Posted by: Feet Banks
When Pip Brock made the first ski descent of Whistler Mountain back in 1933 he likely did it in a wool sweater and leather boots, so any jacket you buy in 2014 will be a huge improvement. The tricky part will be narrowing down your options.
Whistler has dozens of ski/board/outdoor shops carrying everything from a $4700 limited edition mink-and-leather ski jacket to the hottest new Gore-Tex Burton pullover to a plastic bag with armholes and the vintage Blackcomb logo printed on it. For quality and selection there really is no better place in the country to shop for a winter coat.
Of course, the tricky part is not finding a good jacket, it’s finding the right jacket to suit your needs. No single jacket is perfect for skiing deep pow, hiking for fresh turns, withstanding alpine winds, repelling valley sleet AND looking super swanky at après. As a buyer, you need to figure out where you want to stand on the ever-sliding scale of fashion vs function and find the jacket that works for you. And it’s not hard, even that fancy mink-and-leather number (aka The Clarrisa Fur) comes with a goggle-pocket and a powder skirt. It’s a buyer’s market so we hit the cobblestones of Whistler Village recently to bring you:
The Insider’s Guide to Whistler Winter Jacket Shopping
NOTE: More information on technical jacket terms and the science behind waterproofing, breathability and warmth is provided below.
Firmly entrenched in the working class, The Insider had no idea just how luxurious jackets can get. “We have Bogner jackets ranging in price from just under a thousand dollars all the way up past $7000,” says Liv at Can-Ski, Whistler’s top spot for high end shoppers. “Bogner is so out there and original looking, it attracts women who want something more feminine and form fitting.”
That sounds great for après but can you ski in it? “A lot of people swear by it,” Liv says of the longstanding German brand. “But none of it is seam sealed.” Not ideal for Coast Mountain storm season perhaps but Bogner remains the top selling luxury brand in town year after year.
Other popular high end selections available at Can-Ski (be sure to check locations in the Upper Village and Creekside too) include Mountain Force, who are gaining popularity with their slightly more tech-focused offerings (don’t be fooled though, they also make a $380 cashmere toque). Or check out Kjus, another high-end Euro brand doing interesting things with their insulation and venting – some Kjus jackets include rigid panels of wax that will absorb and hold body heat. Others have nifty wrist vents that work the same as rolling up your sleeves while also schussing fresh air up the arms to the torso to cool off the torso.
Canada Goose parkas, famous for their warmth in Arctic conditions, are still huge sellers but totally inappropriate for on-slope action. “People will still ski in them,” Liv says, “but these are rated to -25 celsius.” Any kind of hiking or exertion and you’ll be drenched in your own sweat.
LEFT to RIGHT: The Clarissa Fur from Toni Sailor, Frauenschuh with fur hood add-ons, and the always popular Bogner.
Much of Can-Ski’s super fancy inventory is also limited edition. There are only 30 of those Toni Sailer Mink-and-leather Clarissa Fur jackets available worldwide (and the Can Ski at the base of Blackcomb has four of them, get 'em while you can).
“Limited edition is big,” explains Claire, another Can Ski expert. “We are the only store in BC to carry the Frauenschuh line.” With clean looking design and a price tag somewhere around $1200-1500 the Frauenschuh’s are a comparative steal (the rabbit-fur hood will set you back an extra $800 though). Interestingly, a lot of the top brands, including Bogner, are selling their fur trim separately.
“A lot of people are not into fur these days,” Liv says, “so you have the option of leaving it out.”
On the other end of the spectrum, hard core skiers and snowboarders could care less about limited edition or whether farmed Finnish fox is considered ethically sourced. These jacket buyers want waterproof, breathable jackets that will keep the winter out and the warmth in (until they start hiking to get more fresh tracks, then they want to let that warmth out). The good news for the gear/tech-obsessed is that Whistler has flagship stores from all the top “core” mountain brands:
A Vancouver company done good, some Arc’teryx jackets are still made just down the road in Burnaby, BC. Also, everything from this brand is perfectly designed for the exact kind of mountains and conditions Whistler offers. Their shells are legendary for the ergonomic design but hot this winter is the Veillance Trenchcoat, an about-town garment with clean lines and all the best Arc’teryx technology.
LEFT to RIGHT: Arc'teryx Veillance Coat, Patagonia Nano-Air, The North Face Nuptse
The best thing about Patagonia is they make incredible outerwear and always have. The other best thing is the entire company is committed to putting the planet before profits. Their corporate responsibility practices are industry leading. The hot Patagonia jacket this winter is the Nano-Air Jacket. Designed as a breathable, stretchy insulation layer for on-mountain antics, this one also doubles as a lightweight, weather-shedding jacket for après or walking around the Village.
A brand doesn’t get this big unless you make good stuff and The North Face’s down jackets are legendary. New this year, the classic Nuptse jacket has been slimmed down but still maintains that deep, lofty 700-fill goose down warmth. One of the coziest shops in town, they have a whole floor of kids jackets too.
Colour Blocking is back this year and Peak Performance has big bold colours on fabrics that are reportedly 5 times stronger than steel. Check out the Heli Pro outfit and the new Vectran fabric for proof. The tech qualities perform and those loud colourful jackets look far less “out there” up on the ski hill surrounded by all that white pow.
Stretch fabics are big this winter at Helly Hansen as a way to increase jackets’ range of motion without added bagginess. New this winter, Helly Hansen’s Odin Mountain Jacket ($700) is the complete package for mountain travel and thanks to the stretch shell it actually becomes more breathable the more you move around. Smart. Hansen has two stores in Whistler Village.
