The Columbia Whirlibird Interchange presents a versatile and affordable option to the occasional skier or snowboarder. The versatility and affordable price earned it high regard, overall. In its full arrangement, it was among the warmest in our testing. When the lining is worn alone it makes an excellent spring or in-town layer, while the outer shell can be worn alone in the occasional rain event. Those who will spend a great deal of time in their resort jacket will want to look elsewhere. The Whirlibird is bulky and restrictive to movement with less than stellar wind and weather protection.
Columbia Whirlibird Interchange Review
Cons: Clumsy weather protection and binding fit
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Columbia Whirlibird is a highly functional design for ski resort usage. Additionally, it offers in-town styling. If you need a ton of insulation for the resort, bundle up in the warmest iteration of this jacket and you can't go wrong.
Overall, the Columbia is nothing special. For that narrow subset of users, though, who will seek a modular jacket system, this is an incredible bargain.
The Whirlibird Interchange kept us plenty warm in our testing. In fact, this jacket was perhaps the warmest of them all. The modular construction means that in addition to the jacket's lining, insulation, and shell, there are two additional layers of fabric in the mix. The insulating effect of the inner jacket's shell and the outer jacket's hanging lining cannot be discounted. Additionally, Columbia includes their proprietary "Omni-Heat" heat-reflecting technology.
The Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 and Spyder Leader both share with the Columbia Whirlibird synthetic insulation rated at 80g. However, the Columbia is at least a little more insulating than these. First, as compared to either of these, the Whirlibird has the aforementioned additional fabric layers. An additional difference is in Columbia's Omni-Heat technology. While the empirical benefits, durability, and marketing claims of Omni-Heat seem dubious, our testing reveals that the Columbia Whirlibird is a very warm jacket.
Even when using just the shell of the Whirlibird as compared to the shell-only jackets we tested, the Whirlibird shell is more insulating. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell, the Outdoor Research White Room, the FlyLow Gear Genius, and the Editors' Choice Arc'teryx Sabre are all made with so-called "three-layer construction" that laminates lining, membrane, and outer fabric into one piece. The Whirlibird's shell jacket has a separate hanging liner. This Top Pick award winner is warmer than the previously mentioned shells; this may be a detriment if you intend to use the shell portion as a warmer weather rain jacket.
The Whirlibird keeps out the weather. Our sprinkler and field testing indicated moderate amounts of "wet-out" in the DWR rub test, but Columbia's proprietary waterproof/breathable laminate handily backed it up. The hood suffers from a fairly primitive build; the front cinches with standard drawcords, while the back of the hood can be somewhat tensioned with a Velcro flap. This construction indeed functions as intended and is backed up by a hearty, stiffened brim. It is by far the least sophisticated hood in our review.
For all-out weather protection, check out the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell. The Lofoten uses superb fabrics and is constructed with tight interfaces and an industry leading system of attaching to matching pants. As compared to the other three-in-one jacket, the Whirlibird uses less sophisticated fabric and a clumsier hood. Overall, Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot does a better job of keeping the weather out.
The Columbia Whirlibird's shell layer has standard pit-zips and the amount of insulation can be customized by swapping the components as conditions change. These options, while requiring some ongoing effort, earn this award winner high marks in ventilation. We also enjoyed the option to swap the amount of insulation and protection under various conditions. Temperature regulation is not as easy as unzipping the vents while riding the steeps and battening down for the lift ride, but the overall variation available far outweighs any drawbacks there.
These ventilation attributes are almost exactly the same as what can be found in the Patagonia Snowshot. The insulating jacket that vents almost as well as the Whirlibird is the Stio Shot 7. The Outdoor Research White Room shell jacket offers a higher level of excellent ventilation, with long zips that start on the wearer's chest.
The Whirlibird has minimal ski-specific features, as there is no goggle wipe or dedicated pass pocket. In this way, it is similar to something like the FlyLow Genius and exceeded by the Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0. In evaluating a jacket for ski features, we essentially went through a checklist of potential ski features. In actual usage, most testers enjoyed the features that were present but didn't miss those that were omitted.
Features seem like a bonus, while the lack of said niceties doesn't seem to cost a jacket much overall impression. Our scoring rubric isn't as nuanced as human testers can be; features increase the score, with no asterisks. The weighting of our scoring metrics reflects the relative importance of the various attributes, and we assure all potential users that lack of a specific feature or features will not greatly diminish your experience with a ski jacket.
Fit and Comfort
The same features that make the Whirlibird so warm leave it feeling relatively bulky and restrictive in fit. The multiple layers bind against one another and the shell sleeve lining hangs out through the cuffs. The collar is of average height, but construction leaves it feeling lumpy against one's face. The Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot is marginally more comfortable in its full configuration, while the insulated jackets like the Arc'teryx Macai or Patagonia Primo Down are inherently less confining.
In an early round of testing, we evaluated an orange color scheme. In this color, the Whirlibird earned positive style reviews. These colors pop out in photos and the cut is understated. The latest iteration we tested is all blue, with less inspiring evaluations from the team. While the Spyder Leader shouts "I'm a skier" and the Patagonia Primo Down swaggers to the backcountry, the Columbia Jacket says, "I go to the mountains, but don't take myself too seriously."
Additionally, as compared to its close cousin, the Patagonia SnowShot, the inner jacket of the latter, when worn on its own, is far more presentable.
This is an excellent jacket for the skier who visits a resort a couple times a year. The construction isn't impeccable, but the function and versatility are more than adequate.
The Columbia Whirlibird Interchange is an excellent value. It prices at the bottom of our fleet, and scores into the upper half. With three distinct configurations (inner, outer, and both together) and very warm construction, anyone who needs an occasional ski or snowboard parka could do no better than the Whirlibird.
We do not hesitate at all to recommend three-in-one style jackets for the casual ski enthusiast. If you are a dedicated charger, however, a collection of more purpose-built pieces may be more appropriate. Columbia's offering executes well, especially at this price. In this sub-category, the Patagonia Snowshot is a little more refined but is perhaps not worth the upgraded price.
— Jediah Porter