A few years ago, while riding Chair 5 at Mount Baker, I witnessed a brief but beautiful expression of skiing. And no, it wasn’t the typical softness of powder, cliff, road swerving and trampling that you normally associate with the talented locals of Mount Baker. This man was skiing on a groomer on the edge of out of control, an inch-wide goggle gap, a tattered jacket completely undone and flapping in the breeze, his mouth open in awe of his own speed.
Witnessing such a display would no doubt send plenty of base skiers straight to their phone’s camera in an attempt to share on @jerryoftheday. But I chose instead to take advantage of this moment and reflect: could this be the soul of skiing here? When you scrape away all the superficial stories of fashion, attitude, and one-upmanship in the afternoon, you get a glimpse of what skiing really is for people. And you can find it in any number of family hills in North America, at least those that have survived bad snow years and corporate absorption.
The people of Whistler, who have lived for decades, could get poetic about when the soul of skiing lived here, and while I thought that was the case for many years, the reality is that our station was founded on an Olympic dream, which lasted nearly 50 years. to achieve. The faded neon one-pieces were always going to have to make way for bright Bogner puffs by the time the Five Rings hit town.
While luxury skiwear brands tend to be the outerwear of the one percenter, the Whistler skier or snowboarder still puts a lot of emphasis on how they look on the mountain; jackets, pants and gloves that coordinate, seamless helmet-goggle integration, mid-layers that look striking on the après-patio.
Ahh, but true skiers and riders know how to shop for function AND mountain fashion, right? Enter premium Gore-Tex clothing, where for a small fortune you can have one of the best performing (and arguably one of the best looking) jackets on the mountain. I believe these buys have their merits, not because of their color palettes, number of pockets, or dead bird logos, but because of their durability. If you’re still wearing a jacket 10 years later that’s had countless waterproof treatments and a few manufacturer repairs, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
I scoured different brands over the years once I realized my need for durable, reliably waterproof outerwear to get through a wet winter in Whistler. A seven-year-old Arc’teryx Alpha SV still accompanies me into the backcountry and will likely do so for a few more years, or until it sustains irreparable damage. My Patagonia PowSlayer pants aren’t that old, so I expect them to serve for a similar amount of time. These garments are designed for breathability and versatility in the backcountry, and while they work very well for resort skiing, there are a few features that a more resort-tailored ski suit could offer, especially since I’m starting to favor comfort for my on-piste skiing. days.
The answer came this winter when I tried out the Mountain Hardwear Boundary Ridge Bib Jacket and Pants. I still have an old pair of Mountain Hardwear Gore-Tex bib pants from around 2009 (which I eventually wore holes in) which I now use for snow removal around the house and other such heavy duty tasks . So I already had some experience with the brand and could trust the durability of their Gore-Tex clothing. The main differences with this kit that I’ve really come to appreciate is how much more comfortable this full bib is due to the four-way stretch fabric in the chest and back. I also feel a lot warmer in this suit compared to my backcountry kit, which I credit the backing fabric that lines the jacket and pants. On full Gore-Tex Pro technical garments (like my aforementioned Arc’teryx and Patagonia pieces), the backing fabric is a smooth surface designed for the best breathability and ease of movement when skinning and bootpacking. The Boundary Ridge kit comes with something they call “Loft Brushed Back Construction”, which is like a very lightweight mat. While sacrificing some breathability, I felt much warmer and windproof on a couple of -30°C ski days we experienced on the Arctic outing. The Lo Loft fabric comes with more friction, so I wouldn’t want it for a four hour approach on skin tracking to Wedge or whatever. But to hit the starter pack of the Spanky and First Tracks Husume, comfort trumps function in this case.
We all need to find the gear that works best for us in terms of fit and function. I’d give style a distant third priority, but that’s just me being practical. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Veilance (a high-end urban fashion sub-brand of Arc’teryx) selling a waterproof tote bag made from scrap Gore-Tex for $200. I don’t expect to see any around the Village Stroll anytime soon, but it’s a sign that, for better or worse, fashion trends are alive and well in skiing.
Vince Shuley received no compensation for his opinions in this article, and that’s how he likes it. For questions, comments or suggestions for The Outsider, email [email protected] or Instagram @whis_vince.