A man looks ahead in snowpants with ski gear

How To Choose the Right Ski and Snowboard Pants

Stay warm and protected from the elements to extend your days skiing and riding, whether in-bounds or in the backcountry.

By keeping you warm and protected from snow, ice, and precipitation, a good pair of ski or snowboard pants will go a long way toward helping you stay comfortable on the mountain. But there’s a wide range of styles and models available, and choosing the right pair can be a bit daunting. According to Dan Abrams, founder of mountain gear outfitter Flylow, the most important thing to consider when shopping is where and how you like to ride or ski, factoring the direction that your skills will likely develop.

“It’s better to err on the type of skiing you aspire to do and get that gear,” he says.

Questions To Ask Yourself

To focus your search on pant options that’ll work for you, determine the type of skiing or riding you’ll be doing and whether you run hot or cold on the slopes. 

What kind of weather will I experience?

Cold, dry weather demands a different kind of pants than warm, wet conditions. Choose a pair that suits the type of weather in which you usually ski or ride.

Do I ride chairlifts or will I be huffing it up any hills?

Resort chairlift riders will prefer more insulation and weather-proofing to keep warm when sliding downhill, while activities like cross-country skiing that feature high-intensity uphill ascents, as well as the bootpacking and skinning of backcountry skiing/riding, require pants with high breathability and good ventilation.

Do I generally run warm or cold?

Everyone’s body is different—be sure to keep that in mind when determining how much insulation and breathability you need.

Types of Pants

Your type and level of skiing or riding, and the climate you operate in, will determine what pants will work best for you. 


Often found in snowboard pants, integrated insulation is popular for resort-centric riding that involves sitting off lifts. Also constructed with a weather-proof outer layer, these pants have a layer of synthetic insulation for additional warmth (synthetic insulation is compared by its weight in grams; the higher the number, the warmer the pants). Most users pair these with a thin, moisture-wicking base layer underneath. 


Shell-style pants are designed to be waterproof, windproof, and breathable. Although they lack insulation, they’re lighter than insulated pants and their thinner design offers improved mobility. They’re most often used with medium- or heavyweight long underwear, and they’re popular for the high-intensity ascents of ski touring and splitboarding, where protection from the elements is still necessary on the descents.


By extending up the torso and back (kept in place with built-in suspenders) for additional protection from snow, these shells are a great choice for touring or skiing/riding in deep powder. Bonus: Most bibs have a roomy chest pocket for storing goods.


Made from softer, stretchier fabrics and designed for breathability, soft-shell pants are typically the most breathable type of pants, ideal for warmer days or skiers/riders who run warm—especially cross-country skiers.


Although they lack insulation, stretch pants offer an exceptionally snug, flexible fit for your lower body, conforming to your curves without hindering movement. While being water-resistant, they’re also highly breathable, making them perfect for warm-weather days and for the high exertion of cross-country skiing. Nordic skiers look for lighter weight pants that combine stretch with weather-resistance on the front of the legs. Downhill ski racers often use heavier stretch pants for their streamlined silhouette as well. But they’re not just for speed; some stretch pants have interior linings that offer warmth and a degree of wind and water resistance, too, though most alpine skiers still wear them over a thin pair of long underwear.

Detail of a mans snow pants with a spider


Ski and snowboard pants typically follow standard waist and inseam sizing. With shells, it’s a good idea to size up a bit (half to one size) to accommodate thicker underlayers, but with insulated pants you can stay true to size. Sizing might also vary depending on what you like to do on the mountain: Skiers and riders who spend time in the terrain park or halfpipe tend to go larger for more mobility; backcountry skiers and splitboarders might also size up so they can add more layers underneath their pants.  

Additional Features 

Beyond type and fit, a few other key features should factor into your choice of pants.

Waist Styles

Though there’s a variety available, the waists on most ski and snowboard pants include some sort of snap or button closure system with a zipper. Go with your regular pants size for fit, erring up a half or whole size to accommodate underlayers. (Note: some women’s-specific pants often feature higher waists.) For more adjustability, elastic waists offer a stretchy, accommodating fit. Many pants also come with built-in belts to fine-tune fit, or even Velcro-fastening side-tightening straps, which offer a few inches of adjustability without much added bulk. Some pants come with belt loops—you’ll have to supply your own belt to get a snug feel.


Built-in or removable suspenders keep your ski and snowboard pants in position (you can also buy a separate pair of suspenders and add them to your pants). Those with built-in suspenders often have a higher, bib-like front and/or back providing a more solid anchor point than just attaching to the pants’ waist fabric. Whether skiing or riding, suspenders are a great addition as they keep your pants high so snow can’t get in, while keeping your under-layers tight against your torso. One disadvantage, though, is  the straps sagging if not tightened correctly, plus the extra step to fasten them. 

Thigh Zips

Zippered vents on the outside (or inside) of the thigh open to let hot air escape so you stay cool in warm weather or when you’re heading uphill. Some models include a mesh screen on the vents to keep snow out. Pants with full-length leg zips go beyond breathability: They allow you to remove your pants completely without taking your boots off. 


Front thigh and/or rear pockets help store non-bulky items like ski passes, lip balm, credit cards, and even (for some) leftover bacon. One exception is bibs, many of which include a versatile chest pocket that can accommodate a variety of items/treats. Anything larger should go in your jacket pockets, since your legs are constantly moving while skiing or riding. 

Articulated Knees

Pants with articulated knees have a seam sewn into the knee area that allows the pants to flex more easily with your joint. The design offers improved mobility compared to pants without it. 

Ankle Cuffs

Beefier material and even skid pads integrated on the ankles help some ski and snowboard pants better withstand abrasion from your ski edges. Snaps or zippers provide more secure fastening. Many pants also employ ankle cuffs, whose interior liners/tunnels are designed to go over your boot top, to keep out snow. 

Water Resistance

Look for water-resistant internal layers, along with a water-repellent (DWR) coating to block moisture without completely sacrificing breathability. To compare the water-resistance of different pants, take note of the pants’ waterproof rating. This measurement is usually expressed in millimeters (it refers to a test that measures how many millimeters of water in a tube that a fabric can withstand). The higher the number, the more water-resistant the fabric (5K to 20K millimeters is generally acceptable). Popular water-resistant textiles include Gore-Tex, HyVent, and Polartec’s eVent.

Taped Seams

Waterproof tape that’s been glued along the seams’ interior and exterior gives pants added water resistance by preventing moisture from leaking through areas where different pieces of material are joined together. For the most water resistance, look for pants with fully taped seams (meaning every seam is taped). 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.