The Best Ski Jacket Review

We scoped out the best of the best in men's insulated ski and snowboard jackets, put them through the paces on the resort, and pushed their limits in the backcountry. Our expert skiing testers slammed through foul weather and slid on rock-hard steep descents.

The ski jackets we reviewed are each excellent pieces of technical outerwear. Some perform better than others, and each brings its own style to the market. Manufacturers make lofty claims and come from a variety of backgrounds. We used our testing to score them in warmth, weather resistance and ventilation. We carefully considered each coat's style, comfort, and features. In the end we had some favorites, and identified those that may appeal to a more select audience.

To learn about what we feel are the important consideration when purchasing an insulated option, read our Buying Advice article, which details all the notable factors.
You might also be interested in our Best Ski Jacket for Women review.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Ski Jackets - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 12 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Patagonia Primo Down Jacket
Patagonia Primo Down Jacket
Read the Review
Video video review
The North Face Vortex Triclimate
The North Face Vortex Triclimate
Read the Review
Video video review
Arc'teryx Macai
Arc'teryx Macai
Read the Review
Flylow BA Puffy
Flylow BA Puffy
Read the Review
Video video review
Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1
Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award       
Street Price Varies $599 - $649
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$280
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$850Varies $102 - $145
Compare at 2 sellers
$220
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100% recommend it (2/2)
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1 rating
Pros Down insulated. Proven shell technology. Fits and protects very well.Versatile, warm, with neutral stylingVery warm and very well made.Versatile styling. Excellent hood. Great ventilation.Very warm. Modular design. Understated style, bold colors.
Cons Uninsulated “hand-warmer” pockets. Fiddly hood toggles.Minor construction inadequaciesExpensive, stains easilyModerately insulating. Simple construction and detailing.Bulky feeling. Limited wind and water protection.
Best Uses Resort skiing and riding, for a long time.Season-long ski area wearBurly conditions skiing.Resort skiing, around-town wear.Resort skiing for the occasional user. Resort-town visits.
Date Reviewed Feb 22, 2014Feb 16, 2014Feb 25, 2014Feb 23, 2014Feb 23, 2014
Weighted Scores Patagonia Primo Down Jacket The North Face Vortex Triclimate Arc'teryx Macai Flylow BA Puffy Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1
Warmth - 25%
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7
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10
Ventilation - 15%
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10
Weather Resistance - 20%
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Ski Features - 5%
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Fit Comfort - 20%
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Style - 15%
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Product Specs Patagonia Primo Down Jacket The North Face Vortex Triclimate Arc'teryx Macai Flylow BA Puffy Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1
Main Fabric 2-layer 4.3-oz 70-denier 100% recycled nylon GORE-TEX® HyVent® 160g/m Nylon. N40r-X GORE-TEX® Fabric Two-layer Intuitive Fabric Omni-Tech waterproof/breathable
Insulation 700 fill power down (unknown amount) 100g Heatseeker synthetic fil 60g Coreloft and 750 fill power down (unknown amount of down) Thinsulate (unknown amount) 80g Polyester fill
Waterproofing Gore Tex HyVent® Gore Tex Two-layer Intuitive Fabric Omni Tech
Unique Features recco
Weight 2 lbs 5 oz 2 lbs 14 oz 2 lbs 0 oz 2 lbs 6 oz 3 lbs 2 oz
# of Pockets 6 3 inner, 6 outer 2 inner, 4 outer 9 3 inner, 6 outer
Hood Option? non-removable removable non-removable non-removable removable
Pit Zips? yes, long and work in both directions Yes, in outer layer only Yes, long, mesh-backed and work in just one direction yes, long and work both directions yes, in outer layer only
Cuff construction gusseted velcro gusseted velcro on outer, lycra piping on inner gusseted velcro gusseted velcro gusseted velcro on outer, lycra piping on inner
Ski Features zip off powder skirt, pass keeper, straps to attach to Patagonia Pants Powder skirt. removable powder skirt and Recco reflector removable powder skirt, straps to attach to Flylow pants fixed powder skirt on outer jacket

