Here's a little guide on ski jackets. Skiing is an incredibly fun and rewarding activity, but it takes place out in the cold. Nobody likes being cold. Even things that live in the cold, like penguins or polar bears, all hate it. Sure, penguins put on a brave face and often appear happy.... but it's all a charade. So for your own safety and enjoyment, make sure you're wearing suitable outwear before hitting the slopes.
These are a couple of factors to consider when looking at jackets. Slightly further down, I'll talk about how these factors are prioritized by the different types of jackets.
• Warmth / Material
• Breathability / Venting
Your jacket selection will depend on the temperature. That's a pretty obvious statement. The jacket you wear skiing in 15 degree weather and the one you wear in 45 degree weather should probably be different. Jackets will have varying degrees of insulation (I'm saying "degree" a lot), so look for something that's warm enough for the conditions. Layering is a great way to ensure comfort in a wider variety of temps and conditions, so skiing jackets often have a relaxed fit to accommodate a couple of base and mid layers. Plus your jacket should be waterproof or water resistant, to keep out the rain and snow, while being breathable enough to keep moisture from building up from within, or featuring pit or torso zippers to dump excess heat.
Down insulated jackets are super light, super compressible and super warm. Almost.... too warm. Down jackets do an incredible job of storing body heat, so be warned that if you're putting in an exceptionally physical work out, you run the risk of overheating. But if the temps are super low, or if you're heading out for some backcountry skiing, a compressible down jacket might be a strong option. Be on the lookout for one with pit-zips for an easy way to quickly dump excess heat. But note, down does not do a good job of insulating if it's wet, so if it might rain or if you think you'll fall a lot, this isn't the best option. But also note, it's one of the best apres-ski options for kicking it around the lodge. Fyi, "apres" is a French word meaning "let's get drunk" (don't quote me on that).
Softshells can be worn as either an insulating layer in colder temps, or as a stand-alone outer layer in warmer spring/fall skiing. The great thing about these hard-faced fleeces is that when they have a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) coating, they do a great job at shedding snow or light rain and can handle a tumble or two. Add that to the fact that they are stretchy for exceptional mobility, and they breathe well to limit sweat build-up, and you've got yourself a great jacket for aerobic ski sessions, like cross country, backcountry, or warmer weather downhill skiing. Plus, softshells transition perfectly to casual life, if you're looking for some extra versatility.
Hardshell jackets excel at keeping out wind and rain, while offering some degree of breathability. So they'll keep you dry and protected. However, they offer no insulation, so should either be worn on their own during warmer temperatures, or layered over an insulating layer in colder weather. All this hardshell and softshell talk is making me want some tacos.
Fleece jackets make a great insulating layer for skiing. They should almost never be worn as your outermost layer though, as wind cuts right through, negating any built-up heat. If you're moving fast, you'll feel the chill. But due to their breathability, warmth retention (when protected), and ability to do their job even after getting a bit wet, fleece jackets are a solid insulation for a ski jacket system. You'll often see it as the inner layer of a 3-in-1 component jacket.
3-in-1 jackets are very versatile and give you a lot of bang for your buck. Also called component jackets, they are comprised of a weatherproof outer shell, and an inner insulation layer. Each layer can be worn on its own in different conditions. The shell is useful on warmer, wetter days, whereas the insulating layer is good for colder, drier days. When worn together they can fend off the harshest conditions. Read on a little bit for a breakdown of insulating layers, as you can find different types of insulation as the inner layer of a 3-in-1 jacket.
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