The snow has been lacking in many of the mountainous states, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be psyched for ski season! Of course, preparing to hit the slopes calls for more than stellar quad muscles and cat-like reflexes; you need the gear. And one of the most important items you will need on the mountain is a ski jacket. Knowing how to choose a ski jacket can be daunting since there are so many factors to consider. Here is a rundown so you can make the best decision for your next adventure.
Types of ski jackets
There are three main types of ski jackets to choose from: insulated, shell, and 3-in-1 construction. An insulated ski jacket is best if you know you will be skiing in extremely cold conditions or if you are someone who gets chilly easily. If that’s you, an insulated ski jacket will keep you the warmest. Insulated jackets come in two constructions: down insulation and synthetic insulation. Down insulation is made from at least 50 percent goose or duck down. Down is very warm, but it can have a drawback depending on its product technology: once it gets wet, it can take a long time to dry. If you are in the market for a down insulated jacket, look for one that utilizes GORE-TEX product technology to get guaranteed waterproof protection. Patagonia’s Primo Down Jacket with GORE-TEX fabric is a prime example of a down jacket ready for the fresh pow. The jacket is tough, yet lightweight, and offers durable waterproof, windproof, and breathable protection. Synthetic insulation is your other option. Instead of goose or duck feathers, this insulation is manmade. Synthetic insulation is not as warm as down and can be bulkier, but it usually retains warmth even when wet. The North Face Men's Jacket Apex Flex GTX® Insulated leverages a 3-layer GORE-TEX membrane and Hydrophobic Heatseeker™ insulation for a toasty, waterproof jacket designed for the slopes. If you want to skip the insulation decision, check out a shell jacket. Its main job is to prevent the elements from reaching you from the outside in. To stay warm with a shell, you’ll still need to layer appropriately underneath to retain core heat. Shell jackets are the best choice if you are participating in a higher-cardio activity where you know your heart rate will be up. The Black Diamond Zone Shell and Oakley Men's Jacket Baldy 2L GORE-TEX BioZone Shell are two great options for shells will protect you in the snow. Finally, consider a 3-in-1 jacket. This type of ski jacket is like a combination of the previous two styles. The exterior is a shell but this jacket also has an insulating layer that frequently zips or snaps into the interior. This means it will keep you as warm as an insulated jacket, but you have the option of removing the insulation if you become overheated through lots of aerobic activity or if the weather lets up. If you are someone who is simply not sure what you want, this versatile ski jacket is a great choice.
What type of skiing will you do?
The type of jacket you purchase should depend on your sport of choice. If you are interested in cross-country skiing or backcountry skiing, you won’t want an insulated ski jacket. Instead, opt for a shell that you can wear while touring. Then, pack a lightweight insulated puffy jacket to keep you warm on breaks. If you are headed to the ski hill for some inbounds downhill skiing, you have a few choices. You can definitely wear a shell, but be aware that you will need to layer accordingly. If you’re skiing at a mountain with ski runs above tree line, you will especially need to pay attention to insulation. It may be a better option to go with an insulated or 3-in-1 jacket. Both of these choices will keep you warm while sitting on the chair lift or taking a break on the side of a run.
Waterproof vs. Water Resistant
You will need to decide between a waterproof or a water-resistant jacket. To be waterproof, a ski jacket has to receive a rating of at least 1500 mm during a hydrostatic head test. This means that a section of the jacket material is pulled taut and placed inside a chamber. Then, water is applied (in millimeters) and observed for 24 hours to determine when moisture begins seeping through the fabric. A jacket with a rating of 1500 mm means that it can withstand 1500 mm of moisture in a single day before it begins to soak through the coat. Conversely, a ski jacket that is water resistant has a rating of less than 1500mm. If you are skiing in the Pacific Northwest where conditions are notoriously damp or if you’re prone to fall a lot, you will likely want a waterproof jacket. Thankfully, all jackets constructed with GORE-TEX fabric are durably waterproof.
Finally, there are a few nice-to-have features to look for when purchasing a ski jacket. Snowskirt: This is an internal, removable gaiter that attaches to the hem of your jacket. When used, it helps keep snow from going up your jacket or down your pants during a fall. Zip Pockets: Be on the lookout for various zip pockets. You want to be sure they zip so that you don’t lose anything on the mountain. Additionally, having multiple internal and external pockets can make it easier to stay organized with items like lip balm, snacks, credit cards, or cash. Helmet-Compatible Hood: Most ski jackets have a hood, but be sure it is helmet-compatible. This means that you can pull it on over your helmet should the weather turn nasty. Snow Cuffs: Lycra sleeves inside the wrist of the jacket tuck underneath your gloves or mittens, preventing snow from sliding up your jacket sleeve. Pit Zips: Also known as ventilation zippers, these zippers are in the armpit of your jacket. When you get hot, you can unzip them to dump heat and regulate your body temperature.