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Arc'teryx Modon
$699
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Arc'teryx Macai
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Flylow BA Puffy
$290
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Armada Nelson
$350
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Helly Hansen Enigma
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Spyder Sentinel
$275
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Spyder Titan
$400
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Burton AK Stagger
$380
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Marmot Sidehill Component
$325
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Selecting the Right Product
Wading through the incredibly diverse field of ski outerwear can be a trying task. Fear not, as we have selected twelve of the best ski jackets made. Each piece we review is excellent, and every skier or snowboarder will find something here for him. Our field reflects the entire spectrum, from budget options that work just as well commuting to the office on a blustery day as they do on your favorite ski resort, to purpose-built, high-end offerings that will protect and warm the most discerning riders in the most trying conditions. Choose the right one for you, and burly conditions on serious peaks will seem downright pedestrian. Of course, these will protect in less gnarly weather as well. All are comfortable enough for all-day wear and our selection represents a broad cross-section of fashion tastes. From youthful skater-inspired styles like the Armada Nelson to the subdued and neutral design of the Arc Teryx Modon, there is a parka here for you. For a step-by-step guide to navigating the entire ski jacket market, please consult our comprehensive Buying Advice article, linked above. If, however, you are looking to choose from the OutdoorGearLab selection of skiing outerwear, read on.

Types of Ski Jackets
This review concentrates on ski-specific jackets. Many will also serve other purposes, but their primary function is as ski resort upper body protection. Ski area specific designs are characterized by durable and thick shell fabrics and integrated (though sometimes removable) insulation. Within the overall ski outerwear category are three primary divisions. Here we've reviewed contenders in the first two, and will refer you to other OutdoorGearLab reviews for the final.

Modular "3-in-1"
These are the most versatile. Like our Best Buy winning The North Face Vortex Triclimate, these are perfect for the skier looking for multi-function, customizable protection on a budget. Each entry in this category is comprised of an insulating liner, either fleece or synthetic "puff" fill, and a shell. The two pieces can be worn separately, or zipped and snapped together for an easily donned and doffed cold-weather jacket. Two primary disadvantages stand out. In their combined configuration, they are inherently more restrictive and less comfortable than one-piece ones of a similar warmth. And, for reasons unknown to us, the modular jackets on the market are generally made of at least slightly lower quality materials. If you want this sort of function with high-end down insulation and the best shell fabrics on the market, you will find precious few options.

Insulated Shells
The majority of the ski jackets in our review fall into this category. The amount and type of insulation may vary, and the shell fabrics represent a wide spectrum of quality and durability. However, all are purpose built for riding chairlifts up and sliding down on snow. Price, fit, quality, style, and weather protection vary across the selection. Rest assured that there is something in this category for everyone.

Layering Options
Some people choose to ride the ski resort with a combination of other types of clothing. Many will choose from a plethora of hard- or soft-shell jackets to block precipitation and wind. They'll insulate beneath that shell with fleece, synthetic insulation, or down pieces. Finally, many climbing and hiking inspired winter jackets can be pressed into service for ski area usage.

Criteria for Evaluation

Warmth
Skiing and snowboarding take place in cold environments. An insulated jacket, built specifically for resort riding, is the first line of defense against that cold climate. Wearing all these, back to back, in stormy weather allowed us to make fairly accurate assessments of their relative warmth. The Helly Hansen Enigma, Arc'teryx Macai, Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1, and the Patagonia Primo Down had high insulating values virtually indistinguishable from one another. On the other end of the spectrum, the Arc'teryx Modon and Spyder Sentinel offer lightly insulated options for the warm-blooded or temperate-climate enthusiast.

