Choosing the right ski jacket is all about managing the conditions that you might encounter on the mountain. This depends on the specific kinds of skiing you enjoy most—skinning up a sunny ridgeline in the North Cascades is far different than bracing against a Nor’easter on a lift in Maine. Some people prefer a shell for the versatility, and some prefer a bit of insulation to keep the cold at bay. Budget seekers like the all-in-one functionality of a 3-in-1 jacket, which comes with a separate insulating layer that can be zipped into the shell. We’ve included all three in our picks for the best ski jackets of 2017-2018 below. For further guidance, see our ski jacket comparison table and buying advice below the picks. And for more on outerwear, see our article on the best ski pants.
Best for: Resort and backcountry
Insulated: Yes (thin fleece backer)
Weight: 1 lb. 8.3 oz.
What we like: Premium build quality, fit, and performance.
What we don’t: Doesn’t use high-end Gore-Tex Pro.
Arc’teryx dominates the high-end jacket market, and their Sabre jacket is an all-time favorite for those who ski both the resort and backcountry. It has a proven 3-layer Gore-Tex construction with the bonus of a soft fleece backer for a little extra warmth and comfort. Add in pit zips, a highly adjustable and helmet-compatible hood, and 5 smartly designed pockets, and you have an extremely well rounded jacket that’s ready to handle anything from a lengthy ski traverse to arctic blasts of wind and snow on the lift.
In terms of fit, ski shells are prone to feeling bulky and cumbersome, but the Sabre nicely balances range of motion with enough space for easy layering. The only downside is that you don’t get Gore-Tex Pro at this price—that requires stepping up to the $699 Rush. All in all, those who tour exclusively may want a more backcountry-specific piece like the Patagonia PowSlayer or Outdoor Research Skyward below, but you won’t find a better all-rounder than the Sabre. It offers an unbeatable combination of comfort, build quality, weather resistance, and fit.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Sabre See the Women's Arc'teryx Sentinel
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (80g PrimaLoft Black)
Weight: 2 lbs. 3 oz.
What we like: Stretchy shell fabric and great insulated design.
What we don't: Can be too warm on mild days.
For resort skiers, the Alpha 3.0 from Helly Hansen is an excellent jacket option and a good value. First, you get a moderate level of PrimaLoft Black insulation in the body and sleeves for more warmth than a non-insulated hardshell. It’s enough to take the sting out of a chilly ride up the chairlift but won’t overwhelm you on the way down. Second, the jacket offers really nice movement with 4-way stretch fabric and no-nonsense athletic fit. Rather than incorporating a few stretch panels into the jacket, Helly Hansen uses the 4-way stretch throughout. Finally, we love the design of the Alpha 3.0, which is super clean, works well for people of all ages, and is offered in a variety of colorways.
What are the shortcomings of the Alpha 3.0? Breathability lags behind the backcountry-focused shells on this list as a result of the 2-layer build and emphasis on warmth (the pit zips do help, however). The jacket does have a snap-out powder skirt and Recco reflector, not to mention the stretch mentioned above, but it’s definitely most at home inside the ropes. Lastly, we like the price of the jacket for what you get. It’s less than half the cost of the Arc’teryx Macai below, for example, but still covers all the bases for resort skiers.
See the Men's Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 See the Women's Helly Hansen Alphelia
Best for: Backcountry and resort
Weight: 1 lb. 3.3 oz.
What we like: Premium performance.
What we don’t: Overkill for average resort days.
Sitting atop Patagonia’s impressive line of ski shells is the PowSlayer. The Arc’teryx Sabre may be the top hybrid jacket, and the Alpha 3.0 may win out for the resort, but the PowSlayer is a favorite among active backcountry and sidecountry explorers. It’s outfitted with Gore-Tex’s top-of-the-line Pro construction, which breathes as well as upstarts like Polartec’s Neoshell or eVent, and the premium materials do a nice job mixing weight and durability. For 2017-2018, Patagonia has made a strong environmental push by updating the face fabric with 100% recycled nylon without any noticeable impact on performance.
