Most ski/snowboard resorts are either open or soon to be open. It’s already snowed a good amount in my neck of the woods (20 inches a couple of weekends ago), so thoughts are naturally turning to sliding down hills on the fluffy white stuff (at least it’s fluffy in the Rockies), shredding terrain parks, dancing through moguls, and enjoying après-ski activities…
You want to keep warm, dry, and comfortable while you’re doing all that, so it’s time to get yourself an excellent ski parka. You’re in luck, because the trend of technological improvement in most every area is readily apparent in clothing for outdoor activities. It’s fair to say that the current crop of ski/boarding outerwear is the best in history in terms of performance, price, durability, functionality, fit, and style. What follows is the cream of the crop.
Outside Magazine and its legion of testers reviewed a bunch of winter gear in all categories…
…and I’ll be getting to many of their recommendations in the next few weeks. But we’ll start with that staple of winter intrepidity: the ski parka. For most of you skiers and boarders out there, that means a jacket you can wear at your favorite resort(s) — one that’ll keep you warm and dry whether you’re bombing down a run in 2 feet of powder, juddering down an icy slope in the fog, or sitting on a windy chairlift for 15 minutes. Not to mention skiing double black diamonds on warmer days where you’re actually working up a sweat. The current class of parkas can handle these diverse conditions and more.
Patagonia Reconnaissance Jacket
We may as well start with the best of the best: the Patagonia Reconnaissance Jacket, which was selected as Outside’s Gear of the Year for 2010. This is a high-loft, insulated soft shell with features that will keep you comfortable during a full day of glade schussing. Additionally (for those of you with green leanings), it’s made of recycled and recyclable materials. The Reconnaissance is highly breathable and supple and keeps riders warm with compressible, 100-gram PrimaLoft Eco insulation — ideal for the conditions of cold, big-mountain country. Welded seams increase compressibilityand Patagonia’s Deluge DWR (durable water repellent) finish shrugs off wind and water. Since it’s insulated, this jacket keeps you warm without having to add a lot of layers.
On balmy days, armpit zips and the permeable fabric enable you to regulate your temperature, and the helmet-compatible hood and powder skirt (with webbing loops that connect to any Patagonia ski/snowboard pants) zip off. The jacket has many thoughtful features, including soft, brushed polyester against the chin and back of the neck, two handwarmer pockets, an insulated chest pocket for your iPod or other audio device, another pocket on the left bicep, and an elastic panel in the middle of the back that enables the jacket to flex with your movement. There’s a holder for your ski pass under the jacket’s hem. The pit zips are positioned so that you can unzip them without removing your backpack when skiing in the back country. The Reconnaissance weighs 37 ounces. On this page at Rock Creek, there’s a video from Patagonia that demonstrates this and other ski jackets more fully.
Said one tester at Outside: “Sunny and dry, dumping wet snow, high winds and frigid temps… whatever the weather was doing, I always reached for this jacket.”
And remember that “green” component I mentioned: the entire jacket is recyclable through Patagonia’s Common Threads program.
It wasn’t named 2010 Gear of the Year for nothing. As if that wasn’t enough, at about $375 it also has the lowest suggested retail price of all the premium jackets reviewed here. (Hey, get this jacket, head up to the high country, and be the first to comment on its performance at the bottom of this post.)
Columbia First Descents Parka
Outside designated the Columbia First Descents Parka as a “Killer Value” and it’s easy to see why. This parka, included in Columbia’s Titanium collection, is a versatile two-piece jacket with a waterproof, breathable outer shell and an inner down liner that can stand alone as its own jacket. In fact, Outside thought the inner jacket alone was worth the price of admission. It has zipped armpit vents and 3 pockets. The outer shell, made of Omni-Tech, is woven of a supple, stretch yarn that promotes easy movement. All seams are sealed. The tall collar protects your face from frigid temps and biting wind and it has a laser-cut ventilation portal to allow your breath to flow freely. It has a removable hood and powder skirt. It’s got plenty of pockets to stash goggles, a camera, an mp3 player, etc. (What’s with all the audio pockets, by the way? Are you guys listening to a lot of tunes as you huck cornices?)