Infrared photos to show the difference in insulation in the different ...
Infrared photos to show the difference in insulation in the different ski jackets. The dark colors indicate cooler temperature and therefore warmer insulation. The top right shows a thinner insulation while the bottom right shows a different insulation in the sleeves.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Ventilation
Not all cold environments are created equal. Nor does a single ski day involve uniform conditions. Being able to adapt your insulation to better match your surroundings and exertion is key to resort comfort. A rider will sit, sedentary, for long periods of time. Lift lines and lift rides expose a still skier or boarder to all the weather with little opportunity for generating body heat through exertion. And then, polar opposite to the lift ride, the rider will drop into a few minutes of high output athletic activity. Additionally, the day can heat up or cool down, and one day may be very different from the last. Traveling to new mountain ranges is a primary driver of the passionate skier. All these changes require adaptable gear. Ventilation performance is crucial for adaptation, both in the short term of one run to the next, and long term of one day, week, season, or range to the next. The Columbia Whirlibird, Marmot Sidehill Component and The North Face Vortex Triclimate offer modular, "3-in-1" designs that are particularly well suited to ventilation and adaptation. These each come in one beefy, insulated and weatherproof package. In usage the inner liner of each can be unzipped and unbuttoned to be worn alone. The shell of each can also be worn on its own. That gives you two parts, worn together or each individually. Hence the "3-in-1" descriptor. They earned our highest scores for ventilation. The option to mix and match the layers does indeed take some time, but it gives far better climate control than any of the other ones in our test. If it is crucial to you that you can vent or seal up in a matter of seconds, look for one with long (longer than a foot or so), non-mesh -backed pit-zips with multiple zipper pulls. The Flylow BA Puffy has the best venting of any non-modular models in our test.

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Jason, Mike and Jed on Chair 5, Mammoth Mountain. Testing The North Face, Burton, and Helly Hansen ski jackets in these stormy conditions highlighted vast differences.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Weather Resistance
Weather resistance is a function of three things, in declining order of importance: construction, waterproof laminate, and durable water repellent coating (DWR). For routine resort use, construction and design will be the primary force influencing the degree of wind and precipitation protection the wearer receives. The jacket needs to be constructed of good waterproof and breathable fabric and coated with an effective DWR, but design truly differentiates. We discuss mainly water resistance. However, anything that resists water will resist wind and snow as well.

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Stormy conditions on Mammoth Mountain. Helly Hansen brings a long pedigree of weatherproof clothing to the Enigma. Used properly (ie. remember to batten down the numerous zippers) the Enigma keeps out the gnarliest weather.
Credit: Jed Porter

Manufacturers and sales personnel will make a big deal of the technology in the shell fabric laminates. Each fabric or jacket manufacturer uses its own qualifiers to describe the weather resistance of its offering. Gore-Tex, a well-established brand manufacturing raw materials and licensing its use to many clothing companies, describes its fabrics and company-certified garments as "Guaranteed to Keep You Dry". This claim implies both protection from atmospheric solid and liquid water, and transmission of body-generated water vapor. Other manufacturers use a pair of 5-digit numbers to describe both waterproofness and breathability. ("10,000/10,000". Or, alternately, further abbreviated "10k/10k") The first number in the pair describes waterproofing. The number describes the number of millimeters of water the fabric can withstand over a 24 hour period. That's all in theory, in perfect conditions. The second number describes breathability, in grams of water vapor that can pass through a square meter of fabric in a 24 hour period. Now, what does all that mean in real life? First of all, these numbers and claims are assigned by the manufacturer. Little to no independent qualitative testing is performed. Secondly, basically all fabrics available on the market (certainly all in our tests) are good to claimed 10k/10k performance. And that is plenty. All this is interesting academic information, but we can move on now, as all the jackets in our test are made of high performing fabrics.

