Choosing a great ski jacket is easy—if you know what to look for. Start by asking yourself, “what kind of skiing or snowboarding do you like best?” Are you an aggressive bump skier who likes to blow through the moguls or do you like to cruise? Are you strictly a ski area fan or do you like to ski the backcountry? How you answer these questions will help drive your decision on what ski jacket works best for what you like to do most. Here are some other key things to think about that will make finding the right ski jacket a lot easier.
Hard Shell or Soft?
This water-repellent jacket has plenty of pockets, a removeable hood, and relaxed fit make it perfect for skiers or snowboarders.
If you never ski sub-zero weather and you simply want a lightweight shell to go over the top of your base and mid-layers, a hard-shell is the way to go. Wear it up on the lift to cut the wind, then stuff it in your backpack or an inner pocket for the trip down. Hard-shells are also favored by backcountry skiers who are constantly adjusting layers to keep comfortable without overheating. If you’re looking for more warmth, however, insulated soft shells are the way to go. They’ll provide warmth without too much bulk and they can serve as both a mid- or outer layer. Problem is, they’re only water-resistant. If you’re headed into blizzard conditions, you’ll need to throw a hard-shell on over the top to stay dry.
Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant
Ergonomically designed for a full range of motion, this jacket has it all—the extreme-weather shell is fully taped at critical seams for great wind/waterproofness, pit zips help it breath, and the hood is helmet compatible.
There is a big difference between clothing that is “water-resistant” and items that are truly “waterproof.” To be rated as “waterproof,” ski jackets need to have a hydrostatic head rating of at least 1500mm. This rating is based on how much water (in millimeters) the fabric will stand up to before moisture starts leaking through. Ratings can be as low as 1500mm or go up to 20,000mm for ultra-waterproof protection. The best jackets will have fully taped seams to keep water out and they’ll be coated with a durable water repellence (DWR) coating, for water repellency. Breathable-membrane fabrics, like Gore-Tex, perform even better because they “breathe.” The pores in the fabric are large enough to allow moisture vapor (generated by sweating) to wick out, yet they’re small enough to prevent water in liquid form (droplets, rain, and snow) from entering. These high-tech fabrics will drive the jacket price up, but they’re worth it if you know you’re going to face a lot of wet conditions.
Down Vs. Synthetic Insulation
This stylish lightweight, quilted coat is water-resistant and filled with 100% polyester insulation, so it will stay warm even when its wet.
Down insulates better than synthetic fibers, but it is all but worthless once it gets wet. This is why so many ski jackets feature synthetic insulations—PrimaLoft, Polartech, Thermoball and the like. Synthetic insulations also offer some warmth even when it’s wet. The thickness of the insulation is expressed in grams per square meter, so a jacket with 100g of insulation will not keep you as warm as a jacket with 200g. As a general rule, 100g to 200g jackets are best for winter conditions, while lighter 50g to 100g jackets are ideal for spring or early-season skiing.
What you do in the snow will drive your buying decision. Racers want a slim fit that cuts drag, while freestylers and snowboarders generally prefer a fuller range of motion that relaxed-fit jackets deliver. Most of us fall in the middle, so check the specs to make sure you’re going to be comfortable, and don’t forget that you need to take base- and mid-layers into consideration, which may dictate that you move up a size, particularly if you’re choosing a slim-fitting jacket.
Pit zips are a nice option when you’re generating a lot of heat and want some extra ventilation.Hoods will definitely keep your head warmer—particularly in windy conditions. Just be sure they’re big enough to accommodate your ski helmet.Wrist gaiters are great for keeping snow out.A powder skirt is a drawstring inside your jacket that cinches tight to keep wind and snow from sneaking up under your jacket from the inside.Zippered pockets are a must for keeping valuables from being lost. Having at least one on the inside of your jacket provides a safe haven for your wallet and cell phone.