Cold Feet While Skiing? Fight Frigid Digits With These Proven Tips

A day on the slopes should be enjoyed, not spent longing for the warm lodge because your toes are numb and achy. But keeping your feet warm while skiing can be a challenge, especially on the chilliest days when snow conditions are often the best.

I’ve been skiing for several decades, starting as a cute tiny tot in a jacket so puffy my arms stuck out to the sides. I have not-so-great circulation in my extremities, so I’ve always had to put effort into preventing unpleasantly cold feet while I’m skiing. Fortunately I’ve developed a system that works for me, and it’ll work for you too even on the chilliest of days.

You don’t necessarily need fancy heated socks and whatnot (more on this below – they are a nice luxury) to keep your feet warm while skiing. You can avoid numb toes in most conditions with a few simple low-cost tips and maybe a new pair of quality socks. Read on to learn how, because cold tootsies are the last thing you should be thinking about on your next ski day.

When you buy through affiliate links in this post, I may earn a small commission. Thanks for your support! I always offer unbiased opinions based on real experience from the road and trail. Learn more.

Why Your Feet Are Cold While Skiing

If you want to keep your feet toasty warm in your ski boots, you first need to understand what makes them cold. You’re probably thinking “Isn’t it obvious? It’s all the snow and cold air!” Well, yes, but let’s get more specific.

Not Enough Insulation: Insulation is any material that traps pockets of warm air where we want it, like near our feet, helping them resist the chill creeping in from cold surroundings (or more accurately, slowing the rate at which our body heat “leaks out” of our feet). Socks are the most obvious example of insulation for our feet while skiing. Boots also provide some amount of insulation as well as wind protection, and boot covers can add yet another layer.

Restricted Blood Flow: Our feet are quite literally at the end of the line when it comes to blood flow. Being so far away from the heart, they depend heavily on good circulation to stay toasty. Tight boots, overly-thick socks, or a footbed that doesn’t quite fit can all constrict blood flow, making it even harder to pump fresh warm blood into our toes.

Moisture: Foot sweat happens, especially when we’re working hard on the slopes. As your feet sweat inside your boots, that moisture causes them lose heat more quickly through a process called evaporative cooling. If you’re unlucky enough to get snow inside your boot, it melts and then cools down, doubling the problem.

Inadequate Body Warmth: When there isn’t enough heat to go around, our bodies prioritize keeping our core — the home of all our vital organs — warm at the expense of our feet and other less critical parts. If your entire body is on the chilly side, you can’t expect to have warm toes.

Armed with this knowledge, we can now tackle how to keep our feet warm while skiing with a solid game plan. Here’s to warmer feet and more comfortable ski days!

Ways to Keep Feet Warm

Start Out Warm and Dry

Give your feet a fighting chance — don’t let them get cold before you even start skiing! You might not give it much thought if you don’t live in a snowy area, but it gets cold at night in the mountains! If your boots spend the night in the car or garage while you’re cozy inside your cabin or ski condo, they’re going to be nicely pre-chilled for you in the morning.

Store your boots and socks indoors the night before, and make sure they’re totally dry when you put them on in the morning. If they’re damp after a day on the slopes, put them in front of (but not directly on) a heater, or you can even use a boot dryer if you want to get fancy. It might seem trivial, but trust me, beginning your ski day with pre-chilled boots and socks is the start of an uphill battle.

Use Good-Quality Ski Socks

Ski socks are a surprisingly critical part of your ski clothing. You can probably guess that socks should be high and well-fitted so they don’t cause uncomfortable lumps inside your boots. Even more importantly when we’re talking about cold feet though, socks need to be the right fabric and thickness to provide insulation and wick moisture away from your skin.

Merino wool and wool-blend are the gold standard for ski socks. Merino wool offers excellent insulation to keep your feet warm while remaining breathable and wicking sweat (pulling it away and letting it evaporate) from your skin. Socks with a high percentage of merino will be warmer than other materials for the same thickness. As a bonus, merino is naturally stink-resistant, sure to be appreciated by your ski buddies in the car at the end of the day!

Here are a couple examples of high-quality wool ski socks:

Merino wool can be expensive, so if you’re looking for something cheaper a synthetic blend will do. Just make sure it’s a dedicated ski sock instead of something you found in the bottom of your drawer, and it will probably be fine. Whatever you do steer clear of cotton, it retains moisture which leads to cold feet.

Medium thickness is the sweet spot for ski socks. Too thin and you won’t have enough insulation – that is, not enough material to trap warm air near your feet. Too thick and you might have a different problem: restricted circulation. It can be tempting to wear two pairs of socks in an effort to avoid cold feet, but if they’re too tight on your feet or stuffed too snugly inside your boots they can actually make the problem worse.

Dial In Your Boot Fit

If your toes are getting cold in your ski boots despite starting the day with dry, well-fitted ski socks, the next thing to check is your boot fit. Lack of circulation is usually the culprit here. If your boots are too small or cinched too tightly they can impede blood flow in your feet, leading to chilled toes.