Each company does it differently, but at some point in the process of construction the manufacturer coats the outside of the fabric with a DWR. This is what makes water "bead up" on the surface of a garment. The above described waterproof, breathable coatings or laminates are inside of the shell fabric. In order to keep the outer fabric dry (and therefore breathable - soaked fabric does not breathe) it is treated with a somewhat inappropriately named DWR. In actual usage, the DWR is often the least durable part of the entire jacket. We tested the durability in our sprinkler test. While soaking the fabric, simulating rain or wet snow or both, we rubbed the forearm of every one. This simulates the reality of actual usage. Arms rub against the body, bodies rub against the snow, chair lifts rub against backs and shoulders. Patagonia garments, the Editors' Choice winning Primo Down and Patagonia Rubicon Rider have the best DWR in our test. The Spyder Titan and Spyder Sentinel and Burton AK Stagger all wet out in this test. In each case, however, the truly waterproof part is protected and hidden by the shell fabric.

As noted, far more important is design. All the ski jackets in our test are made of waterproof, breathable fabric. Weather resistance performance is therefore a function of construction and fit, with durable water repellent playing a role as well. We looked for thoughtfully designed hoods, high stiff collars, effective cuffs (with inner secondary cuffs a bonus), protected zippers, and long sleeves and hems.

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Helmet and hood compatibility. From L-R and top to bottom: Armada, Helly Hansen, Columbia, Marmot, The North Face, Patagonia Rubicon, Flylow, Spyder Sentinel, Patagonia Primo, Spyder Titan, Arcteryx Macai, Arcteryx Modon.
Credit: Jediah Porter and Jessica Haist

Weather resistance and warmth often come from the same features. Jackets that came out on top in our overall scores were ones that performed best in weather resistance and warmth.

Ski Features
A handful of potential niceties can really augment a well-designed jacket. We looked for plentiful pockets, ski pass clips, integrated goggle wipes, and systems to join jackets and pants into an integrated package. The top scoring jackets in this category were the Helly Hansen Enigma and the Marmot Sidehill Component.

Fit/Comfort
Fit is king. We go to the mountains to feel good. We want to feel good in our clothes. Fit and comfort, like weather resistance, is a function of both fabric and construction. Carefully constructed garments fit better. However, fit will vary from one person to another. Second only to style, fit and comfort is a very subjective measure. We tested on a variety of athletic body shapes. Primary testing, however, was done by thin, size medium men. All the jackets we tested were marketed as size medium by their manufacturers. The Helly Hansen Enigma and Patagonia Rubicon Rider earned high scores in fit and comfort, coming to that performance from two very different directions. The Enigma is constructed with what seems like 15 different soft and flexible fabrics. Virtually every part stretches and hugs the body. Visible bulk mainly comes from the insulation. The Rubicon Rider is far more loose in fit, with a brilliant hood and sleeve design that virtually disappears on the wearer. None of the other jackets really stood out for fit, one way or another. Each will fit someone "like a glove". And every jacket will have its limitations on someone.

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L-R and Top to Bottom: Marmot, The North Face, Spyder Titan, Patagonia Primo, Flylow, Spyder Sentinel, Patagonia Rubicon, Columbia, Arc Teryx Macai, Arc Teryx Modon, Armada, Helly Hansen.
Credit: Jediah Porter and Jessica Haist

Style
Style is highly subjective. Our test team of dirtbag ski bums, former fashion students, and cosmopolitan mountain town refugees brought a whole range of experiences and opinions to the scores. Your opinion may vary even further still. In our ratings we tried to evaluate each piece in context. Of course, we considered fit, colors, and versatility. What statement does this jacket make? Can a wearer "pull it off" in town and on the hill? Will it look out of place in Instagram backcountry photos? Out of place on a snowboard, or on skis? We also considered branding, intended use, target demographic, and resort fashion trends over time. Nonetheless, you may choose to throw our assessments of style completely out the window. And we are fine with that.

Some of the jackets we evaluated make strong visual statements. The Spyder Titan shouts "I'm a skier", the Armada Nelson swaggers to the half pipe, the Columbia Whirlibird Jacket says "I go to the mountains, but don't take myself too seriously." Others such as the Patagonia Primo Down, Helly Hansen Enigma, and The North Face Vortex Triclimate have more understated, neutral looks that blend in on the hill and around town without being too conspicuous. The Flylow BA Puffy is the only jacket that received a random compliment in the lift-line during testing, and is the most appropriate for someone looking for a layer to wear from first chair to last call.

