Many people start as skiers and make the transition to snowboarding. But before they buy new clothing, they’ll begin to learn in the ski gear they already own. This is understandable, as snowboard clothing can be expensive but are they missing a trick?
The main difference between ski and snowboard pants is their fit. Snowboard pants are looser, giving you more freedom, allowing you to adopt the appropriate riding position more easily, and have more range of motion. Ski pants have a tighter and more traditional fit for aerodynamics and speed.
Snowboard and ski pants have subtle differences that suit the demands of each sport. In this post, I’ll explain how these differences affect your comfort and performance on the mountain.
If you were to set a pair of ski pants next to a pair of snowboard pants, you’d instantly know the difference. The most obvious difference is how each pair is cut.
Snowboard pants tend to have a baggier fit. This isn’t just a fashion thing, but I remember back in the 90s when it was almost a competition for who could wear the baggiest pants.
The fashion aspect was heavily inspired by skateboarding, but the wider fit has a practical use too. The baggy fit of snowboard pants gives snowboarders freedom of movement.
This is important for freestyle riding, as you need to be dynamic when you perform tricks.
If you wear tight-fitting clothing, you’ll feel restricted, affecting how well you can spin, butter, and, more importantly, land.
One downside of baggier snowboard pants is that they don’t retain heat, as well as slimmer fitting ones. Therefore, you may have to add more layers or buy some with a little more insulation.
Ski pants have a much tighter fit than snowboard pants and follow the shape of your lower body more closely. The reason for this tailored fit is to reduce drag, improving aerodynamics.
You can ski faster when your ski pants aren’t flapping around in the wind. But you will notice that your mobility is reduced, which is made worse by the stiffer material ski pants are generally made from.
This reduced freedom of movement can be a problem when you need to react quickly or want to work on your freestyle tricks. However, the tighter fit keeps you warmer, as there’s less room for cold air to get in.
Both skiing and snowboarding can take their toll on your clothing but in different ways. So manufacturers add padding and reinforcement to specific places to make them more durable.
When you ski, you’re controlling each ski separately, which means there’s a good chance that your inner edges can come into contact with the bottoms of your ski pants, cutting them.
Therefore, good ski pants have reinforced cuffs around the ankles to make them last longer. Skiers tend to land on their backs at high speeds when they fall.
Therefore, their ski pants often have extra material on the seat and sometimes a little padding.
Snowboarders’ feet are strapped into their bindings, so they use both feet to control the board with no chance of the bottom of their pants getting damaged by their edges.
Therefore, the insides of the leg cuffs are not reinforced. However, you’ll notice that the part close to the heel is. This is because they rub against your bindings’ high backs and heel cups.
They also tend to scuff the floor when you walk around. Snowboarders spend a lot of time sitting in the snow, especially beginners.
Therefore, the seat panel is reinforced and a little thicker to keep you more comfortable.
This is the same story around the knees: they can take a whack in a fall or be in the snow while you’re waiting for your friends.
As with most things in life, there are always exceptions. There are some scenarios when features of ski pants benefit snowboarders and vice versa.
Regular snowboard pants have good insulation, which becomes too much when you hike or splitboard into the backcountry.
You soon overheat, making you sweaty and tired, which isn’t great when you have to hike for 6 hours up a mountain.
In this scenario, wearing thin pants with a high waterproof and breathability rating is best. But they should also be well ventilated.
The fit needs to be slim enough, so you don’t catch the edges on the inside of your pants when hiking but loose enough to allow you to move freely on the ride back down.
As I’ve already highlighted, these traits are usually associated with ski pants. You can buy splitboarding pants, which are brilliant but more expensive.
There are many skiers these days who like to hit the park. But you’ll notice that their outfits are closer to snowboard clothing than regular skiers.
A large part of this is down to fashion, as they don’t want to look like their parents and grandparents. But the baggier fit of their ski pants helps them to move freely.
Even the most hardcore skier will admit that snowboard pants are more stylish than what they wear.
We’ve already discussed the baggier fit, but the style is enhanced by extra pockets and cooler colors and prints.
The brands are often influenced by the skate and surf culture, which is more laid back than the stuffy ski brands that take themselves too seriously.
The slimmer aerodynamic fit of ski pants is more subtle, which is helped by fewer pockets to reduce drag further. This is a sign that ski pants are more about performance, and style isn’t the main priority.
But there is another exception to this rule. If you have spent any time in posh French ski resorts such as Val d’Isere or Courchevel, you will have seen ski pants from brands such as Bogner and Moncler.
These brands often feature intricate patterns, bold colors, and gold piping, and they are nearly always paired with matching tight-fitting jackets with furry hoods.
I’m sure these incredibly expensive and elaborate outfits are comfortable, and they certainly make a statement.
Still, these are more suited to casual skiers who spend most of their time frequenting the trendy bars and lunch spots, and they would be useless on a stormy day in January.
So far, I’ve highlighted the differences between ski and snowboard pants.
As you can see, the differences are subtle and not significant enough to ruin your day or stop you from snowboarding if you only have ski pants. After all, they are made to keep you warm, comfortable, and dry.
