonymous with clear vision. Smith’s cutting-edge goggles can cost up to $300, though low-tech “classic” pairs are available for less than $30. Another top Smith product: high-tech helmets (about $60 to more than $200). Their helmets are equipped with the best technology and all of the essential safety features.
Smith also offers reasonably priced, branded apparel items, such as hoodies (full price $50 to $60). However, it shouldn’t be your first choice for high-performance clothing. For discounts, check coupon sites, which occasionally have discount codes good for up to 60% off, or discount outdoor retailers such as Sierra Trading Post, whose discounts often exceed 40%.
Bolle is even more specialized: it’s all about protective eyewear and helmets. Like Smith Optics, Bolle touts its high-tech goggle options, which can exceed $200 full-price, but also offers cheap, durable options – such as the Mojo Snow goggles, available on Amazon for less than $40 per pair.
Bliz is a third option for serious skiers and snowboarders in search of high-performance goggles and helmets. Bliz’s super-durable goggles are a bit less expensive than Bolle’s high-end products – for instance, the Carver goggles retail for approximately $69.95, but offer exceptional vision and fashion.
Point6 describes its products as “merino mastered,” and that pretty much sums it up. Point6 specializes in durable, comfortable merino wool socks for high-impact outdoor activities, including skiing and snowboarding. In fact, durable, comfortable merino wool socks are all Point6 does. As with SmartWool, expect to pay $20 per pair here.
13. Krimson Klover
Krimson Klover is an upscale clothing label based in Boulder, Colorado. Its wheelhouse is fashionable, practical women’s base layers, accessories, and light- to moderate-duty outerwear. Bright, colorful designs belie high-tech construction, particularly on Krimson Klover’s form-fitting baselayers. Krimson Klover is pricey – full-price base layers can run $175, and skier socks approach $30. And, as a niche brand, it’s not available at many sporting goods discounters. However, Krimson Klover does run periodic onsite sales that present fantastic deals – for instance, an $86 Endless Journeys scarf marked down to $25.
ThermaCELL is all about bringing the heat – heated insoles and other clothing inserts, that is. ThermaCELL makes several iterations of these products, but the ProFLEX activewear model is probably the best choice for alpine sports enthusiasts. ProFLEX comes in most common shoe sizes, up to U.S. size 13 (men’s and women’s – $184.99 full price), and can be paired with battery packs ($39.99) and remotes ($14.99). ThermaCELL makes hand warmers ($79.99) and pocket warmers ($69.99) too.
Though they’re certainly not cheap, ThermaCELL’s insoles and warmers are literal limb-savers designed for safety and comfort in super harsh environments. Look for discounted items at major sporting goods retailers, including Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Also, keep in mind that when it’s time to put away the heated products for the warm season, you can bust out another ThermaCELL product – heavy-duty mosquito repellent.
15. Belong Designs
Belong Designs has a more varied lineup than ThermaCELL or Point6, but all of its products support the same niche: “the Colorado lifestyle.” Belong makes lightweight tees, medium-duty hoodies, and heavier-duty “skiing/boarding jackets,” many of which proudly display the Colorado flag.
These items are great for sports enthusiasts who prioritize form over function – for instance, the skiing/boarding jackets are loose-fitting and thus not totally impervious to moisture, so you probably don’t want to wear them in a blizzard. On the plus side, they’re fairly affordable: full-price men’s jackets come in at $250, and end-of-season clearances can drop prices by 50% (for instance, $80 hoodies marked down to $40) or more.
16. Imperial Motion
Like Belong Designs, Imperial Motion shouldn’t be your first choice for heavy-duty clothing to wear on a cold, windy winter day. Its high-end hats, jackets, and accessories are meant for temperate conditions, such as spring skiing at low altitude. But the stylish designs certainly support the skiing/boarding lifestyle, without Belong Designs’ particular homage to Colorado. Jackets are reasonably priced – generally less than $100. Look for free U.S. shipping on online orders over $125.
Consider pairing stylish Belong Designs or Imperial Motion clothing and accessories with high-quality footwear from Ahnu, a boutique brand that makes sustainably sourced shoes, boots, and sandals (including a leather-free vegan line).
