With tens of thousands of us due once again to make our annual pilgrimage to the mountains and snow this Winter, for many that will also mean time to invest in yet more clothing!
Whether you’re a seasoned snow bum looking to add another colour combination to your gear, or a fashionista wanting the latest season’s style; everyone needs to be sporting good outerwear. There’s little point in paying for an amazing week/month/season out in the hills, if your clothes won’t let you get the most from it!
Your ski (or snowboard) jacket is the final layer of your upper-body protection, and most likely the centre-piece of your outfit. Many people will choose to wear subtle colours in their pants, gloves and accessories, with a bolder jacket to make more of a statement. However, before worrying about the colours, it’s important to find the right jacket itself. Below we’ve compiled the 5 most important elements in finding your perfect jacket.
1) Layer Type
Outerwear jackets come in a range of different types, all of which are suitable for varying people and conditions:
The most basic of jacket types, a shell is literally a high-quality waterproof layer. Very light-weight and versatile, so if you’re looking for a jacket to get you through the Winter and Spring alike, this could be the one for you. Obviously being so thin means wearing more layers beneath when it gets cold – If you’re heading to inland Canada, you’ll want to buy something more insulated, and if you’re in the Alps you may still be needing a fleece as well as a mid layer. The flipside is come Spring you’ve got an extremely manouverable jacket to wear; perfect for those who enjoy getting more active with their skiing/boarding.
A funny material – somewhere between a traditional shell jacket and neoprene – softshell jackets are generally less protective than a shell jacket, but more comfortable on account of their cut being similar to conventional clothing. In colder climes they work well beneath a shell jacket as an extra layer, but they come into their own in the Spring, where you might wear a softshell over a t-shirt to soak in those sunny days. Brands such as Planks do some great softshell hoodies which are definitely worth a look-in.
Better for those who like their ski holidays to be a relaxing experience, rather than speeding across the resort and back in a race to the wall; a modern insulated jacket will have anything from a microfibre layer built into the shell, to a fully detatchable fleece zipped up inside. This means you’ll stay warmer than in either a shell or softshell, although you pay for it with a loss of flexibility and a moderate weight increase (depending on the quality of the jacket) – if you’re looking to ride the snow park, it’s generally better to stick to the shells and add layers underneath accordingly. Insulated jackets also up the price, as you’re paying for the extra feature, so if you’re likely to trash your jacket a lot, it might be wiser to use the shells instead. Otherwise – and particularly if you’re a ‘cold’ person – get yourself an insulated jacket to wear over the top of your mid and fleece layers, to ensure you stay in the mood on those long, blowy chairlifts!
The ultimate in warm-weather gear, down-filled outerwear has been used from fashionable designer jackets in Chamonix all the way to the South Pole and Everest. Probably too much material for the most active skiers (not to mention too much heat) – at the top-end these really come into their own once you enter the -30C climate of central Canada (or Alaska, but then if you’re skiing Alaska you’ll already know this). Similar to the insulated jackets above however, if you generally feel the cold more than most – or love the idea of enjoying a vin chaud out on the sun terrace in December/January – the warmth available from these thick jackets comes into its own.
Whenever you go to try a new snow jacket on, if you look through the labels (or features advertised), you’ll find two numbers tucked away together, both somewhere between the 5,000-20,000 range; these tell you the waterproofing and breathability of the jacket.
This number ends in mm, and quite simply is a measurement of how many vertical mm of water each square centimetre of the fabric can withstand above it – so a 5,000mm jacket can withstand 5m of water above it without leaking, whereas a 20,000mm jacket would hold 20m. It’s quite an abstract way of measuring the effectiveness of the waterproofing, but it does provide a usable gauge. 5,000 (or 5k) jackets are at the entry-level price-wise, and will be good for those not looking to push themselves too hard – if you are new to the sport, or are likely to spend some time every day inside a headed cafe/restaurant, 5k should do the job, however if the weather gets wetter, it won’t take long for your jacket to start taking on water – and when that happens it’s definitely day’s end (or risk being exposed in a wet jacket to freezing temperatures). 6k – 10k is more appropriate (and safer) for most skiers, although if you are likely to be spending longer days outside, again push up to 10k+. If it’s going to be potentially wet where you ski, look to go up to 15k and even 20k+ – at the end of the day it’ll just keep you comfortable longer. Snowboarders; it’s better to stick to 10k and above, as you are more likely to spend time sat down through the day, and the extra pressure can cause more moisture to come through the fabric…never fun on an icy chairlift.
Breathability is the reverse of waterproofing, and this is where the fabrics get clever. Obviously it’s all good an well preventing moisture getting in to the jacket from outside, but what about the perspiration beneath your layers (after all, the mountains are supposed to give you some exercise!)? Measured in grams per meter squared, this figure tells you how much vapour can escape the fabric in a 24 hour period. For example, a 5k breathability rating means the fabric will process 5 litres of vapour per 1 square meter in a day. Whilst that might seem like a lot, it’s actually the entry level, with ratings again going up to 20k and above. Breathability is different to waterproofing, in that a higher number isn’t neccessarily always better – if you get a higher breathability rating and are likely to be doing a less-than-average amount of activity across a day’s skiing, you will lose excess warmth unnecessarily – however conversely, if you are a keen backcountry hiker, a low breathability score will trap too much perspiration under your jacket, which will turn to water as it cools (cooling you with it). As a general rule, if you are sticking to the pistes and occasional off-piste work, keep your breathability below 15k, only look to 20k and above if you intend to spend long hours either climbing or digging on the mountain.