The smaller features of the PowSlayer also are thoughtfully designed and made to last: zippers are smooth and confidence inspiring, and an innovative cord locking system is user-friendly and keeps clutter to a minimum. With a total of 8 pockets (5 outer, 3 internal), Patagonia didn’t skimp on organization despite an impressively light total weight of just over 1 pound 3 ounces. Simply put, the PowSlayer may be overkill for the resort, but it’s the whole package for serious weather and the backcountry.
See the Men's Patagonia PowSlayer See the Women's Patagonia PowSlayer
Best for: Backcountry and resort
Type: Hybrid hard/softshell
Weight: 1 lb. 10 oz.
What we like: AscentShell delivers on its promises; full-length side/pit zip.
What we don’t: A couple fit and finish issues.
In-house fabric technologies often fall short, but Outdoor Research’s AscentShell is an exception. The Skyward is the second model we’ve tested with AscentShell—the first being the excellent Realm rain jacket—and it performed flawlessly through a full season of backcountry and occasional resort use in last year’s seemingly endless supply of fresh snow. The fabric stretches like a softshell, is extremely breathable with an air permeable design, and is fully waterproof. To top it off, the Skyward has plenty of interior and exterior pockets along with a unique side zip that opens poncho-like from the hem to bicep. You simply won’t find a better-tuned jacket for staying cool and comfortable on the mountain.
What are you giving up at the Skyward’s $350 price point? Build quality is a step down from the ridiculously high attention to detail that you get from the Arc’teryx Sabre and Patagonia PowSlayer above, and the OR jacket has a couple small annoyances like the main zipper sometimes catching along the hem. In addition, the AscentShell fabric doesn’t have the batten-down-the-hatches feel of the Gore-Tex options, but it didn’t let us down even in high winds and heavy snow. All in all, the Skyward’s breathability, massive side vents, and feature set makes it an excellent all-in-one backcountry and on-piste shell... Read in-depth review
See the Men's Outdoor Research Skyward See the Women's Outdoor Research Skyward
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (PrimaLoft ThermoBall)
Weight: 3 lbs. 0.3 oz.
What we like: Nice fit and quality ThermoBall insulation.
What we don’t: Heavy and relatively cheap 2-layer shell.
You typically turn to a 3-in-1 jacket as a means to save a little cash, so the $349 price of The North Face ThermoBall Snow Triclimate may come as a bit of a surprise. But it’s a classic case of getting what you pay for. Most 3-in-1 options are excessively bulky and lack any real shape, but The North Face is nicely fitted even if you decide to leave the insulating layer at home. And the jacket comes with premium features like pit zips for regulating your temperature. The real savings, however, is in the ThermoBall synthetic insulating piece, which we've found does a pretty good impression of a lofty down jacket—all while continuing to insulate when wet.
If you’re set on the 3-in-1 design, the ThermoBall Snow Triclimate is our favorite option on the market, but we typically prefer the versatility of separating our jackets and midlayers. The extra zippers and heft that come with this kind of outer layer make them not as comfortable and with less freedom of movement. More, you have to stick within the North Face ecosystem if you want to use a different insulating layer for more or less warmth (non-North Face products likely won’t zip into the shell). But the ThermoBall Snow Triclimate provides two quality jackets with relatively few compromises, making it a solid value for resort skiers.
See the Men's TNF ThermoBall Triclimate See the Women's TNF ThermoBall Triclimate
Best for: Backcountry and resort
Weight: 1 lb. 0.2 oz.
What we like: Versatile shell with proven performance.
What we don’t: Missing some ski-specific features.
Arc’teryx’s Beta AR hardshell isn’t designed exclusively for skiing, but it’s a very legitimate option nonetheless. It has everything we love and expect from an Arc’teryx jacket: it fits great, is bombproof with its Gore-Tex Pro materials, and the lightest model on this list at 1 pound (no wonder it’s ranked number one in our hardshell roundup). This versatile jacket is fantastic for backcountry use, but isn’t out of place on a resort day with its strong weather protection and layering-friendly cut.
