Ski Jackets…..A Buyer’s Guide
Jackets come in all styles and designs and many offer some extremely technical advantages. But choosing a jacket is largely dependent on what you want to do with it. A super cool, trendy and bright ski jacket looks awesome on the slopes in Aspen, but has far less practical advantage around the streets of Manchester or Paris. This may be fine for you and you can carry it off, but always think about multi-use and what benefits you will get from a ski jacket when you get back home.
With a bespoke ski jacket you can run into some serious cash outlay but do you really need to? Well that is a debate that many brands will argue for a long time but regardless, what should you look for in a ski jacket if that is to be its specific task?
Your ski jacket will be your best buddy on the slopes and on the ski lifts too so don’t compromise. It is designed keeps you warm in sub-zero temperatures, protect you from sudden snowfall and wipe-outs and of course will offer all-weather protection as well as set off your whole look. There are a “very” wide range out there but in choosing the right one for you, there are some fundamentals to consider so here a few essentials you should look out for.
Firstly let’s take a look at the “types” of jackets available for Skiing and Boarding. By type we really mean fabric finish.
A Hard-Shell should be and will almost certainly be waterproof and wind-resistant and is designed to withstand pretty much anything you’re likely to throw at it (metaphorically speaking) which makes them ideal for the backcountry use. The shell layer itself is not insulated, it’s the protective shell layer and forms the outer part of your 3 or 4 layer layering system and will likely be made from man-made fabrics or reconstituted fibres into a really tough almost canvas feel fabric. The shell layer if separate from your other layers, can usually be easily packed away when you're hiking uphill. For the more casual skier, a hard-shell might not be the best option as they're not as breathable as other types of jacket.
There are a “lot” of jackets that tend to fall into this sector. Generically speaking, a soft-shell jacket is a versatile layer which can be worn as either a mid-layer or as an outer layer and can be man-made or natural fibre construction or a combination of the two. Soft-shell jackets are usually treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating but aren't usually fully waterproof like a hard-shell in their own right, so if you're expecting heavy snow, rain or heading into the backcountry, you'll need a hard-shell jacket layer for wet protection to wear over your soft-shell. But a soft-shell does have a lot of back-home benefits as it’s far less likely to sit in the wardrobe un-loved for another 12 months.
Here’s where there is probably the most familiarity for many people. If you're a casual skier tearing it up in North America, the Alps or the most northerly Scandinavian regions, then an insulated jacket could be right for you and you’re almost certain to get good use from it back home (unless it’s luminous green perhaps). These tend to feature an outer flexible shell layer with mid-level waterproofing and then a layer of insulation beneath it, which can be either down, wool or synthetic and can be relatively bulky or puffy in style, with an inside lining on the other side. Rather like an insulation sandwich with varying degrees of “filling” depending on the insulation level. Down insulated jackets are great if the weather seriously cold like -20° and dry as they tend to be both warm and lightweight. However, do consider your likely level of activity and the temperature, as unless it's well below freezing the chances are an insulated down jacket will be too warm for you. That said they are great for Apres Ski activities.
Some brands think of everything. A System Jacket such as the Matrix System Jacket from Stormtech, offer every likely combination, all in one purchase. Super cold and plenty of snow flurries around? Use the jacket and insulated mid-layer combined as a full all-in-one jacket. Milder conditions but probably flurries in the air? Remove the zipped-in mid-layer and use the hard-shell on its own over a base-layer and half zip pullover perhaps. Low level ski runs not far from the chalet and relatively mild? Then the inner mid-layer quilted jacket on its own will probably suffice. A 3-in-1 Combination Jacket can be your best choice especially as the after-use factor back home will undoubtedly be very high indeed.
FIT & STYLE
Your jacket’s Fit and Style is equally important. You don’t want it hanging off you but you do need enough room for layering under it so consider the fit in conjunction with your body-type.
A Slim-Fit , Technical Fit or Athletic Fit are all terms used by brands to describe what is ostensibly, the same thing: a jacket that offers a more contoured body fit and better control over your movement down the slopes and usually offers a whole host of bolt on tech features that the discerning skier will appreciate…..plus they tend to look great too. You may need to size up to allow room for your layers underneath and be confident that it will fit where it’s needed. Remember to ensure you can raise your arms in all directions when trying one on and do test this with a couple of test layers underneath. When you’re on the slopes and you find you can’t actually move too well, it’s kind of too late!
This is the middle ground between the technical feel of a slim-fit jacket and the freedom of movement offered by a looser jacket and is the style of jacket most of us are used to from the high street. There is no doubt the regular fit will see you well back home when the mountains are back to green. Again, just size up if you feel you fall between the regular and loose fit styles.
A loose fit jacket will offer great coverage and allow for superb mobility, so is a great choice for freestylers and boarders as well as you bigger athletes out there. That said, a Loose Fit jacket can sometimes be a bit boxy and whilst hugely practical may be a bit baggy if you only have one layer on underneath as there’s likely to be plenty of room.
The type of ski jacket you go for ultimately depends on the type of skiing you'll be doing and what you'll need from your jacket when you hit the slopes.
If you’re carving up the runs all day or venturing into side country for an elusive powder day then this is for you. If you're going skiing in a particularly cold area or at a cold time of year, choose an insulated jacket to keep the chill out. Otherwise, if you're a spring skier then go for a shell which lets you add or remove layers as you like depending on the weather.
Hunting for untracked powder and getting up to untouched peaks, will work up a serious sweat. And that's before you throw in extreme backcountry conditions. A hard-shell jacket will be necessary to keep out the elements on the ridges - look for pit zips to let extra heat out - add a softshell or mid-layer underneath to provide breathability and layering warmth all over a quality Base Layer and you’re set to go
The young and trendy skier and boarder never seems to stop from daybreak to sunset with boundless energy and a plethora of tricks at their feet……with quick turnarounds on slopes and short chairlift rides, the ability to add or remove layers is essential for freestyling, depending on the wait time for jumps and rails so you’ll need that backpack for storage too. If the slopes are low on people count and virtually empty, you'll just need your hard-shell to protect you from getting wet but bring a softshell or mid-layer in your pack for if it gets busy and you’re hanging around, you’ll need something extra. Never get caught under-prepared.
HOODS, POCKETS & ZIPS
Most ski jackets will have hoods to keep you dry when the snow (hopefully) falls. But ask yourself some basic questions: does it adjust to fit your head comfortably? Do you need it to be helmet-compatible? Is a removable hood important? Just consider the options and make sure your jacket works for you.
Every jacket will have numerous zipped storage and pocket options. The problem will be remembering where on earth you put your phone, debit card or chalet key. Internal jacket pockets are a must too. There are some things you will carry that will need more protection than others.