Ahnu’s heavy-duty boot line is most likely to appeal to skiers and snowboarders while getting to and from the mountain, as the brand’s lighter footwear is too flimsy for snow or cold weather. Ahnu’s boots aren’t cheap – for example, the men’s waterproof, insulated Tamarack model costs $170. But when you buy from Ahnu, you contribute to a higher purpose: the young company has donated several hundred thousand dollars to well-known charities since its inception.
Though its Canadian roots inevitably confer some cold-weather credibility, Lululemon is another brand that’s not immediately associated with alpine sports, unless you consider its signature yoga pants a suitable base layer. However, Lululemon has recently branched out into jackets, hoodies, and other alpine gear capable of handling moderately chilly conditions.
On the slopes, opt for the water-resistant Gather Me Slightly jacket ($150) over a windbreaking base- or mid-layer. For onsite deals, check out the “We Made Too Much” tab, which shuttles you to clearance sales and limited-time deals that can confer solid discounts – for instance, a Scuba Hoodie III, originally for $118, on sale for $89.
19. Outdoor Technology
Outdoor Technology makes some winter-friendly apparel and accessories, including hoodies, beanies, and face protection. But what it’s known for is portable audio and power equipment that can be worn in virtually any alpine environment – from the bunny hill to the backcountry. If you need on-the-go power for your phone, heating devices, camera, audio gear, or other essential equipment, the Kodiak “power bank” series has you covered. If you want to stay entertained on the mountain, look to Outdoor Technology’s 10+ audio options, including WiFi earbuds, traditional headphones, and compact speakers.
20. Chaos Hats
Chaos Hats makes affordable, fashionable headwear and neck wear for every season. It offers three broad categories: unisex, women, and kids. The beanies, of which there’s a seemingly endless variety priced between $15 and $45 per hat, are snug enough to fit under your helmet and fashionable enough to wear in the lounge after a day on the slopes. On bitter days, opt for a stylish trapper hat with fluffy fur inserts and long, super-warm ear flaps ($20 and up). And, for an amazingly warm and comfortable experience in any winter setting, check out the affordable polar fleece necktubes – turtleneck attachments that look way more fashionable and cost less than $10 apiece.
You can’t wear Giesswein‘s ultra-comfortable wool shoes while you’re carving up the slopes, but when you’re done skiing or riding for the day, there’s nothing you’d rather have on your feet. Giesswein makes a variety of indoor and outdoor shoes for men and women from its proprietary boiled wool – a super high-quality, non-scratchy natural fabric that keeps your feet warm and comfortable in virtually any conditions. Its high-tech footbeds (inserts) are ideal for people who need additional arch support. Depending on your shoe choice, expect to pay $100 to $200 for these Austrian-made winter stalwarts.
Last, but certainly not least: Shinesty, easily the most offbeat brand on this list. Shinesty’s style is best described as “hipster chic,” and the label makes a pretty impressive range of clothing: swimwear, underwear, tops, pants, headbands (and other accessories), and a limited selection of alpine gear (such as jackets and snowsuits).
Shinesty’s designs aren’t for conservative tastes. Its snowsuit designs include Paul Revere American Flag One Piece, Day-Glo ’80s-Style Neon, and ’80s-Style Neon – Tony Montana Edition (all $199), and one of its ski masks is printed to resemble a screaming bald eagle. Shinesty does have a cool refer-a-friend program that earns you $10 for each referral, and all ski suits come with free shipping.
How to Save on Skiing & Snowboarding Gear
No bones about it: high-quality alpine apparel and gear can be pricey. Controlling your snow sports clothing spending is all about knowing where, when, and how to buy. Try these tips.
1. Avoid Shopping at or Near Mountain Resorts
Forgetting to pack the right clothes is a rite of passage for harried vacationers. It can also be a major money pit, particularly when you wait to buy what you’ve forgotten until you’re settled at your destination. Almost without fail, ski resort shops mark up crucial clothing and gear, sometimes dramatically.