However, you’ll be far more comfortable and perform better with the correct clothing (and look cooler).
So, when you decide to throw your skis in the bin and make the transition to snowboarding, you’ll benefit from buying a pair of snowboard pants.
With all this in mind, what are the things you should look for in a pair of snowboard pants?
Uncomfortable snowboard pants are annoying. You may not notice the discomfort the whole time you’re riding, but there will be moments when you won’t be happy with them.
The comfort of your snowboard pants is essential, but this is subjective, as you may prefer the cut of one pair over another. But most of the time, comfort comes down to how they fit.
Most snowboard pants have adjustable waistbands, allowing you to fine-tune the fit. When you look at a pair of snowboard pants, look at how you can adjust the waistband.
There’s a good chance that the waistband can be adjusted with internal Velcro straps. This gives the pants a more refined look, but make sure the Velcro is concealed.
If it isn’t, it can scratch your skin or ruin your base layer. Before you buy a pair of snowboard pants, it’s a good idea to try them on. But before you leave the shop, move around a bit.
Do some squats and lunges, so you can feel if they restrict your movement.
You may think you look silly, but you’re just about to hand over a load of cash, so you’ll want to ensure your snowboard pants are comfortable.
If you’ve ever sat on a chairlift in the rain, you’ll know how critical waterproof pants are. You may not need or want to pay for Gore-Tex, but it does provide the best waterproofing.
Waterproof ratings are indicated by numbers between 5,000mm to 20,000mm, and these numbers tell you how many millimeters of water the material would take before it seeps through.
Less expensive snowboard pants have lower ratings but don’t work very well. Make sure your new snowboard pants have a rating of at least 10,000mm, but 15,000mm works exceptionally well.
For most people, 20,000mm is overkill, as they probably won’t find themselves in a situation where this level is needed. You should also check out the other waterproofing methods used in snowboard pants.
For example, some pants have critically taped seams, which means they use special waterproof tape over the seams most vulnerable to water.
Snowboard pants with fully-taped seams are more expensive but do a much better job keeping you dry.
How much insulation you need in your snowboard pants depends on a few things. If you feel the cold more than most people, it’s best to buy pants with a little more insulation.
This is also the case if you ride in high-altitude resorts or ones with a cold climate.
It’s worth remembering that the more insulation you have, the bulker the pants will be, restricting your movement. You can buy shell pants, which have no insulation but are waterproof and windproof.
These are ideal for hiking and splitboarding, and you can layer up underneath with thermals if you want to use them for general riding around the resort.
Snowboard pants insulation is usually made of synthetic material, and how much you get is indicated in grams.
The heavier the insulation, the warmer you’ll be. If you’re a casual snowboarder that doesn’t ride in extreme conditions, you should be able to get away with pants with 60 to 80g of insulation.
How breathable your snowboard pants are makes a difference to your riding comfort. Breathable materials allow sweat to escape from your body.
This is important as sweat inside your clothing makes you feel freezing when it cools down and stays on your skin; in extreme circumstances, you can get hypothermia.
Breathability is measured in grams; most snowboard pants range from 5,000g to 20,000g.
You don’t need anything too breathable when you spend most of your time riding in the resort unless it’s close to the end of the season when temperatures are warmer.
However, breathability is more important when you’re riding in the backcountry.
It is even more critical when hiking or splitboarding, as you can get very sweaty, and the moisture needs to be wicked away from your skin.
If you buy snowboard pants with ventilation, they will be more versatile, as you can wear them all winter.
Ventilation usually comes in the form of zippers running down your inner thigh, and they will often have a mesh material inside each zipper.
No matter how breathable your snowboard pants are, there’s nothing like opening a vent or two on a warm day. Unzipping your vents makes hiking up the mountain and splitboarding more pleasant.
But it also allows a nice breeze to come in as you ride. However, if you fully open the vents, expect to get some snow running down your legs after a hard toeside turn.
Some snowboard pants have many pockets, but only some are useful, as many are often added for style. But, others are very useful for carrying everything you need for a day on the slopes.
The cargo-style pockets on the thighs aren’t that useful. Most of them are large, but if you put anything with any weight in them, it flops around, which is annoying and painful if you land on it.
It’s much better to choose snowboard pants with large, zippered hand pockets, as these are more practical and safer for carrying your phone and wallet.
Properly fitting snowboard pants are more effective at keeping the snow out than baggy ones that show your underwear. But good ones also have some features that seal you from the snow.
One of these features is built-in gaiters around your ankles. The cuffs and inner gaiters on snowboard pants are usually wider than ski pants, so they can fit over your boots.
The gaiters will cinch around your boots, preventing snow from getting in, even in deep powder.
Another way you can keep snow out of your underwear is by buying snowboard pants with a jacket-to-pant interface or snow skirt.
This system attaches your pants to your jacket, creating a seal. They will be compatible if you buy a pair of pants from the same brand as your jacket.
But other brands use similar systems, so it’s worth checking if your jacket will attach to your new pants.
The differences between snowboard pants and ski pants aren’t enough to stop you from enjoying the mountain.
But, if you choose a pair specifically for snowboarding, you notice their differences and benefits. You’ll also look the part which makes you feel good.