This year in November I celebrated my eighth “Tahoe-iversary”, and I realized that I’ll be embarking on my 9th season of snowboarding this winter! Learning to snowboard as an adult was not without its challenges, but I’m at a point where I’m confident with my skills. Over my years of snowboarding, I’ve figured out some of my gear must haves.
I love layering up – you can control exactly how much insulation you’re wearing and can always shed a layer if you overheat. I tend to get really warm when I exercise, so I tend to keep my baselayers on the lighter side. Plus, the weather in Tahoe tends to be warmer than resorts in the rockies or east coast. A good rule of thumb is that you feel a little chilly standing in the parking lot, as you’ll warm up from exertion.
My favorite base layer bottoms are the Stoic Merino Blend ($35 – $70) that you can frequently find on sale on backcountry.com or steepandcheap.com. I tried the more expensive SmartWool Women’s Merino 150 Baselayer, ($80) and while they are high quality and soft, they are way too short for me at 5’11”. If you are under 5’8” or so, you might have better luck.
On top, I start with a really long, fitted tank top that I can tuck into my ski pants, like this one from Athleta ($20). The tank I usually wear is one I found at Marshall’s years ago – it’s a “fashion” tank instead of a workout one (like this one from Amazon $15), but it works just fine. Next I go for a long sleeved baselayer. If it’s a warmer day, I usually wear a SmartWool Women’s Merino 250 Hoody ($130) or the lightweight Patagonia Capilene Zip Neck ($59). Note: Capeline starts smelling really badly when you sweat in it, so that’s something to keep in mind. If it’s colder out, Patagonia R1 fleece is a great heavier baselayer. It comes in a Pullover, Hooded Pullover, and a full zip version. I ended up buying the men’s version, and it actually fits me in arm length, so that’s an option if you have longer arms (I found it’s not too tight in the hips, which is an issue I’ve had with other men’s jackets).
Being dry and a reasonable temperature (not too cold or hot) goes a long way towards a fun day on the mountain. I tend to like having lots of coat options – I haven’t found a coat that can take me from a warm, spring day to a wet, cold and windy day. If it’s snowing or raining, I wear a raincoat (sized up) over a down coat or vest. For a truly waterproof raincoats, I’ve been very happy with my Patagonia Torrentshell ($129). I’ve also had good experience with Marmot raincoats, and the Marmot Phoenix Jacket ($250). For down, I have the Marmot Aruna Down Vest ($140) and the Aruna Hoodie ($150).
Patagonia has an array of nice synthetic options, if you want to avoid down. On really warm days, I’ll often just wear a baselayer and my Aruna vest, but if I’m worried about the wind I’ll grab a softshell. I have an awesome softshell hoody from Icebreaker that they don’t seem to make any more, unfortunately. The Patagonia Adze hoody ($199) is pretty similar, and Greyson loves his Rab softshell more than just about any of his coats (and he has more coats than me!)
I’ve been wearing something similar to the Armada Lenox ($179), which are technically ski pants (as opposed to snowboard pants) for the last five years, and I really like them. Snowboard pants tend to be baggier though, and I think with pants, it’s best to try on a bunch and find the ones that fit you best. Make sure you can move around in them – I’ve had ones that seem to fit fine standing up straight, but get too tight in the thighs in the snowboarder crouch. Another issue I’ve had with ski/snowboard pants is the fastener at the waist – I’ve had pairs that that the button would come undone every time I fell down. That’s not something you want to deal with on the mountain, so try sitting down on the ground in them, like you would be on your board. It seems silly, but it will help you see how they fit when you’re moving around. I like to have thigh vents, especially on insulated pants. If you get overheated, thigh vents let you cool down quickly.
I’m still really happy with my Burton Women’s Feather snowboard (see my detailed review here). It’s been a great board to take me from beginner to advanced terrain, and I don’t see switching out any time soon. I’m still on my entry level Burton bindings – the Burton Custom Snowboard Bindings ($199), which have held up remarkably well for the past seven years. They are starting to wear out, so that will probably be the next upgrade I make. If you’re looking for great value bindings, I’d highly recommend the Custom.
I’ve cycled through a few boots over the years – starting with the cheapest Burton lace ups, nicer K2s with a boa system that I got on last season clearance, before settling on the Ride Hera Boa Snowboard Boots ($260). Despite linking to examples here, my number one tip is DON’T BUY BOOTS ONLINE. Go to a store that is known for bootfitting, try a bunch on, get advice from the bootfitters, get inserts, and then pay full price at the store. There’s no substitute for a good fitting boot, and you can’t do that online, especially since boot designs sometimes change subtly from year to year. Seriously, the number one improvement to my snowboarding ability (besides just time on the board) was getting properly fitted boots with the appropriate stiffness. (If you’re in Truckee or North Lake Tahoe, I had a great experience with boot fitting at Blue Zone Sports).
Much like my biking socks recommendations, you can’t go wrong with Smartwool socks. They come in several thicknesses, including Ultra Light, Light, Medium Socks, and compression ($23 – $50). They also come in a variety of styles, colors, and patterns – from plain black to adorable mountain print.
When I first started snowboarding, my hands were always freezing and the snow gloves that worked for shoveling the driveway didn’t cut it. I first got some mittens with mitten shaped liners, which I would not recommend. The mitten liners didn’t let me do anything I couldn’t do with my mittens on, so I’d have to strip down to bare hands anyway. Plus, the palms didn’t stay waterproof for very long, so I was shortly in the market for my next pair. Next, I bought Dakine Women’s Leather Camino mittens, which I still use and love. The leather palm is tough (no accidentally slicing it on sharp edges) and very waterproof once treated. I only break them out on really cold days, though, because otherwise my hands get sweaty. Most of the season, I wear DaKine Women’s Tahoe Gloves ($50). I’ve been really happy with Dakine brand gloves and mittens and will continue to buy them for the foreseeable future.
I’ve raved before about my Smith Squad MTB goggles for biking, and I like the Smith Squad Snow Goggles equally as much. Smith’s ChromaPop lens technology reduces color confusion that affects typical goggle lenses and helps you see in more detail. I’d recommend having a lens for the sunny, bluebird days (ChromaPop Sun or Sun Black), one that works in a range of conditions (ChromaPop Everyday Green Mirror or Everyday Rose), and a lens for stormy, low light days (ChromaPop Storm). I mostly use the sunny and mid range lenses, but there were some stormy days last winter I wished I had gone with the low light lens.
Helmets are a critical piece of safety equipment, and I ALWAYS wear mine! Get one that is cute and comfortable, and you’re more likely to wear it. I have a small head, and I think that Smith helmets fit me well. I have Smith Sequel, and I love the soft fabric over the ears and the vents, which are essential for comfort on warm days. Greyson has a big head, and POC helmets fit him well. Just try them on until you find one that fits well.
On days that it’s windy and snowing, I have a cheap synthetic buff, like this one from Amazon ($10). This isn’t something I’d spend much money on, but if you run cold consider splurging on a fleece BUFF. My cold blooded friend swears by it. I like to wear boots that are easy to slip on and off and comfortable to wear to the hill. I have an older version of North Face ankle boots, similar to the Yukion. When it’s warm enough for the parking lot to be dry, I wear Minnetonka Cally Slippers or flip flops, which, to be honest, is my favorite time of year for skiing. Other things that are nice to have on the mountain are sunglasses that I don’t mind getting beat up, sunscreen, lip balm with SPF, and hair ties.
I hope that these gear recommendations are useful, and make it easier to get out on the mountain, whether it’s your first time or your 500th.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!