What do you give up with a non-ski-specific shell like the Beta AR? To start, you don’t get features like a powder skirt for deep snow days or interior drop-in pockets for climbing skins. And the length is a little shorter than many ski jackets, although it offers sufficient coverage for our tastes with a slight drop hem. On the plus side, this streamlined design makes it light and packable, plus it’s functional for much more than just skiing. Thinking of it as a single shell answer also makes the typically steep Arc’teryx price of $575 a lot more appealing.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Beta AR See the Women's Arc'teryx Beta AR
Best for: Backcountry
Weight: 1 lb. 2.7 oz.
What we like: Softshell breathability and stretch.
What we don't: Not completely waterproof.
For long tours in mild conditions, a softshell jacket is more breathable and has better stretchiness than a traditional hardshell. Dynafit’s Chugach is our top-rated softshell for this kind of backcountry use with its lightweight, breathable construction, and competitive price. Made with two types of softshell fabrics, the Windstopper material blocks out wind and moisture, while a thinner Dynastretch softshell lets out hot air and repels water with a DWR coating.
The hybrid build means it won’t wet out as quickly as a pure softshell, but it’s still not ideal in the kind of wet snow that you often find in places like the Pacific Northwest. And while the 18.7-ounce weight is great for mobility, the thin fabrics aren’t as durable as we’d prefer for mixed use and on-trail skiing. If, however, you spend your time on the skin tracks and turning in fluffy powder, the Dynafit Chugach has a winning recipe of mobility and high-output performance.
See the Men's Dynafit Chugach See the Women's Dynafit Chugach
Best for: Resort and backcountry
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
What we like: Tough with excellent build quality.
What we don't: Heavier and less streamlined fit than an Arc’teryx.
In only a few years, Black Diamond has gone from the launch of its apparel line to being a big-time player. Their leading ski jacket is the Mission, a tough but comfortable non-insulated Gore-Tex shell that takes aim in price and intent with alpine favorites from Arc’teryx and Patagonia. Fit and finish certainly stack up well with smooth zippers and nice touches like a tricot-lined collar for next-to-skin comfort, and the 3-layer Gore-Tex performs as expected with fantastic weather resistance.
In comparing the Mission to a multi-use jacket like the Patagonia PowSlayer, the BD has a looser fit and weighs quite a bit more, so it’s less of a backcountry piece. The upside is the brushed lining along the interior of the jacket does make it less crinkly than the PowSlayer, and it’s a little more in-bounds friendly with its durable 70-denier construction. For an aggressive skier that mostly sticks to the resort and wants a bomber shell—and doesn’t want to join the sea of Patagonia and Arc’teryx jackets—the Mission won’t disappoint.
See the Men's Black Diamond Mission See the Women's BD Mission
Best for: Backcountry and resort
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
What we like: Softshell feel with waterproof protection.
What we don’t: Not everyone will like the roomy fit.
Taking the softshell design of the Dynafit Chugach above a step further, the FlyLow Gear Higgins has a 3-layer waterproof/breathable construction with full seam taping. Designed for alpine touring, the jacket has 6 pockets, a large helmet-compatible hood, and a long cut that offers plenty of coverage. The softshell build also makes it an impressive breather—although the waterproofing does fall short of the Dynafit—and pit zips increase the Higgins’ usability on the uphill.
Where isn’t the FlyLow Higgins ranked higher? Depending on your preference, the fit can be a little loose and not quite as comfortable on long tours. We prefer the performance cut of the Dynafit above for the uphill, but the comfortable shape of the jacket doesn’t compromise much in terms of range of motion and isn’t excessively bulky on the descent. If you like the fit and prefer the quiet and comfortable feel of a softshell jacket, the Higgins deserves a serious look. An added bonus: the FlyLow undercuts the Dynafit in price by $50.
See the Men's FlyLow Gear Higgins See the Women's FlyLow Gear Vixen
Best for: Backcountry and resort
Weight: 1 lb. 6.1 oz.
What we like: Very comfortable for a hardshell jacket.
What we don’t: No pit zips.