Accessories
To keep your legs nice and warm while hitting the slopes, we recommend the Patagonia Powder Bowl and The North Face Freedom. Both of these pants fit very well and were very weather resistant. For a more in-depth look of all the ski pants we reviewed, check out The Best Ski Pants Review.

Don't forget about your hands as well. For the most warmth and dexterity we recommend the Arc'teryx Alpha SV Glove and the Black Diamond Guide. Check out The Best Ski Gloves Review for a full look at all the gloves we tested.

Editors' Choice: Patagonia Primo Down
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Jed Porter on Esha Peak in the Sierra backcountry. Light to carry, well vented, protective and warm, the Primo Down is the best ski jacket in our test for "crossing over" to backcountry usage.
Credit: Andy Lewicky

We awarded our Editors' Choice award to the Patagonia Primo Down jacket. The Primo Down delivers high performance in all categories, and crushes the field in warmth per weight and durability. Down insulation is the primary distinguishing characteristic of the Primo Down. Properly protected from moisture, and the Primo Down's Gore-Tex shell does that, goose down is an unequalled insulator. Anecdotal and formalized testing with other garments over the long term indicates that down insulation can keep its r-value high for up to 10 times as long as similar synthetic insulated pieces. Interestingly, the Primo Down did not score at the top of any one of our categories. However, solid performance across the board and anticipated durability tip the balance solidly in its favor.

Top Pick Award for Light Insulation: Arc'teryx Modon
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Opening day, '13-'14 season, on June Mountain. The Arc Teryx Modon, for its comfortable fit and bomber wind protection, earns instant respect among testers.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Our Top Pick in this test is an unlikely standout. The Arc'teryx Modon only really wowed our testers with its fit and windproofness. However, elsewhere in the test, not unlike our Editors' Choice, the Modon delivered consistent results. The true value of the Modon comes in its purpose-built design. This is a very lightly insulated shell jacket. The shell fabric keeps out the gnarliest of wet mountain weather, while the insulation dampens the chill and helps the breathable fabric do its job.

Best Buy Award: The North Face Vortex Triclimate
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Neutral styling in the Vortex mellows out the more aggressive and colorful pants and helmet. Test editor Jediah Porter dressed up like a bag of Skittles.
Credit: Howie Schwartz

Right off the bat it was clear that our Best Buy award would go to one of the "3-in-1" style jackets. Each tested jacket in that style is priced near the low end of our selection and provides unmatched versatility. While the Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1 offers slightly greater warmth than the award winner, The North Face Vortex Triclimate is much more comfortable and more visually pleasing for this price point and target demographic.

Check out all of our favorites in one place on our Ski and Snowboard Gear Dream List.


Ask An Expert: Damien Kelley
Damien Kelly grew up in Whistler, the ski capital of Canada, and began skiing at a young age. He's also an accomplished climber and two-time recipient of the Mugs Stump award, which funds small alpine climbing teams attempting routes in a "light and fast" style. Damien has worked as a designer in the outdoor apparel and fashion industry for the last fifteen years, and currently is an owner of the freelance design firm Bad Monkeys. Over the years, Damien has designed all manner of outdoor clothing and gear, and recently consulted with a big name ski company looking to develop their own clothing brand. Damien kindly shared his unique perspective of what you should look for in a great ski jacket.

What features do you personally look for in a ski jacket?
I go for fit first and foremost. It has to looks good and I have to feel comfortable in my skin – that's probably the most important thing. I also look for quality in manufacturing. Because I live on the West Coast, I always look for Gore-tex because it is really wet here, but if it's clear and dry out, I'll wear a more ski oriented piece of gear like a soft shell.

Do you prefer an insulated jacket or a shell with layers?
Definitely insulated if I'm just skiing on the hill. If I am going in the backcountry I will take a shell and layer up.

Down insulation or synthetic?
Synthetic, because of the climate that I live in.

