How to choose your ski jacket
Warmth, comfort, weight, insulation, breathability and style: these are some of the criteria to look at when choosing a ski jacket to take full advantage of the best that winter has to offer. Here is our advice on how to choose your future ski jacket based on how you ski and what your expectations are.
What kind of skier are you?
Ski resort cruiser? Freerider? Backcountry skier? How you like to ski is the first factor in determining the kind of jacket to get. For instance, what you need in terms of warmth and breathability won’t be the same when you’re alpine skiing compared to when you’re ski touring. The kind of jacket you need when you ski in January will also be different than what you’ll need when you ski in April, which is also different if you ski non-stop from the first snowfall of the season to the last!
For resort skiing, especially in the coldest months, we recommend choosing an insulated jacket that will keep you warm all day long. It’s easy to get cold when you’re at a ski resort, especially when you’re on the chairlift. A well-insulated jacket will keep you warm on the chairlift and protect you from the wind when you’re skiing fast.
There are three types of insulation:
For those who get cold easily, goose down or duck down has unbeatable insulation qualities thanks to its lofting ability.
- Synthetic insulation, imitation down
Synthetic fiber insulation that mimics the structure of natural down is less expensive and more robust, especially in wet weather. This makes synthetic insulation a good alternative to down.
- Synthetic fabric insulation
Compact synthetic fabric insulation is a more economical and more durable system, but it doesn’t pack down as small as down or synthetic down and it doesn’t insulate as well. The insulating ability of synthetic insulation depends on the quality and density of the fibers used, which is measured in grams/meter2.
80 g/m2: lightweight jacket
100 g/m2: typical, multi-purpose jacket
120 g/m2: very warm jacket
When you’re freeriding or ski touring in the backcountry you move more and work harder so we recommend you dress according to the 3-layer system. Another group who will benefit from this system are those who ski regularly throughout the entire season and will be able to easily adapt their clothing to the day’s weather conditions.
Protecting yourself against stormy weather in the mountains is essential and that’s the role played by the outer fabric of your jacket. There are different types of waterproof membranes, and their impermeability is measured on the Schmerber scale, which corresponds to the resistance to water in a standardized column (1 Schmerber = 1mm of water). Jackets can run anywhere from 5,000mm to 30,000mm Schmerber, and a jacket is considered waterproof starting at 10,000mm Schmerber.
3 layers or 2?
Perhaps you’ve heard of 2-layer or 3-layer jackets? This is a production technique that involves gluing different fabrics together to protect the waterproof membrane.
- With 3-layer fabric, the membrane is protected by an interior and an exterior fabric.
- With 2½-layer fabric, the membrane is protected by an exterior fabric and by a “print” on the interior.
- With 2-layer fabric, the waterproof membrane is protected only on the exterior while the interior has an insulating lining.
In addition to the waterproof membrane, you’ll usually find a water-repellent treatment on the outer layer.
The breathability of a jacket is its ability to evacuate sweat. There are two measurements: RET (resistance to evaporative heat transfer) and MVTR (moisture vapor transmission rate) expressed in grams/meters2/24hrs.
RET less than 6 / MVTR more than 30,000: very good breathability
RET between 6 and 12 / MVTR between 20,000 and 30,000: good breathability
RET more than 15 / MVTR less than 10,000: poor breathability
The more exertion your activity requires, the more breathable your jacket will need to be. In freeriding and ski touring, the effort you exert is more intense than when you’re skiing groomers. So for maximum comfort during these two kinds of skiing, we recommend a highly-breathable jacket that will allow sweat to dissipate.
Hood, snow skirt, pockets and zippers are all things to consider when choosing a jacket. Your needs will be different depending on what kind of skiing you do. For example, you’ll need more ventilation for ski touring and a more waterproof jacket for powder skiing.
We recommend getting a jacket with a hood because regardless of what kind of skiing you do, a hood is indispensable for protecting your neck and lower face in bad weather. Some models feature removable hoods. Make sure the hood is compatible with your helmet and head movements (so be sure to turn your head back and forth when trying the hood).
Found on many models, a snow skirt prevents snow from getting inside your jacket in case you fall or when you’re skiing in deep snow. It is usually made with a stretch fabric and an elastic waist with a snap closure. It also provides additional insulation and there are many that are removable. A snow skirt is strongly recommended for freeriding and powder skiing.
Thumbholes and windproof cuffs
Like a snow skirt, thumbholes and windproof cuffs provide additional insulation by preventing snow and cold air from creeping in. The stretch thumbhole system and windproof Velcro provide insulation for your wrists between your jacket and glove.
Depending on the jacket model, you’ll find a number of pockets with different functions:
- Interior telephone pocket
- Ski pass pocket on the shoulder or near the wrist
- Chest pockets
- Side pockets
- Interior mesh pockets for stashing your gloves or goggles
For improved ventilation, you’ll find that most jackets have ventilation zips in the armpits or from the chest zipping towards the back.
Also in the interest of insulation and comfort, zippers can be covered and water-repellent, or even backed by a soft fabric for additional coziness.
The RECCO rescue system is an electronic device in some ski areas that can locate a person buried in an avalanche or lost in the mountains. RECCO reflectors can be built into a ski jacket by the manufacturer and are also available in a form that can be added by the skier to his clothing.
It’s important to understand, the RECCO system does not replace an avalanche transceiver!
For maximum insulation and the most comfort, it’s important to get a jacket that is the right size and fits your body shape well. Adult sizes usually start at XS and go up to XXL. Size can vary between brands so we recommend that you try on the jacket before you buy it or refer to the sizing guide that you’ll normally find on most brands’ websites.
Cut, color and style
Style can be important when you’re skiing, and it would be a lie to pretend otherwise! Each new season we see new colors and new styles on display on the white carpet. For ski touring, we recommend a fitted cut that is close enough to your body to provide greater freedom of movement. On the other hand, freeriders generally prefer longer and looser cuts. So it’s really up to you whether you go with a jacket that’s dark or has flashy colors. Just remember to match your ski pants!