Patagonia’s hybrid softshell/hardshell Reconnaissance has been discontinued for 2017-2018, but it has been effectively replaced by the impressive new Descensionist. As the name implies, this jacket is a strong downhill performer with great protection, an adjustable powder skirt, and a low-profile shape that won’t get in your way. But it’s also a good all-rounder with some stretch built into the fabric and a breathable 3-layer construction (in fact, Patagonia claims it’s their most breathable waterproof jacket on the market). The Descensionist’s 50-denier face fabric is a little on the thin side, but it’s still strong enough to handle most skiing adventures.
Why does the Patagonia Descensionist end up with a mid-pack finish? The primary reason is the lack of pit zips. For a jacket with backcountry ambitions that touts its breathability, it’s odd to us that you don’t have the option to quickly open the vents to dump heat (this also was an issue with the old Reconnaissance). Even the most breathable fabrics need some help in mild temperatures or if you’re really working hard. But outside of the lack of pit zips, we think the Descensionist is a great all-around design that gives the Outdoor Research Skyward above a real run for its money.
See the Men's Patagonia Descensionist See the Women's Patagonia Descensionist
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (750-fill down; 60g and 100g synthetic)
Weight: 2 lbs. 3.1 oz.
What we like: The ultimate on-piste jacket for cold weather.
What we don't: Double-take-worthy price.
You can’t start a discussion of the Macai without first acknowledging its price: Yes, this jacket really costs $925. It’s the most expensive jacket on this list by far. What you get for that large sum of money is an absolutely glorious resort piece. The Macai is warm, super comfortable, fits great, and has the first-rate build quality that Arc’teryx and very few others companies offer. For resort skiing and particularly in cold places, the Macai is the cream of the crop and should last you for many seasons to come.
Warmth and insulation comes courtesy of Down Composite Mapping, a technique Arc’teryx also employs on their popular down jackets like the Cerium LT. Premium 750-fill goose down is distributed around the core and sleeves to keep weight and bulk to a minimum with synthetic insulation in areas most prone to getting wet like the underarms, cuffs, and collar. The result is lofty warmth that can keep you comfortable in truly frigid conditions. As with the Sabre above, it’s a wonderful fitting jacket with excellent range of motion, is easy to layer underneath, and stays in place. If you put in a lot of days on the slopes and want a jacket that is ready for anything and made to last, we recommend the Macai.
See the Men's Arc'teryx Macai See the Women's Arc’teryx Andessa
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (150g and 100g synthetic)
Weight: 2 lbs. 7.6 oz.
What we like: Impressive warmth for frigid days on the slopes.
What we don’t: May be too insulated for some.
The warmest jacket by a good margin on this list is the Patagonia Rubicon. With a full 150 grams of synthetic insulation in the body and 100 grams in the sleeves, the jacket has enough insulation to supplant a standard midlayer. Skiers in places that can get frigid, like the Rocky Mountains, will appreciate the synthetic insulation in the Rubicon, although it does limit its use when venturing out of bounds or on warmer days. And that’s really the main downside to this piece. For the price, you get a water-resistant front zipper, and the synthetic insulation will continue insulating if moisture happens to get through the tough shell and lining. Its 2.5-pound weight isn’t that excessive either, considering the amount of insulation. For those needing maximum warmth, the Rubicon is an excellent choice.
See the Men's Patagonia Rubicon See the Women's Patagonia Rubicon
Best for: Backcountry
What we like: Freeride-ready design.
What we don't: Long and roomy fit is polarizing.
The Helly Hansen Ridge Shell isn’t designed for casual skiers, and instead is a performance piece for those that really like to push the envelope. The term “Freeride” quickly is becoming ubiquitous in the industry, referring to off-piste skiing that often involves hiking, deep powder, big drops, chutes, and jumps. For these kinds of folks, Helly Hansen created the Ridge Shell. It’s lightweight, breathable, and virtually the entire feature set is geared for the backcountry.