Features can really make-or-break a jacket; some might just be creature comforts which you would never feel the need for were they absent, whilst others might really be key to your routine on the slopes. Some of the key ones include:
Critical on any self-respecting jacket. A powder skirt is an elastic inner closure on the bottom of the jacket that attaches to itself -and in higher end outfits, to your pants/salopettes – which stops snow and ice coming in from underneath your jacket (and therefore also keeping the heat in). If you didn’t know about them, you probably wouldn’t miss it, that is until you have your first fall and snow goes up your back. Most jackets feature these, and it’s worthwhile using them!
Ski jackets today are often designed with the ability to fit a helmet underneath the hood – in line with helmets starting to become much more accepted amongst the ski and snowboarder communities (a good thing, too) – however for those of you who still like to make your way down the mountains enjoying the wind in your hair, a few toggles to tie that eager hood back can be really quite useful.
Somewhere to stash a phone or MP3 player, often with a small opening at the top through which to fit the cable on your headphones.
Often lined in microfibre or fleece, a goggle pocket does exactly what it promises, giving you somewhere large, safe and soft to stash your googles should not want them on. For more experienced riders, it also allows you a place to hide your spare lens in changeable light conditions. Just be aware that if you fall on them in the jacket, they’ll still run the risk of damage!
Usually affixed to a pocket in the sleeve or torso, a large piece of microfibre fabric to clean any ice, slush or steam off your lens
Lift Pass Pocket
One of our favourites, a pocket either in the sleeve or (less ideally) torso, just big enough to fit your lift pass, allowing you quick, easy entrance through the lift gates – and a place where your pass should remain safe all day, every day.
Another important one, under-arm or chest vents help when the going gets warm, and you need to cool off/get the vapour out of your jacket. Usually managed by zips, and on higher-end jackets featuring mesh-lined openings. As with power skirts, common on any serious snow jacket.
Whilst the waterproofing/breathability of the material itself is one-thing, it ignores the methods used to attached the various parts of the jacket together. The seams on a jacket can be critically taped, fully taped, heat sealed, or a number of other manners of constructed, and all provide different levels of protection. However, this can be the weakest link on a lower-end jacket, so make sure it’s been put together well.
Certainly not essential, but a nice feature to have. Magnetic strips are used instead of velcro in sealing the jacket shut over the zipper. They can be easier to open/close than velcro, don’t fade over time in the same way as velcro, and provide a satisfying *snap* when they shut!
4) Style & Fit
As with many sports and hobbies, your interests will affect the kit you want for the job, both in the style you desire and the fit you need.
For those who enjoy traditional ‘Alpine’ skiing – racing around the pistes (and occasionally finding a great line down the side of them) – a long jacket, with a slightly more fitted shape is best. Spyder are a great example of a brand offering a good alpine fit, and Helly Hansen can also provide a good cut along these lines.
Speed demons; the best jackets for the faster among you are again snug (streamlined), but slightly shorter in length – you aren’t looking to go into deep snow, so it’s best to enjoy the light weight and extra flexibility this provides. Salomon have some excellent short jackets in their range.
Snowboarders and Freeskiers; keep it larger. A bigger jacket provides extra manouverability, as well as a little bit of extra fabric to get between you and the floor if things don’t go to plan. Depending on your personal style you can either go up one size or about four; generally urban riders will wear extremely large cuts, park skiers and boarders will look for a jacket that is big, but cut well enough to still suit, and big mountain/back country riders size up for functional purposes, so wear clothing of the right size, but with a baggy or relaxed fit. When trying these large jackets on, remember they are also combined with large helmets, boots and pants, so everything comes into proportion when put together – even if they look over-the-top on their own!
5) Budget & Brands
With all the functional requirements of a jacket out the way, it’s time to find the brands and budgets to suit you!
Obviously added functionality brings with it additional cost, but there can be great differences between brands depending on where they sit.
At the entry-level to the market – £70-160 – there are some great British brands such as Dare2B, Trespass and Protest; whose domestic production and clever techniques allow for some very respectable products and even better value
At the next level – £160-300 – brands such as Helly Hansen, Salomon provide some premium-looking (and performing) clothing for those eager to step up to the next level in the sport.
For those wanting top-level on-piste performance – and style – Spyder, Eider, Moncler and Kjus are brands to beat. Expect to pay anywhere from £300-1000
Snowboarders and Freeskiers – Westbeach, Oakley, Sweet Protection, Hagloffs & Horsefeathers will make sure you come back where you came from…and look great when the photos get posted. If you’re looking for something to suit the snowpark jackets go from £70-£200, but if you’re looking for more serious mountain performance the prices can head up to £500.
If this guide has helped you decide, then hop over to the SportPursuit ski section and save 30-70% off top ski brands.