This 3-in-1 model has three different wear options: the outer layer can be worn alone on warm days when you only need a shell to protect you from the wind and can layer under it. The interior insulation layer can be worn by itself around town to keep you warm, and both can be worn together for the exceptionally cold and windy days on the slopes. Major changes to this model's design this year is that the hood is no longer removable, which we think is a good change, and Columbia has changed the front zipper materials and construction from a waterproof zipper to a non-waterproof zipper covered by a flap of material.
The Columbia Whirlibird III takes our Best Buy Award for a versatile and inexpensive choice.
The Whirlibird proved relatively water resistant during our test. Its shell materials are inferior to the Gore-Tex Patagonia Primo Down Jacket - Women's and uninsulated shell jackets like the Arc'teryx Sentinel materials for water resistance, though. The new design of the flap covering the zipper did a good job of keeping breezes out on our way down the hill, but we had a hard time zipping up the collar if we had any extra layers around our neck like a buff or neck warmer.
This jacket's hood does not quite fit over a ski helmet, and this continues to be one of the major disappointments of this model, meaning we have trouble keeping it on when skiing downhill. Admittedly, we reserve wearing the hood for when it's nuking out, or bitterly cold, but we certainly appreciate it being an option when we need it. We like ski jackets with hoods because they add an element of protection and warmth. Detachable hoods add extra weight and bulk with snaps and zippers, and we have never thought "gee I wish this ski jacket didn't have a hood!" In fact, we've felt the opposite about non-hooded jackets. Thankfully the Whirlibird III's hood is no longer removable. If you are looking for a jacket that has a removable hood check out the Columbia Alpine Action Omni-Heat jacket.
The Whirlibird's hood doesn't quite fit over a ski helmet perfectly and the collar is really tight on our face when zipped up with the hood up.
Comfort and Fit
The Whirlibird is pretty comfortable although the shell material this year seems thicker and stiffer than in previous years. It still allows for good mobility while carving turns on the ski hill. Although Columbia's sizing is usually more relaxed, this year our smaller testers fit the size medium better, and it felt snug on our normal size medium folks. Consider sizing up if you like the extra room or to stuff your pockets full of snacks.
This model is perhaps the three-in-one jacket with the most styled that we tested. We thought that both the interior and exterior jackets look good and function great individually, and especially like wearing the cozy interior jacket around because it is warm and fits well. The Snowbelle is a very roomy jacket, and the white color we tested it in was not practical. However, there are new colors to choose from in that model now.
The cut of the jacket is a bit boxy but allows for space to put things in your pockets without looking strange. We're a bit less crazy about the colors and patterns it comes in this year.
We like the versatility of the two separate layers, and we think the inner jacket is pretty cute!
The Whirlibird has a removable interior synthetic jacket that uses Columbia's unique Omni-Heat technology to keep you warm. We were skeptical at first because it looks like a flashy gimmick — but it seems to work. We stayed warm in this jacket.
The inner jacket is made from synthetic insulation and is lined with tiny aluminum dots that are designed to reflect your body heat back in towards you, similar in function to a foil space blanket. Heat loss through radiation is not the significant method of heat loss when skiing - convection through wind and conduction through sitting on a chilly chairlift are the ways most likely to steal heat. That being said, we are not sure if it was those reflective dots that kept us warm, or if it was the combination of the thick synthetic insulation and the wind-resistant outer shell, but we stayed toasty.
The Columbia Whirlibird III has decent ski performance and is comfortable out there on the slopes.
We are not sold on the durability of the liner material and are afraid that the little silver dots will wear off eventually, but in our testing so far they have held up. The Whirlibird has 80 grams of insulation. It's warmer than the Patagonia Snowbelle 3-in-1, but not quite as warm as Patagonia Primo Down.
The Whirlibird is somewhat breathable, although we still worked up a sweat occasionally in it. One point of frustration with this jacket and the other 3-in-1 models like the Patagonia Snowbelle is that it has pit-zips for ventilation, but you cannot vent the interior jacket.
The Omni-Heat system's tiny dots are supposed to allow moisture to move out between them for breathability (so it is more breathable than an actual space blanket!). We are not sure if the silver dots facilitated moisture transfer or not, but the synthetic material seemed to wick moisture away sufficiently.
This model has mesh-lined pit-zips for ventilation which are not super effective because they don't vent through the inner layer.
One advantage to a 3-in-1 type jacket is that you can just take the insulating layer off if it's warm outside. We think the shell Patagonia Untracked Jacket has the best ventilation of all the jackets we tested.
The Whirlibird's ski features work well if you plan to use both layers at the same time. There is an interior zip pocket on the inner layer, but there is not a goggle pocket in the interior jacket. Columbia has moved the Whirlibird's goggle pocket to the interior of the shell, which seems to make more sense.
The shell also has a powder skirt and two handwarmer pockets. We were pleased to discover that there is now a pass pocket on the shell's sleeve as well now.
The Columbia Whirlibird's layers function best if they are used separately and the inner jacket is zipped up to itself.
We think that its layers work well separately. The shell is a fantastic wind and water resistant layer to wear on a warm day, and the interior layer is a warm and cute layer to wear around town for après-ski activities, but together they make the jacket less functional. When the internal layer is zipped in, it makes the powder skirt impossible to use. The Whirlibird and the other 3-in-1 style jacket, the Patagonia Snowbelle 3-in-1, has this issue too. The North Face ThermoBall Triclimate does not have any special ski features, and so this is less of an issue. This problem can be easily solved if you zip each layer to itself and do not attach them and in this case, the snow skirt is accessible to use and wrap below the inner layer.
The Whirlibird's inner jacket has an inner pocket but there is no headphone gasket.
This jacket is meant for skiing at the resort in all different types of climates. On a warm day leave the inner layer in the car (to change into for après ski), on a colder day wear them both together.
You'll fit right in at the resort in the Whirlibird III.
The Whirlibird is the best value of the jackets in this review, retailing for around $200. It is two separate jackets (that can be worn together) for a single low price. The Flylow Billie Coat is also a good value if you are looking for an inexpensive shell ski jacket and the Armada Stadium also wins a Best Buy Award because it is a very stylish insulated ski jacket at a great price.
For a versatile and inexpensive ski jacket, the Columbia Whirlibird III will serve you well. Its two layers work better individually than they do together, but have enough warmth and ski features to keep you functioning on the mountain. For less than half the price of our Editors' Choice winner, the Whirlibird will still get you out on the hill and keep you warm and dry, which is why we give it our Best Buy Award.