The Ridge Shell has a relaxed fit that freeskiers prefer. It’s built to unobtrusively accommodate a backpack with pit zips and pockets that fall above and below a hipbelt strap. Helly Hansen even included detailing like contrasting bright colors on the brim of the hood and zippers to make you more visible through your wake of flying powder (or in heavy snowfall and bad light). One thing to consider is that the thin fabrics are designed to make uphill journeys easier but aren’t ideal for cutting in-between trees or the wear and tear that can happen at the resort. More, not everyone will love the long and roomy fit. But if freeskiing is your specialty, it’s hard to beat the Ridge Shell.
See the Men's Helly Hansen Ridge Shell
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (60g and 80g synthetic)
Weight: 1 lb. 11.4 oz.
What we like: Stretchy design at a good price.
What we don't: Bulky and entry-level features.
The Offchute from Outdoor Research may look like a typical insulated resort jacket, but it comes with a twist: softshell-like stretch built into the outer shell. Typically, this form of construction is found on high-end pieces—Helly Hansen uses it in the $450 Alpha 3.0 above—but OR pulls off full waterproofing with a comfortable and quiet construction for under $300.
For obvious reasons, the rest of the build is pretty standard fare and there are a few compromises. For one, the center zipper isn’t water-resistant, so you have to seal it off with a flap. And despite the excellent mobility, the jacket is rather bulky. Part of the reason for the bulk is its synthetic insulation, and with a mix of 60 and 80-gram fill, you can leave behind the down sweater on all but the chilliest days.
See the Men's Outdoor Research Offchute See the Women's Outdoor Research Offchute
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (60g 3M Thinsulate)
What we like: Loads of resort-specific features.
What we don’t: Polarizing looks and limited availability.
Spyder may not have the same presence on the hill as in years past—at least from our anecdotal experiences—but the proud ski brand still puts out a quality product. For 2017-2018, we like their Chambers jacket, which is a solid mid-range resort option. You get a stretchy polyester shell that moves fairly well, moderate 60-gram 3M Thinsulate fill, and little touches like an integrated goggle wipe. There isn’t anything that makes it vastly superior to the competition, but the Chambers is plenty competent for downhill use.
Beyond the bold spider logo, the men’s Chambers and women’s Project jackets have somewhat polarizing looks. Depending on the color choice—there are some wild greens and pinks—the styling is aggressive and most people likely will love it or hate it. Availability also can be an issue with the Spyder brand, with many online retailers only carrying a small selection (although Spyder’s own site is user-friendly and often runs free shipping). But if you like the brand’s styling and want a solid resort shell, the Chambers and Project are worth a look.
See the Men's Spyder Chambers See the Women's Spyder Project
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (700-fill down)
Weight: 2 lbs. 7.8 oz.
What we like: Down-filled puffy with ski shell features.
What we don’t: Too warm for season-long use.
With the style of a belay jacket but all the features you need in a ski shell, the Marmot Shadow is an intriguing cold weather option. The jacket is stuffed with quality 700-fill down for cozy warmth on frigid days, and you get a powder skirt, plenty of pockets, and a waterproof shell on the outside. Marmot also beefed up the exterior in high wear areas like the shoulders and sleeves for greater tear protection. If you like the idea of skiing in your favorite puffy (we’re thinking of you East Coasters), the Shadow is a fun and functional design.
The Marmot Shadow does come with its fair share of downsides, however. For one, this is a really warm jacket and won’t be usable all season long for most folks. More, the non-reinforced panels aren’t as tough and it’s good to be careful around sharp ski edges or poles. All in all, it may not have the wide appeal of the models above, but for down warmth at a reasonable price, the Shadow is hard to beat.
See the Men's Marmot Shadow See the Women's Marmot Sling Shot
Best for: Resort
Insulated: Yes (fleece)
Weight: 2 lbs. 5.4 oz.
What we like: Affordable way to get out on the slopes.
What we don’t: Cheap construction and generic fit.
The essential duties of a resort jacket are to keep you warm, protected from moisture and wind, and have enough pockets for the basics. Columbia’s answer to these needs is the Bugaboo Interchange, a 3-in-1 ski jacket at a very attractive price point. It’s warm with a fleece zip-out jacket and Columbia’s signature (and somewhat polarizing) Omni-Heat reflective lining. The silvery interior is a little too disco for us when we slip it off, but it does feel like it’s working by radiating your body heat.
