Last year at the second annual Thread The Needle—a two-day event at Solitude, Utah, designed to enable numerous brands to showcase their best new outerwear to a committed group of skiers—the Powder edit staff kicked things off by night skiing…in jeans. Temperatures at Brighton that evening were only in the teens; so it was cold enough to freeze a pocket beer but not so frigid as to suppress bump lines and hot doggin'.
The point of the jean-ski-a-thon was to remind everyone that skiing is not about what you wear or how you look, but rather how much fun you're having. You could have the most expensive gear in the world, but what's the use if you're not putting it toward a good time?
But, of course, on most days (and nights), skiing in jeans isn't recommended. Over the next two days, the group went through dozens of samples of the best outerwear on the planet. Our favorites from Thread The Needle are listed in the following pages, along with some other items we found during the course of the winter.
When looking to upgrade your outerwear, the most important consideration is what you plan to do with it. It's not rocket science: If you spend most of your days riding chairlifts, your kit will probably be quite a bit different than someone who solely skis the backcountry. Like us, you probably do a lot of both, splitting your time on lifts while earning your turns whenever you can. Therein lies the rub: How to find outerwear that performs in unforgiving environments, allows you to exert physical activity without suffocating, insulates against the cold, stands up to multiple seasons of abuse, and helps you have the most fun possible?
In this guide, you'll find some answers, no matter where you ski. Included are numerous mentions of waterproof/breathable fabrics such as Gore-Tex, widely regarded as the industry leader in shutting out moisture while allowing you to sweat. Several companies have partnered with Gore-Tex after passing rigorous design and functionality tests to incorporate this technology with their own styling. But there are other proprietary fabrics as well that offer, in our view, just as much weather protection. Marmot's MemBrain, Mountain Hardwear's Dry.Q, Polartec's Neoshell, and Trew's Private Reserve, among others, have all been proven in harsh climates.
Most of the items in the following pages are of the three-layer variety, meaning the waterproof/breathable membrane is sandwiched between the outer face fabric and an inner lining. Generally speaking, three layers are better than two for skiing because they offer superior protection from the elements and are more durable. Unfortunately, they're also more expensive. Two-layer garments, on the other hand, have better breathability and are prized for high-energy pursuits like skinning to a summit. A product's waterproof rating is measured by the amount of water, in millimeters, that can be suspended above the fabric before moisture creeps in. The highest waterproofing is generally listed at or above 20k. Breathability, meanwhile, is measured by the rate at which vapor, in grams per square meter, escapes the fabric over a 24-hour period. High-end breathability is also in the 20k range. How much waterproof/breathability you need depends on where and how you ski. If you ski in wet weather, a high waterproof rating would be advisable, but if you ski in the arid climates of the Rockies, oftentimes a softshell is all you need. So choices do matter.
And if nothing else works, you can always ski in jeans.