“But aren’t ski boots supposed to be tight?” you might be thinking? It’s true, your boot is a critical link between your foot and the snow. A well-fitted boot transfers power efficiently from your body to your ski so you can perfect your skiing technique. Your boots should feel fairly snug against the front of your shins, where you apply pressure to control your skis. But the toe area does NOT need to be uncomfortably tight.

Here’s a good basic summary of how to buckle your boots. In summary, start at the top and work down, fastening the top two buckles fairly firmly. It should take a little effort to get the buckles closed, but not be a battle. When you get to the two lower straps, flex your ankles so your shins are pressing against the front of the boot (like when you’re skiing) and fasten the two lower buckles just tight enough to prevent your feet from sliding around while you ski. You can adjust this easily between runs, so experiment! If your feet slide around in your boots as you ski, they’re too loose.

Ski boots should be snug against your shins so you can transfer power to your skis, but they shouldn’t be too tight in the foot area or they’ll restrict circulation and cause cold toes.

Keep Your Feet Dry

There’s this concept in thermodynamics: evaporative cooling. Simply put, when liquid (like sweat or melted snow) evaporates from a surface (your feet) it takes a bit of heat from that surface to complete the phase change from liquid to gas. In other words, wet socks and boots make your feet colder.

We already talked about starting with dry socks and choosing fabric that wicks sweat. But what if you get a pile of snow down your boots or your feet sweat while you ski? Consider taking a quick break at the lodge to remove your boots, or at the very least unbuckle them, and let everything dry out. If you’re really concerned you could pack a second pair of dry socks to change into at lunch.

Keep Your Core Warm

If you’re having trouble keeping your feet warm while skiing, it’s worth thinking about the rest of your body too. Is your core truly warm enough, or are you spending too much time in that borderline state of being slightly chilled every time you get off the chairlift? If your core and head are warm (think quality midlayer shirts, breathable shell jackets, and a snug helmet) it’s easier for your body to send blood to your feet, and you’ll be a happier skier overall.

Layering properly for skiing is a topic for another whole post, and something I personally struggled with for years (too hot, too cold, too hot, too cold…). For the basics see this advice from REI on how to dress for skiing. The key concepts: a base layer that wicks moisture from your skin so you stay dry, a midweight insulating layer that breathes well and traps warm air close to your body, and a breathable waterproof or water-resistant outer jacket layer that repels moisture, breaks wind, and helps prevent your body heat from escaping.

Two skiers in snowy weather
It’s a cold day but we’re having fun anyway, thanks to a good layering system that keeps our bodies – and our feet – nice and warm.

Disposable Toe Warmers to the Rescue

If you’ve tried all the above and your toes are still feeling cold in your ski boots, you may need some help generating extra heat. This is common if you have poor circulation in your toes or ski on really cold days (or both!). Fortunately, there’s a cheap and easy way to keep your toes warm even in these challenging ski conditions: disposable air-activated toe warmers!

I used to think disposable toe warmers were worthless; they took up too much space in my boot and didn’t stay warm long enough to bother with. But they’ve gotten better since I first started skiing, over three decades ago (yikes, time flies!). Today’s warmers are thin, shaped like the front of your foot, and use adhesive to stick on your sock so they don’t bunch up. They get pretty warm, and unless you’re skiing mega-long hours in frigid conditions a single pair should do the trick for a day at the resort.

I recommend the HotHands Toe Warmers version, which only covers the front of the foot. They also make a “foot warmer” version that covers the whole foot, but the extra coverage adds a little bulk and squish to your boot and usually isn’t needed.

Ski Boot Covers: Simple and Effective

If you ski often and don’t want to run through a pile of disposable warmers every winter, consider boot covers. These insulating booties are made of neoprene (like wetsuits) and strap onto the outside of your ski boot. They add both insulation and wind protection, especially in the front of the foot area where it’s needed most. DryGuy Boot Glove and SNUX Overboot are two popular options

SNUX Overboot Ski Boot Covers | REI Co-op

The Big Guns: Electrically Heated Socks

For lovers of electronic gadgets, battery-powered heating elements can be combined with socks or footbeds to electrically warm your feet in your boots. This sounds awesome, but in practice these systems still have limited battery life (often not enough for a full day of skiing) and bulky battery packs, and they don’t really provide much that a combination of the above tactics can’t already offer.

Electrically heated socks might be a good option for people with poor circulation who ski frequently in cold conditions, usually short days (so battery life isn’t an issue). If that’s you, here are some expensive systems and some cheaper options to consider.

In Conclusion

All this to say: don’t let cold feet ruin your ski day. Lift tickets are expensive, and it would be a big waste to spend all day counting the minutes until you can stop skiing and get warm. With the right socks and boots, and perhaps a little help from warmers or boot covers, you can ski all day with toasty toes and enjoy every run to the fullest.

More Ski Resources

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of hiking the Arizona Trail, Colorado Trail, John Muir Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, and countless shorter amazing trails throughout the US and abroad. I love solitude, big views, and a good lightweight gear setup. Learn more here.

Excited about backpacking but need help getting started? The Backpacking Trip Planner Workbook will help you start off on the right foot.

Hiking resources in your inbox?

There’s more where this came from! Sign up here for occasional emails full of inspiration and information about backpacking and hiking.

Share the Adventure

If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing so more people can benefit from it:

Leave a Comment

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00