We’ve found the basic shell and lining does impact breathability, and a lack of pit zips means the Bugaboo can run hot. More, the material quality isn’t up to snuff compared with the options above and will likely have a shorter lifespan. But on easy resort days coast to coast, this is all the jacket that most weekend warriors need. For a similar insulated design without the removable liner, check out Columbia’s Alpine Action.
See the Men's Columbia Bugaboo See the Women's Columbia Bugaboo
|Arc'teryx Sabre||$625||Resort/backcountry||Yes||Hardshell||1 lb. 8.3 oz.||Yes|
|Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0||$450||Resort||Yes||Hardshell||2 lb. 3 oz.||Yes|
|Patagonia PowSlayer||$699||Backcountry/resort||No||Hardshell||1 lb. 3.3 oz.||Yes|
|Outdoor Research Skyward||$350||Backcountry/resort||No||Hard/softshell||1 lb. 10 oz.||No|
|TNF ThermoBall Triclimate||$349||Resort||Yes||3-in-1||3 lb. 0.3 oz.||No|
|Arc’teryx Beta AR||$575||Backcountry/resort||No||Hardshell||1 lb. 0.2 oz.||No|
|Dynafit Chugach Windstopper||$400||Backcountry||No||Softshell||1 lb. 2.7 oz.||No|
|Black Diamond Mission||$599||Resort/backcountry||No||Hardshell||1 lb. 12 oz.||No|
|FlyLow Gear Higgins||$350||Backcountry/resort||No||Softshell||1 lb. 9 oz.||No|
|Patagonia Descensionist||$449||Backcountry/resort||No||Hardshell||1 lb. 6.1 oz.||Yes|
|Arc’teryx Macai||$925||Resort||Yes||Hardshell||2 lb. 3.1 oz.||Yes|
|Patagonia Rubicon||$299||Resort||Yes||Hardshell||2 lb. 7.6 oz.||Yes|
|Helly Hansen Ridge Shell||$550||Backcountry||No||Hardshell||Unavailable||Yes|
|Outdoor Research Offchute||$285||Resort||Yes||Hardshell||1 lb. 11.4 oz.||No|
|Marmot Shadow||$350||Resort||Yes||Hardshell||2 lb. 7.8 oz.||No|
|Columbia Bugaboo Interchange||$175||Resort||Yes||3-in-1||2 lb 5.4 oz.||No|
- Types of Ski Jackets
- Ski Jacket Insulation
- Best Uses: Backcountry or Resort
- Common Features
- Layering Underneath Your Ski Jacket
Ski jackets can be broken into three main categories: hardshell, softshell, and 3-in-1. Choosing the right model depends largely on your skiing style and budget. The most popular is the hardshell, which encompasses everyone from casual resort skiers to backcountry adventurers in harsh, wet environments. Softshells are a growing ski jacket option and are preferred for ski touring in mild conditions, while 3-in-1 jackets are a great choice for budget seekers. Below is a quick breakdown, and for a deeper dive, check out our article on ski jacket types.
Hardshell jackets have a solid outer layer that protects you from wind and moisture, and can be suitable for both backcountry and resort use. Made with multiple layers of fabric laminated together, they are typically waterproof, windproof, and at least modestly breathable. Insulation is optional: some are a true, non-insulated “shell” while others have synthetic or down fill (insulation is covered in more detail below).
Price varies widely within this category. High-end hardshell jackets like the Arc’teryx Sabre have a Gore-Tex, eVent, or NeoShell laminate and tailored fit for excellent range of motion. Basic shells use thicker fabrics and cheaper waterproofing that doesn't breathe as well. Beginning and occasional skiers will be fine with an entry-level hardshell jacket, but those that get out a lot will likely appreciate the upgrade to a high-end jacket.
For high exertion activities like ski touring or sidecountry hikes, a softshell offers unparalleled breathability. As backcountry skiing grows in popularity, so too does the prevalence of these stretchy jackets. Their main downside is weather resistance, or lack thereof. Even with a hybrid design like the Dynafit Chugach, which incorporates windproof or waterproof panels and seam taping, they still aren’t as comfortable in wet snow or at the resort. For the right use and the right conditions, however, a softshell can be a fantastic performance piece. Those with a multi-jacket quiver typically have at least one softshell at their disposal.