How much does your own participation in outdoor sports influence your designs?
It affects it 100%. I always take into consideration the brand that I am designing for and their specific look, but the actual technical part of the design comes from personal experience. I don't like to have water trickling down the back of my neck or cold wrists, and I create my designs accordingly.

Do you find that most designers in the outdoor industry are actually out there using the gear?
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. A lot of outdoor industry designers are working long hours and only getting their two weeks of vacation every year.

And yet they are still producing high end gear, presumably?
Yes, they are producing great gear. Part of that is that there is very little innovation and variation coming from the high end of the outdoor market these days. There are evolutions in fabric, but those are relatively small differences. There is also little variation between the different brands because the specs are so tight. These jackets are all being made in the same factory with the same material, and the main difference is the branding and color.

With so much similarity then, how should a skier choose their jacket?
Consumers tend to identify with a brand more than anything. Are they a Patagonia hippie or an Arc'teryx techie? There will be different features between the brands, but mostly people are choosing the brand and style first.

Why do outdoor gear companies redesign their lines from year to year?
Well, it gives them something to do, and then it comes down to the shelf appeal. "Look at what's new!" There are some evolutions in fabric. A new competitor to Gore-Tex recently came out with a fabric called Neo Shell, and then the slight changes force everyone to continually update their line, even though the differences are so subtle. One year, zippers are changing, and then there's a new, hip way to do the zipper, etcetera.

We had a hard time finding high-end modular 3 in 1 jackets. The ones we tested were all of lower quality (shells and insulation). Is there a reason for that? What do you think of modular jackets from a design perspective?

The reason that those hybrid jackets are not high end is due to a stuck pattern in the outdoor industry. The design teams assume that those consumers that are "in the know" are going to opt for layering first, and so all the high end jackets are created this way, and the modular jackets are relegated to the middle-market, with middle-grade materials. I think that is a mistake. The consumer is still getting a great deal, but I hope to one day see a high end modular jacket out there.

I think the place to watch for future innovation is actually the middle market, because that consumer is looking for comfort first and foremost. The jacket might not stand up to a rainstorm, but it might have some other unique features.

There are so many different specs and numbers touted by the manufacturing companies that it can get a little confusing. What should the average skier be most concerned with?
I think the most important things are fit and value. All of the jackets manufactured by a well-known brand are going to be high quality, and the consumer can actually take advantage of that and just trust that they are getting a good jacket from a well-known brand. You can't say that this Gore-tex is better than that one. Gore-tex is Goretex! So it's really about style and brand association - they can just find the jacket that looks best on them and fits them well.

What special care do you need to take to protect the DWR coating on your jacket?
Wash your jacket. Dirt on the fabric will actually impede the coating from doing its job, so you really want to keep it clean.

Any funny gear malfunction stories you want to share?
I do a lot of snowmobile access skiing, where we sled up a glacier and then just let it run back down the hill on its own while we ski down (the sled eventually comes to a stop at the end of the glacier). One day the ski rack caught my pants, and dragged me down by my suspenders. I eventually managed to batman my way up to the seat, but by that point my pants were shredded and I was in my long underwear. To top it off, a professional snowboard team was there doing a photo shoot. I got some funny looks from them, and that was the end of my skiing day.

Any last thoughts on ski jackets?
My thoughts are to start looking outside of the outdoor market – look at what the ski companies are doing as that is where some of the innovation is coming from. A lot of the outdoor companies are stuck on the layering concept, and I think a lot of the innovation is now going to come from the ski brands. The ski brands are ski centric, whereas the outdoor brands are more backcountry and mountaineering focused. You want a jacket that's designed by skiers, for skiers, and not something designed by climbers for skiers.

Skiing is also a fashion sport – the history of the two are very intertwined, and that's the differentiator. Skiing is a fashion show. Climbing is never going to be a fashion show – they think like climbers going skiing. They need to sit out on the deck and do some aprčs and see what it's really all about!

Jediah Porter
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by Jediah Porter
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