How to Choose a Ski or Snowboard Jacket

Skiing and snowboarding are great ways to have fun outside during the winter. Whether you’re riding lifts, touring the backcountry, or just messing around in your backyard, sliding on snow is bound to make you smile.

But being dressed for the weather is critical. Finding the right ski/snowboard jacket for your adventures can make or break your day playing in the snow. To help maximize your fun, we’ll dive into the different types of ski/snowboard jackets and what they’re best for.

Shells

A blue hard shell jacket

Shells, also called hard shells, are jackets with no added insulation. They utilize windproof and waterproof membranes with critically or fully taped seams (seams that have waterproof tape applied to them from the inside of the jacket to ensure water doesn’t leak through). Jackets with critically taped seams only have taped seams at the head, neck, and shoulders.

Shells won’t keep you warm on their own, so you’ll want to layer up beneath them with a base layer and mid-layer or a puffy jacket depending on the temperature of the day.

Pro tip: When purchasing a shell, go up a size! You’ll have an easier time fitting your layers under your shell.

We love shells for their versatility. Are you headed to the mountain for a cold day of lift service? Bring your shell and lots of layers to go beneath it! Are you spending hours skinning uphill in a blizzard? Throw your shell over your baselayer to stay protected from the elements. The freedom of layering is a great thing for the variety of winter weather.

Prices of hard shells will depend on whether or not you have fully taped or critically taped seams, the degree of wind and waterproofness of the shell, and the features that the shell offers.

In a nut-SHELL? If you’re looking for a versatile jacket, a shell might be for you. Determine what features are important to and if they’re worth the price tag.

Insulated Jackets

A maroon insulated jacket

Insulated jackets will have an outer waterproof/windproof shell with a built-in layer of insulation. These are great for folks who will spend a lot of cold days riding chairlifts at ski resorts.

Insulated jackets come in varying degrees of warmth, measured using ‘fill weight’. The more fill, the warmer the jacket. Fill can be down or synthetic, both of which have their pros and cons. Down is warmer and very compressible but loses its ability to keep you warm if it gets wet. Synthetic is less expensive and still works when wet, but is not as warm as down and weighs more.

Deciding between down and synthetic will depend on the climate you live in / the skiing you will be doing. If you live in Vermont where it’s humid and occasionally rainy in the winter, synthetic may be the better choice. If you live in Colorado where it’s dry, maybe down is better for you.

You can learn more about fill weight and down vs. synthetic insulation here.

We don’t recommend an insulated jacket for those of you who want to spend most of your time in the backcountry. Skinning uphill with all that insulation will likely cause you to sweat a lot and ultimately make you cold when that sweat inevitably freezes.

Three-in-One

A teal three-in-one jacket

What if you want to buy a shell but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars purchasing a mid-layer and/or puffy as well to keep warm? Enter the three-in-one jacket!

The components of three-in-one jackets usually consist of an outer shell and an insulated down or synthetic jacket or fleece that can be zipped into the shell. When zipped all together, this jacket will act similarly to an insulated jacket to keep you cozy. The added bonus is if it’s a warmer day out on the slopes or if you want to use one of the layers to walk around town, each jacket can be worn separately.

We love these for their versatility and lower price point compared to purchasing each jacket type on its own. However, three-in-one jackets typically do not offer as many technical features compared to if you were to buy just a hard shell and/or just a puffy. Shop around and find the one right for you!

A man skis down a groomed ski trail in a blue jacket and black pants

Ski/Snowboard Jacket Features

A woman wears a dark blue jacket with a hood over her head

Hood

Did you know you lose 10% of your body heat through your head? Hoods are great for protecting you from the elements and keeping that extra warmth. Some ski/snowboard jackets offer helmet-compatible hoods (hoods that can fit over your ski helmet), others have hoods that can be removable, and still, others have some that can be zipped into the cowl of the jacket if you don’t want it getting in the way. Depending on your adventures, do some research about the jacket you want and the hood it comes with.