With an outer shell and zip-in insulated layer, 3-in-1 jackets are extremely popular for casual skiers. The main advantage is cost savings: you can pick up a decent 3-in-1 jacket for around $200-$300, and it comes with a midlayer (most often a fleece or synthetic jacket that you can wear for everyday use). And unlike insulated models, you can leave behind the warming layer simply by unzipping it.
3-in-1 jackets do add bulk and weight with the extra zippers, and integrating the shell and insulating layer negatively affects range of motion. Also, you often end up with an inferior product (as the price would suggest). These jackets are far from the best performers in high exertion activities—opting for one with pit zips is suggested. Nonetheless, for the budget seeker or skier that only makes it to the mountain a couple times a year, a 3-in-1 like the Columbia Bugaboo Interchange is a good way to get kitted out for a reasonable price.
Comfort ranks highly for resort-goers, and to help make cold chairlift rides more tolerable, many skiers opt for a hardshell jacket with insulation. Choices in insulation come down to the classic debate: down vs. synthetic. Down will give you premium warmth with less bulk, while synthetic is cheaper and will outperform down should moisture make its way through the lining. Arc’teryx opts for the best of both worlds in their Macai jacket, which uses down in the core and synthetic in areas prone to moisture—that includes your own sweat—like the underarms and hood. Insulated jackets add a little bulk and they impact range of motion more than when layering with a separate midlayer beneath a shell. But for those that run a little cold or ski in frigid climates on-piste, an insulated jacket is a popular way to go.
Ski jackets often are designed for a specific purpose—resort, backcountry, or a mix—so we’ve included a “best for” listing in our specifications. The vast majority of skiers spend at least a little time on a chairlift, and as a result, most ski jackets accommodate those needs. Specifically, a resort shell should be durable, at least partially wind and water proof, and have a fit that can accommodate layers of varying sizes underneath. Insulation is optional for resort-goers but a bad idea for backcountry use.
For ski touring, mountaineering, or sidecountry hikes, a non-insulated and lightweight design takes precedence. The fabrics need to be thin and packable, which impacts durability, and there is a high priority on technology. Softshell jackets lead the pack in breathability, but for heavy wind and moisture, a premium hardshell still is best. Fit does vary by use—freeride shells are roomy while touring-specific designs fit more snugly—but all designs focus on mobility. The jackets that toe the line of backcountry and resort use have a great fit, good enough durability, and fabrics that are impervious to the wind and wet but still ventilate. It’s a tall order and requires ponying up a large sum of money, but we’ve found that Arc’teryx puts it all together better than anyone else.
Ski jackets are waterproof pretty much across the board, from cheap $100 options all the way up to high-end Gore-Tex (or equivalent) shells. One exception is a backcountry-specific softshell, which may have seam taping but will eventually let in moisture. Dirt is the enemy of waterproofing and breathability, so as long as you take good care by washing them on occasion, expect to get many seasons of use. Spending more will get you a longer lifespan, on average, as the more advanced fabrics aren’t as prone to deteriorating. Also, look for a jacket with a DWR (durable water repellent) coating, which helps shed wet snow to keep moisture from sitting on your jacket and wetting through the outer fabric.
Breathability ranks as a top priority for backcountry use, and a little less so with downhill skiing. While you can absolutely work up a sweat on your way down the mountain, it’s easy to dump heat with pitzips or dropping a layer at the resort midday (so long as you can survive the chairlift ride minus some insulation). Shell jackets are the best breathers, and those with a high-end 3-layer fabric construction (Gore-Tex, eVent or Polartec NeoShell) are head and shoulders above the rest for waterproof jackets. Generally, the more you spend for on a hardshell, the better the breathability. Softshells are the all-around leaders because they don't have to deal with the waterproofing layer, but the clear downside is wind and water resistance.