In less isolated locations, you may have luck finding a larger sporting goods store or general merchandise retailer (such as Walmart) away from the resort, but within easy driving distance. However, it’s not guaranteed that these stores will have what you’re looking for, particularly at the height of the winter season. Even if your items are in stock, the laws of supply and demand dictate that they probably won’t be deeply discounted.
2. Look for Post-Season Clearance Sales
No self-respecting alpine sports nut wants winter to end, but spring comes with a silver lining: winter gear clearance sales. In fact, late winter and early spring are often the best times of year to find deals on in-style apparel and gear, as retailers and manufacturers need to get rid of their current-year stock to make room for summer sporting gear, and then the following winter season’s gear.
3. Plan an Outlet Mall Shopping Trip
Winter apparel brands love outlet malls. Bigger manufacturers, such as Columbia Sportswear, routinely set up shop in these high-traffic retail complexes, which tend to be located on the fringes of major metropolitan areas and in popular vacation destinations. Though it’s not wise to expect deep, across-the-board discounts on popular merchandise, outlet stores do tend to have more frequent sales, as well as better deals on specific items.
Outlet malls are intentionally located in far-flung areas with cheap real estate, so they’re not ideal for a quick glove or sock run. But, if you need to purchase lots of winter apparel for the coming season, the money you save at the outlet mall is likely to more than offset the financial cost of your trip.
4. Try Your Luck at Holiday Sales
If you miss your chance at post-season clearance sales, the next best time to buy may be during the holiday shopping season – specifically, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the proximate days. Winter apparel and gear, including items specifically designed for alpine sports, are always popular around the holidays. Check a variety of merchants: online retailers such as Amazon and eBay, general merchandise stores such as Walmart and Target, big-box sporting goods stores such as Cabela’s and REI, and apparel brands themselves.
5. Buy Gently Used
If the glove fits, wear it. Today’s winter sports apparel is far higher-tech than what was available a generation ago, but year-to-year changes are rarely dramatic. That makes used items, which often sell for more than 50% less than comparable new items, attractive to frugal snow sports enthusiasts.
Search Craigslist, eBay, local sporting goods stores, and other trusted sources for good-condition apparel and gear from last season or before. To ensure quality, avoid listings without photographs, and confirm with private sellers that you’ll be allowed to inspect the items before exchanging money. Also, keep in mind that you probably won’t be able to find – and wouldn’t want to wear, anyway – used underlayers, socks, and other clothing that’s typically worn directly against the skin.
6. Buy Multi-Use Clothing & Gear
If you live in coastal California and only encounter snow on occasional trips to the Sierra, your cold-weather gear probably stays boxed up most of the time. On the other hand, if you live somewhere colder, like Boston or Chicago, your winter apparel is presumably in the rotation four or five months out of the year.
Cold-climate shoppers can save a bundle (and reduce clutter) simply by using their alpine gear on a day-to-day basis, rather than keeping separate reserves of high-quality outerwear, underlayers, and accessories. Sure, using your alpine gear for outdoor exercise (or just dashing from your car to your heated destination) wears it out faster. But, unless you’re an avid snow sports enthusiast, you’re still likely to get more use – and more value – out of it.
Alpine sports aren’t cheap. Major ski resorts routinely charge upwards of $100 for single-day adult lift tickets. Getting to the mountain, staying at or near the mountain, renting or buying your skis or boards, and purchasing the necessary gear described in this post all add to the cost.
You can save big time by buying season passes at your favorite resort (or regional resort alliances), purchasing skis and boards secondhand or on clearance, and looking for lodging deals or bunking up with fellow travelers. But, at the end of the day, skiing and snowboarding are still expensive hobbies.
If you’re one of these people, and skiing or snowboarding is a net positive for your emotional health, you’re likely reluctant to put a price tag on the hobby. But it’s sure nice to find great deals on high-end apparel and gear.
For more fun, check out our Top 10 Best Outdoor Adventure Vacation Destinations on a Budget.
What’s your favorite skiing and snowboarding apparel brand? How do you find deals on pricier items?