You may already have a weatherproof jacket prepared for the snow, but unless you’ve already been on a ski holiday, chances are you won’t have any salopettes. To prevent you from being the odd one out trying to snowplough in jeans, we’ve enlisted Snow+Rock clothing buyer Johnny Hayes to help explain.
What are salopettes?
The French word for overalls, salopettes are distinguished from more basic waterproof trousers by their braces and breathability. Having said that, you’re free to detach the suspenders and just call them ski pants if you like.
At the very least they should repel snow, provide some warmth, not make you sweat, and be tailored to enhance – rather than impede – the moves you’re going to make on a snowboard or skis.
Insulated or shell?
There are a wide variety of brands, colours and designs, but the most crucial question you need to ask yourself is shell or insulated?
Shell trousers are made from lightweight polyester or nylon, which means they’re waterproof, windproof and highly breathable. But they’re also lightly insulated – if at all – so won’t offer the same level of warmth as insulated ski pants and require you to wear thermal leggings underneath.
Insulated trousers offer an extra layer in addition to the shell, normally made from fleece, down or synthetic material. The level of insulation will often be measured in grams, with higher numbers meaning warmer legs.
You can also get softshell ski pants, made from a woven fabric that rustles less than shell. These offer greater freedom of movement and are highly breathable, but aren’t so good in terms of waterproofing.
Johnny Hayes from Snow+Rock says the majority of holiday skiers will be happy in an insulated trouser.
“Unless you’re a freerider or ski touring you probably won’t require a non-insulated shell trouser, which is designed for the more active individual, who tends to get a lot hotter than those who stay on piste.”
What about breathability and waterproofing?
Salopettes, much like the jackets they go with, are made from waterproof – but breathable – synthetic materials. As Johnny explains, waterproofing and breathability are always presented as two sets of numbers.
“Waterproofing is measured in millimetres. A tube of water is placed onto a suspended piece of fabric and filled until the water leaks through. The measurement relates to the height of the water in the tube before it penetrates the fabric. Breathability is measured in terms of how many grams of water vapour can pass through a square meter of the fabric in a 24 hour period.”
The higher the set of numbers, the more waterproof and breathable the garment will be. A general rule of thumb is that 5,000mm is low waterproofing, 10,000 around average, 20,000 high, and anything up towards 30,000 is reserved for the pros. The same goes for breathability – 5,000g is low, and 20,000g or more is very breathable.
How should they fit?
The enduring question of form versus function needn’t be one you lose sleep over – these days you can have both, depending on what you plan to do in them.
The softshell pants mentioned earlier often come in figure-hugging fits, which are fine if you head inside for a hot chocolate when it gets cold, but are less suitable if you want to be out in all conditions.
Shell pants are usually baggier, to accommodate for the range of movements ski tourers and freeskiers put them through, while insulated ski trousers should find a happy medium.
What about pockets, vents and seams?
Other than the material used, your salopettes’ ability to repel water is mostly down to the taping between pieces of material, with uncovered seams allowing moisture to seep through more easily. However, most ski pants will have taping on the big, critical seams. Unless you’re an advanced skier, there’s probably no need to go fully taped, where every seam has waterproof tape glued inside and out.
You’ll be hard-pressed these days to find a ski trouser that doesn’t have mesh-lined vents down the inside of the thigh, to promote air circulation and temperature regulation. Higher specification pants may have more vents, but you’re unlikely to need them during on-piste skiing, according to Johnny.
Inside the bottom of your salopettes should be a waterproof, elasticated gaiter designed to seal around your ski or snowboard boot, in order to keep snow and slush getting in.
The only real difference between ski and snowboard pants is that skiers will often have a reinforced area on the inside of the ankle to prevent wear and tear from ski edges, while snowboarders may find more padding around the knees, as they can sometimes be the first point of contact in a fall.
Once you’ve found your perfect salopettes, it’s time to put them to good use. Take a look at some of our favourite resorts for first-time skiers and boarders.