Snowboard vs ski jacket and pants – what’s the difference?

Best women’s ski jackets
Is baggy and bold just for snowboarders? Do all skiers have to look streamlined and smart? We examine the differences between snowboard vs ski jackets and pants (Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve just got a whiff of impending snow in the air and are getting suited up for a season of thrashing the hill, you might be wondering about the differences between snowboarding and ski clothing. Primarily, is there any difference at all? Is baggy and bold just for snowboarders? Do all skiers have to look streamlined and smart? Let’s take a quick look at the primary differences between a snowboard vs ski jacket and ski pants to help you figure out what you really need for the winter ahead.

A snowboarder cruising downhill on a sunny day

Lots of gear out there today is simply billed as snow gear, which definitely might make you think that there’s really no difference between the two (Image credit: Ascent Xmedia)

Though some companies will bill their garments as specific to a certain sport, for example the DC Snowboarding Collective Shell Bib Pant geared towards boarders or Arc’teryx Shashka Stretch Pant intended for backcountry skiing, lots of gear out there today is simply billed as snow gear, which definitely might make you think that there’s really no difference between the two. There’s certainly a lot of overlap and any jacket or pair of trousers for skiing or snowboarding should always have the following features:

  • Water resistance
  • Insulation
  • Pockets
  • Reinforced panels
  • Some stretch and adjustment to support range of motion

That said, while you definitely can wear a jacket or pair of pants meant for a different winter sport and get away with it, there are some subtle differences beyond fashion that might have you picking one tailored to your chosen activity. Let’s take a look at the primary differences between a snowboard jacket and pants versus those meant for skiing.

A man telemark skiing on a sunny day

Streamlined clothing is better suited to the dynamics of skiing, which requires more uniform movements (Image credit: Tyler Stableford)

Snowboard vs ski jacket: fit and length

A dedicated snowboarding jacket is likely to be a bit baggier and longer than a ski jacket of the same size, which will have a snugger, more streamlined fit and usually come to mid-hip compared to upper thigh. This is down to the biomechanics of each sport. In skiing, your movements in your upper body are a bit more uniform and less dynamic, so the streamlined cut will keep you warmer while still allowing you to make turns.

In snowboarding, however, you’re going to be moving a lot more dynamically, holding your arms out, touching the snow, and using more of your body to carve, so you need a bit more room in your jacket to do so. The good news is that the effort of snowboarding likely has you working up more of a sweat, so you can afford to lose a little of that heat that a ski jacket traps closer to your body. 

In snowboarding, you also spend a fair amount of time sitting in the snow, whether you’re fastening your bindings at the top of the chairlift, taking a break or, let’s face it, falling down. For that reason, you’ll be glad of the extra insulation a longer jacket provides around your bum, but as a skier, you don’t really need it, especially with chairlifts getting more high-tech and cushier with each passing season.

Woman snowboarding wearing Roxy Shelter Jacker

In snowboarding, you’re going to be moving a lot more dynamically, holding your arms out and using more of your body to carve, so you need a bit more room in your clothes (Image credit: Roxy)

Snowboard vs ski pants: fit and reinforcements

When it comes to your pants, once again the technique of skiing vs snowboarding will determine the ideal fit. Snowboarding requires you to be able to keep a wider stance and bend your knees more, plus you need to be able to comfortably bend down to unfasten before riding the chair, so baggier pants with a low crotch aren’t just about style, they’ll actually help you move on the slopes. Meanwhile, a good pair of snowboarding pants will have reinforcements on your bum and your knees – you know, the areas where you usually take the brunt of your falls. This means that you’ll have a little extra padding on those bony areas, and your pants will last for lots of seasons to come.

Similar to your jacket, your ski pants will have a more slim fit, which better suits the aerodynamics of skiing (no flappy pants when you’re zooming down groomers) and these will again keep you a little warmer. They do need to provide enough stretch for you get your boots on though, so don't go nuts on the slim look. Ski pants often have reinforcements around the ankles to protect them from the edges of your skis and the buckles on your ski boots too, where they’ll see the most wear and tear.

Three skiers walking together

Snowboarding gear often has more, shall we say, flair?  (Image credit: Henrik Sorensen)

Snowboard vs ski jacket and pants: style

Lastly, there’s one other difference between most ski and snowboard clothing that has nothing to do with function and that’s style. Snowboarding gear often has more, shall we say, flair? Think bright colors and bold patterns, whereas ski gear tends to be a little more low key. Of course, you might simply be drawn more to one aesthetic than the other, and you could get away with skiing in snowboarding gear and vice versa, but it’s probably best to shop around for something that works for you practically as well as fashion-wise. Columbia Kick Turner pants for skiers still have a super fun print if you like to get a little wild, for example, while the DC Liberate Snowboarding Jacket comes in demure shades of khaki and camo for the subtler snowboarder.

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.