For resort skiers, the weight of your ski jacket isn’t usually a deciding factor. As long as you’re comfortable, it’s easy to handle a few extra ounces without really noticing (even the 3-pound North Face ThermoBall Snow Triclimate isn't excessively heavy for the typical ski day). On average, cheaper jackets compensate for their less advanced fabrics by using more of it, making for thicker, durable shells. It’s when you start hiking or venturing off-trail that a lighter jacket starts to make a lot of sense. This is when a dedicated, lightweight hardshell may be the ideal choice for your skiing needs.
Most hoods go unused for downhill skiing—a beanie and/or helmet is a better source of protection and insulation. It’s most often on the chair lift when you really need to hunker down does the hood come out. For those particularly nasty days, make sure to get a hood that is large enough to fit over your ski helmet. And not only does it have to be large enough, but it also needs to be plenty adjustable to cinch down and stay pinned to your head while skiing. A properly adjusted hood should not interfere with your field of vision as a good safety measure. Finally, should you want to use your ski jacket for more than just skiing, ensure that your hood fits well when you’re not wearing your helmet.
Unless you ski with a backpack, a jacket with multiple pockets is essential. Most ski jackets include a couple of hand pockets and at least one zippered napoleon pocket at the chest. That napoleon pocket is great for stashing smaller items like a phone, camera, or wallet. To protect your electronics, it’s good to have the chest pocket along the interior of the jacket so your body heat can help keep everything functioning properly (the chest pocket on the updated Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 is specially insulated to keep your electronics protected). If you listen to music while on the mountain, look for a napoleon pocket with an interior opening to feed your headphone cord for a clutter-free setup.
Mesh hanging pockets sometimes are built into the inner lining of ski jackets. These serve as a nice place to stash your gloves, goggles or glasses in-between runs or if you’re starting to overheat while hiking. And you’ll see the occasional sleeve pocket, which is a convenient spot for your ski pass.
Powder Skirts (Snow Skirts)
It's nearly impossible to keep the snow completely out should you ski through some really deep snow or take a serious tumble, but a powder skirt nonetheless is a great line of defense. Elasticized fabric is built into the lining of the jacket around the waist, and will typically secure to your ski pants near the front zipper. This helps snow from entering in the space between your pants and the bottom hem of the jacket. Some manufacturers make the snow skirts removable should you want to use the jacket around town.
Skiing can be a high exertion activity, and waterproof jackets, no matter the quality, restrict airflow. Enter the pit zip. Open them all the way, extending from approximately the middle of your ribcage to just above your elbow, and you can release a whole lot of hot air. Although they’re not a necessity for the easygoing skier and do add a bit of weight and bulk, we recommend putting pit zips on the active skier's “must have” list when jacket shopping.
Some expensive shell jackets list a RECCO reflector as a feature. These are for skiers that make their way out of bounds or into areas prone to avalanches. The RECCO reflector built into your ski jacket or pant is a passive unit that doesn’t require batteries and can be picked up by RECCO detectors often carried by resort search and rescue. They lack the technology and strong signal of a dedicated search and rescue beacon, but they do provide an additional safety measure should you venture off-trail.
Unless you opt for a 3-in-1 jacket, you’ll likely want a dedicated midlayer for skiing. The amount of insulation can vary dramatically, from a thin fleece to a puffy down jacket. Fleece jackets are the classic choice for skiing, and can be quite warm and lightweight, but they are bulky. Down is the pricey option but is unmatched in lightweight compressible warmth (just make sure to keep it dry because it will stop insulating when wet), and synthetic fill splits the difference. For more on midlayers along with top picks, see our article on the best midlayers.
Baselayers and their next-to-skin warmth are important in keeping you toasty and dry. A breathable and well-ventilated jacket will only perform as well as the baselayer underneath, so don’t skimp here. Synthetics, like those made by Patagonia or Under Armour, are comfortable and breathe well at a reasonable cost. The downside is they are less soft and more prone to retaining unpleasant odors. Merino wool is expensive, but excels in temperature regulation and odor prevention. On all but the coldest days, our go-to baselayers are the lightweight or midweight options for a good balance of warmth and breathability.
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