Elver Park Cross Country Skiing

Wisconsin Skis: What to Wear When It’s Really, Really Cold

Date: February 14, 2015
Total time: 1 hour
Distance: 5.4 miles

I headed out to Elver Park in Madison today to do a shake-out ski one week before the Birkie. It was a sunny seven degrees and stupid windy with gusts up to 30 mph. Originally I was thinking about heading North to ski, but North = even colder, so I was thankful that there’s still enough snow to ski on here in Madison.  

The course at Elver was great. The groomers had freshened everything up there was some loose powder on the trail which made it easy to control speed on the steep downhills. There wasn’t a deep base, but there is still enough to skate on and it is nice to be in the woods, out of the wind.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re dressing to ski in the cold: 

  • Layers are key — you can always remove one if you get too hot.
  • Keeping your fingers and toes warm is the key to happiness.
  • You still want to be able to wiggle your toes, so don’t get too crazy with the socks.
  • Wear materials that will wick moisture away from your body such as wool or technical fabric.
  • Wind jackets and pants can keep you toasty warm, but can also hold moisture in. 

I like to run, bike and ski, so I end up mixing and matching my gear from all of these sports during the cold weather.

Here’s what I wore today:

Layers to wear when skiing on a cold day

Lots of layers for this cold, windy day.

  • Sports bra – Moving Comfort
  • Long-sleeved tech t-shirt – New Balance
  • Fleece – Patagonia 
  • Wind jacket – Pearl Izumi 
  • Softshell nordic ski jacket – Salomon
  • Fleece-lined running pants – Brooks
  • Wind pants – New Balance
  • Wool socks – Fits
  • Skate ski boots – Salomon
  • Nordic ski mittens with leather grips – Toko
  • Hand warmers – Graber
  • Neck gaiter / balaclava worn under hat to cover ears – Sauce
  • Hat with fleece lining band around the bottom – Toko
  • Wind and sun skin protector on the face – Dermatone
  • Sunglasses – Suncloud 
  • GPS Watch – Garmin 110 (worn over my coat, super sexy-like)

When I ski and it’s warm, I may just use the long sleeved tech t-shirt with the softshell or wind jacket. If it’s slightly colder, I may put another tech layer over the one closest to my skin. Colder than that, I replace the second tech layer with a fleece. The photo above, is the coldest level with the wind layer between the fleece and softshell jacket. 

My legs don’t usually get chilled. If it’s below ten degrees, but not windy, I might put a pair of thermals under my fleece-lined pants. I only wear the wind pants layer if it’s really windy and cold. There are specific pants made for skiing that have wind protection in the front, and vent out the back. These are on my wishlist, but honestly they haven’t been a burning need because my running pants have been so great. 

I wear a light 5-fingered pair of gloves with leather palms most days. If it’s medium-cold, I wear a pair of lobster claw gloves that keep me in good Vulcan form. For the coldest weather, I hit the mittens and may even cram hand warmers in those suckers. 

Oh yea, and the best part about wearing nordic ski gloves or mittens is that they often come with a fleece-covered thumb for wiping your nose. Essential.

What I wear to ski in cold weather is pretty close to what I wear to bike in cold weather. It’s roughly the equivalent to adding one layer to what I would wear to run in cold weather. For a great post on this topic, check out this Winter Biking Tips post from the Wisconsin Bike Fed. 

Does your sportswear need to be expensive?


Big box stores like Target can have a pretty good selection of budget training wear. You may also find good deals at a local farm supply store. (In Wisconsin, this is Mills Fleet Farm or Blain’s Farm & Fleet depending on which side of the state you live on.) Also, you may be able to find items in your own closet or at a local thrift shop that will do nicely. 

Personally I like to invest a little money in some key pieces, most of which are pictured above, because I wear this stuff constantly. My Brooks fleece-lined running pants have made it through five seasons of heavy-use while running, skiing and dog walking. Patagonia stands by the fact that their gear lasts and that blue half-zip fleece has certainly been through a lot with me.

Also — there comes a time where regular laundry detergent can’t dent the stink in sportswear. Don’t throw your gear away, just invest in some Sport-Wash — a laundry detergent in a small orange bottle that can be found at most running stores.