A man wearing a yellow ski jacket unzips the underarm vents

Vents

Many jackets come with armpit and chest vents. These are great for those days when you’re sweating going uphill or when your day riding lifts becomes warmer than you anticipated. Open them up for additional airflow and cool yourself down!

A man puts a phone into a pocket on the inside of a gray jacket

Pockets

In our opinion, the more pockets, the better.

Most jackets have two classic outer hand pockets on either side. Some jackets have big chest pockets which are great for stashing snacks, your phone, or for putting your skins in so they don’t freeze as you ski down between laps. Others have a small pocket on one sleeve for your ski pass or ID to live. Each brand is different in regards to the pockets they offer, so think about what you want pockets for and do your research!

A powder skirt in a teal ski jacket

Powder Skirts

Some ski/ride jackets come with a powder skirt, which is added fabric built into the jacket that helps prevent snow from getting up your back or down your pants. They usually have an elastic bottom to form a snug barrier around your waist to keep that snow out or a feature that allows you to connect it to your snow pants. You’ll often see these in the beefier insulated jackets – not so much in shells.

A woman secures her black ski gloves over her yellow ski jacket cuffs

Sleeve Cuffs

Narrow or wide? It’s up to you to decide! All rhyming aside, jacket cuffs are a personal preference depending on how you like to wear your gloves. Do you prefer your gloves to be worn over your cuffs (gauntlet-style) or underneath? Look for a ski or snowboard jacket that accommodates your glove desires.

Waterproofing

Snow is frozen water so you’ll want your ski/snowboard jacket to be waterproof. Let’s take a look at waterproof ratings and what they mean:

Waterproof Rating Water Resistance Conditions
0 – 5,000 mm No resistance Light rain, dry snow
6,000 -10,000 mm Waterproof at light pressure Light rain, average snow
11,000 – 15,000 mm Waterproof except at high pressure Moderate rain, average snow
16,000 – 20,000 mm Waterproof at high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow
20,000 mm + Waterproof at very high pressure Heavy rain, wet snow

A few of the popular waterproof fabric technologies used by several brands:

Gore-tex

The magic of GORE-TEX has to do with a material called expanded polytetrafluroethylene (ePTFE), which is closely related to the Teflon™ coating on your frying pan. W.L. Gore and Associates, the company behind GORE-TEX, produces a mind-bogglingly thin (10 micron) laminate made of this stuff, which has about 9 billion tiny, tiny holes per square inch of material. These holes are big enough for water vapor molecules to pass through, but not liquid water. The strong attraction between liquid water molecules makes them bunch up into spherical droplets and roll off a shell’s face fabric, rather than pass through the ePTFE membrane.

eVent

eVent is another ePTFE-based membrane that was originally used in industrial smokestack filters. BHA Technologies, the original maker of eVent, figured out a (trade secret) way to apply a protective coating to the individual ePTFE filaments while leaving the empty spaces between them open. Theoretically, eVent should be more breathable than competing GORE-TEX or other house-brand technologies. Some anecdotal reports suggest that this is the case, but is it a night-and-day difference? Not really.

DWR

DWR stands for durable water repellent. Your jacket will need to be treated with DWR every so often to maintain its waterproofness. Read more about how to do that here and keep yourself dry.

Water droplets bead on a blue shell jacket

The water beads right off instead of saturating the jacket.

Fit

Each brand’s ski/snowboard jackets fit a little differently. Arc’teryx and Mammut tend to be more form-fitting while jackets from The North Face and Flylow are on the baggier side. If you like to layer up, consider going with a loose-fitting jacket. Is form-fitting more your style? Look for a snugger fit (but not too snug – you want to be comfortable!)

At the end of the day?

Try jackets on! Choose one that has the features you want, the right fit, and will suit all your winter adventures. Feel good and have fun!

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