So, basically, you’re getting 3 jackets for the price of one. Reviewers said that when the outer shell and inner down jacket are zipped together, it made for one of the warmest parkas they tested. Total weight is 4 pounds.
As was pointed out by reviewers, this jacket is suitable for activities beyond boarding and skiing, such as backpacking, general camping, and rainwear on the trail or around town. One reviewer called it “a tank of a jacket,” and went on to say: “The jacket is great… the cool stretch material allows the jacket to move with me. The liner is almost too warm at times, which is a good thing. I’m thrilled with this jacket and love the plaid.”
I personally like most gear from Columbia. Their stuff was a little nebbish in the early days of the company, but they’ve grown up into one of the best outdoor clothing and gear companies around. I like the thoughtfulness and technical qualities of their designs which, I think, began to surpass North Face in certain areas awhile back. And you get a lot for your money. (That’s why this jacket is a “Killer Value.”) The Columbia First Descents Parka retails for $400 but you can usually find it for a good discount here.
Here’s a video of a bunch of happy ski guys at the Austrian Open, sponsored by Columbia. This’ll get you in the mood for some riding in your new ski jacket:
The writer-guys at Outside referred to the Arc’teryx Sentry as the “love child of a high-end mountaineering jacket and a toasty resort parka.” Metaphors aside, this jacket incorporates some premium materials, including Pro Shell, Gore’s most waterproof/breathable fabric, and PrimaLoft’s top-of-the-line Sport insulation. Arc’teryx calls the Sentry their most protective snowsports jacket. (By the way, do you know the origin of the apostrophe in the Arc’teryx name? The company was named after Archaeopteryx Lithographica, the first reptile to develop the feather for flight, thus freeing itself of the constraints of the horizontal world.)
The Sentry features athletic shaping for total mobility, a laminated powder skirt, fully taped seams, two-way armpit zips for temperature regulation, and four pockets: 2 insulated hand-warmers, an external chest pocket with a laminated zipper, and an internal mesh pocket with a two-way zip. The powder skirt has a loop for your lift pass.
Of this jacket, Outside wrote:
“The Sentry wowed every tester in the field, besting everything from arctic gusts on the lifts at Colorado’s Loveland Pass to a sopping spring squall at Alpental in the Cascades. You can even hike or tour in it. Bonus: the hood stuffs away in a surprisingly non-bulky collar.”
The jackets weighs in at only 1.8 pounds (how’s that for technological superiority?). It’s too new and, well, Arc’teryx, to be discounted much yet, but you can find it here via Moosejaw for around $600. (By the way, you might like the kickass photography at the Arc’teryx site.)
Patagonia Pipe Down Jacket
We began with Patagonia and we’ll conclude with Patagonia. Outside added the Patagonia Pipe Down Jacket in a side feature, citing it as perfect for cold-weather skiing (or any place you want to keep warm, such as standing along the downhill course at the winter Olympics).
If you like a classic down jacket, the Pipe Down is for you. It has a compressible layer of 600-fill-power premium European goose down (and the fixed helmet-compatible hood is insulated, too). It’s chevron-quilted to minimize bulk and keep the down from shifting as you’re carving turns down the side of some remote Alaskan mountain. The ripstop shell has Patagonia’s DWR finish to increase durability and shed moisture and wind. The soft, 100%-recycled polyester lining slides smoothly over layers (e.g. the new Patagonia Kernelius Jacket) and fleece at the collar protects your neck.
It has a removable, stretchy powder skirt, armpit zips to keep you ventilated, two hand-warmer pockets, an audio-device pocket on the chest, and a zippered stash pocket inside. Webbing loops on the powder skirt are compatible with any Patgonia ski/snowboard pants. Weight is 30.8 ounces. It is also the least expensive jacket in this group. And it’s cool looking. Find it here for around $300.
Any of the ski/board parkas here will enhance your enjoyment of riding this winter. May you find plenty of deep powder and hot toddies.
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