LEFT to RIGHT:Peak Performance Heli Gravity, Helly Hansen Odin Mountain Jacket, Spyder Avenger Kids Jacket
Fun For Kids
Whistler's only clothing store dedicated solely to children, Fun for Kids says that Spyder jackets are always hot sellers because kids think spiders are cool. (and I guess they kind of are.)
Of course, you can snowboard in any of the jackets listed above but Snowboarding deserves its own category because snowboarders approach the concept of on-hill style much differently than the ski industry does. And this is a good thing.
“Large fits are in for jackets this year,” says Dee, manager and buyer at Showcase Snowboards. “Girls are wearing guys stuff, long fits are in. And camo… camo is still hot.” Of course it is.
In another throwback to the early 90s, pullover style jackets are making a resurgence. “All the big brands offer a pullover,” Dee says, “but Burton/Analog make the only full Gore-Tex one.”
Other hot buys include CLWR Colour Wear, a new brand offering waterproof, breathable fully seam taped jackets for around $379. “It’s great tech for the price.” As well, the Airblaster Sasquatch Collection are super tech and unique to Showcase.
LEFT to RIGHT: CLWR, Airblaster Sasquatch, Fjallraven
Another popular item is the Fjallraven parkas. They look great at après or hanging in the Village,” Dee says, “but they are well built and warm too. People are loving these.” Fjallraven is a Swedish company making big moves in Whistler this year with luxury garments at a price point your average rippers can still afford.
Over at The Circle, Whistler’s other longstanding institution of radness, the boys recommend the Nike Aeroloft Kampai jacket. With 800 loft down and a 20K rated Ripstop shell it provides both warmth and weatherproofing and the "thermoregulation" perforated lining really helps heat and moisture escape when you turn the shredding up to 11. The good thing about The Circle is the staff usually use or have used everything on the shelves. “This is what I ride in. It’s light and warm without looking puffy and weird. And it only comes in black.”
Making sense of all the numbers, ratings and ratios can be a bit overwhelming when shopping for a jacket. As well, testing processes and standards seem to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Luckily, the staff in Whistler shops are experts and they can help explain things better than any blog post can. But even so, we had to try.
WATERPROOF – 10k or 20,000mm or huh?
Generally (but not always) the waterproof number will be rated in the thousands (or k’s) of millimetres (mm). What this means (and this is so random it’s awesome) is that if you take a 1 inch by 1 inch square tube and place it over the fabric, you can fill the tube with water to this height before the weight of the water will push some through the fabric. So a 10k waterproofing rating means you could fill the tube with 10,000 millimetres of water before it leaks through. Basically, the higher the number the more waterproof your fabric is. It’s kind of random that this process uses imperial measurements (a 1x1 inch wide tube) combined with metric (millimetres) but that’s North American science for you. The basic rule seems to be that anything under 10k (10,000 mm) is not really that waterproof if you are dealing with of wet snow or rain and 20,000 mm seems to be as good as anyone can get. Registered Gore-Tex garments are always a safe bet.
BREATHABILITY– grams per metre per wha?
The reason we don’t just use totally waterproof rubber rain slickers is because our bodies also create moisture that needs to escape through our clothes to prevent us getting soaked from the inside. Do a 10 KM run wearing a green garbage bag if you want to see what I mean.
Breathability ratings are usually based on how many grams of water vapour can escape through a square meter of that fabric in a 24 hour period. As always, higher numbers are better and a 20K (20,000) g/m2 rating seems to be on the higher end of the breathability spectrum.
SEAM SEALING – what is it?
Water can penetrate the tiny needle holes in a jacket's seams so seam sealing is a process that runs either waterproof tape or glue over the seams to ensure moisture can't squeeze in. Jackets will be either "Fully Taped" with all seams sealed or "Critically Taped" where only seams on the high exposure areas like neck and upper torso are sealed. The more sealed the better though.
WARMTH – down or synth?
Staying warm is different than staying dry (although they are obviously related). Being warm is all about keeping warm air close to your body. Jackets can have insulation built in or they can just be a shell and the insulating layer is a separate garment. The latter is more diverse if you are going to be hiking or exerting yourself. The best insulation these days is either down or synthetic.
Down jackets and vests are rated on their “Fill Power.” This means an ounce of the down is placed in a standard graduated cylinder and however many cubic inches the feathers fill is the loft rating. For winter jackets it’s usually in the 300-700 range. To climb Mount Everest I’d look for 900+. Simple enough except to keep things interesting, the down from older ducks and geese actually have tiny little hooks on them that allow them to cling together better (and provide more insulation) so now source-goose age is a metric you can ask about (and some companies will be able to answer that).
Synthetic insulations are rated in “Gram Weights.” A 1 meter by 1 meter piece of the insulation is weighed and that is the rating, usually between 40-120 grams. Heavier weight = higher rating= more insulation. There are 8-10 main synthetic insulation brands and the best ones can be as warm as a 500-550 fill goose down garment.
Sounds like a lot to remember? Don’t worry, you can fall much deeper into the wormhole when you start investigating base layers and other warmth. Fleece vs polypro-vs wool vs ???? Just talk to the sales people in whatever stores you hit up, these kids are pros. And remember, Pip Brock did it in a knit sweater, so don’t be so soft and get up there where the good pow is.
(Huge thanks to EVO sports for their excellent Understanding waterproof ratings and breathability guides which served as an essential resource for this blog).