There's no denying it: The manufacturing of products requires energy and waste. Through production, transport, and delivery to consumers, the end result is a piece of gear that inevitably took some toll on our environment. It can be a black hole when you sit back and think about the enormity of it all, especially seeing your email inbox is flooded with gear deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Apparel brands often spend resources to offset their production with programs that lessen plastic materials for packaging, carbon offsets, etc. However, the production and key elements of ski apparel are now starting to transform how we as skiers think about our impact on the environment–rightfully so since our sport is directly correlated with cold weather and is severely threatened by global warming and climate change.
The most recent noteworthy improvements to help our planet are in technical apparel. For years, Patagonia has led the charge in their recycled polyester programs, and produces the majority of their fleeces and base layers by using recycled soda bottles and manufacturing waste and worn-out garments into polyester fibers. This year, they brought that technology into a fully featured ski shell: the PowderBowl, produced from 100 percent recycled polyester Gore-Tex face fabric.
"We diverted about 215,000 pounds of factory scraps and plastic bottles from the waste stream and into the snow gear we build," says Corey Simpson of Patagonia. During Thread The Needle, POWDER’s annual apparel test, I was definitely impressed with this piece, which had the feel of a normal ski shell despite this novel environmentally conscious technology. Not only did it fit well as a minimalist design shell, while also keeping me warm and dry, but there was a bigger picture idea with the gear and the way the brand was innovating. The Powder Bowl won a coveted Skier’s Choice award for performance, function, and fit.
"Educating ourselves and our peers about the choices we make on the gear we are buying is an important step when connecting the dots that the very garments we wear can further negatively impact the climate crises," Simpson further explains. He's right, and most likely if you asked a skier which jacket they might purchase when presented with the option, I'm guessing they would steer toward one that is produced from recycled materials.
Of course, price a big factor in any purchasing decision. Patagonia's Recycled Powder Bowl Jacket costs $399, not bad for a technical piece of gear.
Other companies, like Picture based out of Europe, are also attempting to transform the norm on materials and price points. Since 2008, the brand has produced every product with a minimum of 50 percent recycled or bio-based materials. Additionally, and equally important, they are one of the few apparel brands that are PFC-Free. According to POWDER, the Picture Zephir is one of the best jackets of the year, also earning a Skier’s Choice from Thread the Needle.
"PFCs (perfluorocarbons) are chemicals that are used in technical garments to make them water repellent,” explains Maro LeBlance, spokeswoman for Picture. “These chemicals are released into the air when making and using the product, and are incredibly harmful to the environment and to humans.” LeBlance also notes that the process of converting from PFCs to a Teflon product costs much more than the traditional water-resistant PFC treatment, commonly known as DWR. Regardless of the financial cost, Picture believes this is a necessary expense to help protect the environment.
Innovative techniques such as using recycled materials and less harmful chemicals for water repellency are only the beginning. This season, Burton launched their new Tusk Jacket and Pant, part of their AK Collection. These pieces use a new Gore-Tex solution dye Pro-Shell fabric. "Solution dying uses up to 60 percent less water and produces up to 58 percent lower CO2 emissions compared with conventional dying processes," says Jenn Swain, Burton's Sustainable Innovation Project Manager. The process works by applying the color dye to plastic chips before they are melted and spun into yarn, rather than soaking the yarn in dye. Read more about the Tusk Jacket here, another Skier’s Choice.
Furthermore, insulation brands such as Primaloft just launched the first 100 percent recycled, biodegradable synthetic fabric, called Primaloft Bio Insulation. The new synthetic material is broken down more easily by microbes when exposed to specific conditions either in the landfill or ocean.
Until now, such sustainable options have not been part of the decision process for skiers purchasing a new ski jacket or pant. Fortunately for mother nature, such options are becoming a reality, and consumers most likely will be choosing their next kit not solely based on fit and performance, but in how it impacts the environment they enjoy to play in.