I recently replied to a post on Facebook asking is expensive ski gear worth the cost? People seemed to like my detailed reply. So I have turned it into an article about buying pricey jackets for skiing and snowboarding and what the extra investment actually means.
As a snow sports writer I test a lot of winter gear. I regularly put jackets, trousers, gloves, thermals and midlayers etc through their paces in the harshest of weather. This includes testing cheap, mid range and top end gear. I can normally tell the difference in quality very quickly regardless of whether it has a price tag attached!
More expensive skiing equipment is that price for a reason. It uses better performing materials, they are normally lighter more waterproof, more breathable and more robust than cheaper ones. This makes them better but also more expensive.
However, ‘better’ gear for me might not be ‘better’ for you.
Because of my job I don’t have the luxury of picking the days I ride. I snowboard all day whatever the conditions as I need to test the gear in well… every condition. Often I am only in a resort for a few days and need to experience as much as I can, so I can’t sit in a pub or take a spa day if the weather is poor.
That said, I am one of those people that is on the mountain come rain, sunshine, blizzard or minus 30°c anyway. So for that reason. I need peak performance from the kit I wear. So I would be buying pricey jackets for skiing and snowboarding anyway (because that is what I need).
However, even cheaper gear in general is quite good these days. Certainly a lot better than 20 years ago. But all gear fails after a while – even Gore-Tex. The difference is how soon your jacket starts letting moisture in, or stops letting your sweat out. Expensive ski jackets keep performing for a lot longer and lower quality gear fails sooner.
I personally look for 20,000 mm or more waterproof and 20,000 g/m² or more breathability. Anything less than that I consider it to be good weather gear only. That is not to say that a 10,000 waterproof jacket won’t keep you dry during a blizzard, it might depending on how wet the snow is, how long you are out in it and many other factors.
But a 20,000 waterproof jacket will last significantly longer than a 10,000 waterproof ski jacket in the same conditions. I want to say it will last at least twice as long, however I don’t think there is a simple formula particularly as gear performance deteriorates with age. But on the whole better gear protects you for from the elements for longer.
Every time you hit the slopes you are gambling your gear against the conditions. The stake is not just the outlay of your winter sports clothing but the entire cost of your skiing holiday. The prize is you staying warm, dry and comfortable and having a great time on the slopes.
If you lose you get wet and cold. This might just make you uncomfortable, but it could end your day early or ruin it completely. In extreme circumstances getting wet on the inside if your jacket can lead to hypothermia, which can be a life threatening situation.
Think of it this way, if you buy a lottery ticket the chances of winning are very low. But betting on something specific you have a better chance of winning. So a Kiwi rugby fan is better betting on a sportsbook in New Zealand than on US baseball. The right ski kit for the conditions is like gambling on your specialist topic and gives you a better chance of ‘winning’.
Skiing or snowboarding for longer, in poor conditions, wearing cheaper or older gear reduces the odds of you staying dry. Winning the EuroMillions has astronomical odds, it is like skiing in jeans and t-shirt and expecting to stay warm dry and comfortable. Higher quality gear stacks the odds in your favour, you might still lose occasionally but most of the time you will win.
Gore-Tex is not the only top quality waterproof material. Futurelight by The North Face, Infinity Pro by Helly Hansen, Analogy by Nikwax/Paramo all do an excellent job, as do materials by other brands. If a top brand says its gear is 20,000 waterproof (or something equivalent) you can trust it to keep you dry in terrible conditions.
The problem is you need to pay big bucks for the top tech. Is it a rip off? No it is worth every penny when you are in the situation that warrants it. Can you buy cheaper that does the job? Yes most of the time you’ll be fine in something half as good, particularly if you don’t ski or snowboard for long in poor conditions.
One final thing to consider is that buying pricey jackets for skiing and snowboarding means they last longer. Expensive ski gear is more robust, they are better made using more advanced materials. If you maintain it right with Nikwax or similar then you can get years of wear out of expensive gear while cheaper kit will have been replaced multiple times.
For example, I have two expensive Trew snowboarding jackets that are a decade old. They have now been relegated to mountain biking and gardening. Not because they are no longer waterproof or breathable but because I have newer jackets that I prefer. Quality gear lasts, cheap normally does not.
Now it is worth clarifying that top quality ski jackets do not have to be bank account bustlingly expensive. Lower price brands such as Montec, Dare2B and Trespass, plus many others, have gear which is around 20,000 breathable and waterproof. And it often costs less than half the price of premium brands with similar specs. So is it any good?
Yes these top of the range ski jackets by cheaper brands are good. They are significantly better than the lower end products by the same brands. However, they are not as well made as the pricey ski jackets from premium brands. Materials are lower quality, they are often noticeably heavier and typically they don’t last as long.
But they are fine if you ski for one week a year. Your jacket will last long enough for you to feel you have got value from it. And if you wear a cheaper high quality jacket all day in bad weather it will probably keep you warm and dry.
However, it won’t last a decade of hard wearing. Things like stitching, zips, toggles, Velcro and poppers will deteriorate or break sooner on cheaper gear. But on expensive ski gear things are less likely to go wrong – and if they do the brand will replace it no questions asked.
So is expensive ski gear worth the cost? Yes it certainly is but only if you need that level of protection and longevity.
If you are not going to be skiing or snowboarding all day everyday whatever the conditions, then you don’t need top spec from a top brand. And if it will take you ten years to reach 60 days on the slopes then you don’t have to worry so much about the longevity of your kit either.
So when buying pricey jackets for skiing or snowboarding consider whether you need top of the range. If you aren’t touring or splitboarding, spending all day in the backcountry, skiing whatever the weather or riding 25 plus days a season then you can get away without buying expensive ski gear.
Please read these tips to buy a ski jackets for more information about what to look for when buying a coat for winter sports.