The first, and most important function of a ski jacket is to keep you comfortable all day long with an adequate protection from winter’s elements – wind, moisture and cold.
There’s nothing worse than being wet on a cold winter day, thus the thing you should look for first, should be the waterproof index of the jacket.
The waterproof rating is for the outer shell material and it basically stands for how many mm of water it can withstand for a 24 hour period, before leaking.
There is one very important moment here though – if the jacket is not fully seam-taped, even the best material won’t do, but there is a good chance that if the manufacturer has made the investment for an expensive membrane, he has taken care of taping the seams as well.
Now, It depends a lot on the conditions you ski in, but unless you are a weekend skier that spends half the day in the tea house, you shouldn’t seriously consider anything with an index below 10,000mm.
Some of the best materials out there like Gore-tex and Event reach about 30k.
Some brands don’t specifically show their waterproof and breathability indexes on the label, so you may find the table at the bottom useful to find out the characteristics of some popular trademarked materials.
Breathability is even more important than the waterproof index, because water attacks from the inside as well from the outside and if your jacket is not able to lead that moisture out quickly and efficiently, you’re doomed.
Of course, underneath your jacket you need to have something at least as breathable – if the moisture can’t get to the jacket, than you won’t be able to use the potential of it.
Again, I would recommend looking for an index of at least 10k and especially if you sweat a lot or you ski in warmer times – go for 20k+.
Jackets are generally divided in hard shells and soft shells. As the name suggests, hard shells are the ones providing good wind resistance and if you’re looking for a good all-around jacket, you should look for such.
Soft shells can come in handy in the warm spring days, but even then, you’ll be better off with a nice breathable hard shell and less layers underneath.
Insulation or not?
Some ski jackets are just a hard shell membrane that protects you from wind and water, but leaves you open for the cold in harsh conditions. These are meant to be used with an additional layer of fleece underneath that you can take off when it’s warmer.
But sometimes it’s easier to just get a jacket with an insulation, so you can think of one thing less when you head out to the slopes early in the morning.
The powder skirt is a piece of cloth with elastic on the bottom side that keeps snow from getting in under your jacket. It usually has a snap system to attach it to your pants, so that snow access is sealed off.
Whether or not you need this, ultimately depends on your skiing preferences. If you will be running through a meter deep fresh powder, then it may prove quite useful, but if you prefer the groomed slopes and an occasional off-piste downhill, the powder skirt will be pretty much useless.
Pockets and their position
You should ask yourself :
- do I have where to put my MP3 player/cellphone, so it’s easily accessible without the need to unzip my jacket?
- is there a big pocket, where I can stick my gloves in on a warm spring day?
- is there a small pocket on the sleeve for the ski pass and is there a place to attach older ski passes that work with bar code readers?
The Recco reflectors are commonly built-in in jackets, pants, gloves and helmets. They are an inexpensive passive piece of equipment that you’ll probably never need to know it exists.
But in the rare occasion that you turn out buried alive under an avalanche in one of the 600 resorts using Recco locator equipment, it may save your life.
For more information about the technology, you can read this posting on the TGR forums:
When considering the jacket length, there are mostly two things to keep in mind: Whether you like it fashion-wise and the fact that you’ll be sitting on chair lifts.
The aforementioned chair lifts can get quite chilly on colder winter days, and having an additional layer of clothing to sit on could save your ass from freezing.
Normally, when you are buying a non-insulated jacket, you should always keep in mind that it is meant to be combined with one or more layers below, so better look for a more relaxed fit that could accommodate at least one fleece under it.
I will not give my preference over one brand or another, because it’s hard to judge a product by the label on it. Of course, relying on a well-known brand name gives you a better chance of getting something of quality, but then again, sometimes you just have to pay extra, only for the label on the jacket and not necessarily the better product.