There's good reason to get the right jacket. Several, actually. If what you're wearing isn't warm and windproof enough, you could end up shivering on long chair rides. Too much insulation or not enough venting and you risk overheating, which can be unpleasant (sweaty) or worse (soaked through and frigid). And if your coat isn't sufficiently water- or blizzard- proof, you could find yourself stuck in the lodge on a stormy day when you should be plundering powder in the trees. So which jacket is right for you? Depends where—and how—you ski. To find the best options for every kind of resort riding, we shook out 40 new jackets at half a dozen spots, from bitter Jackson Hole to warm and wet Whistler to high and dry Taos.
BEST FORr: Wet-weather resorts
THE TEST: Trew knows dank conditions — it's based in Oregon. The Cosmic's ($395) burly, breathable fabric didn't wet out or show any signs of a season slashing through the woods. The hemline is extra long for added protection, and the ape-length sleeves shed slop. It's loosely cut and a bit heavy but ready for the sidecountry with large pit zips, exterior chest pockets accessible above a pack's waist belt, and dual mesh interior pockets to store skins, snacks, or gloves. One quibble: the hood isn't big enough for some helmets.
THE VERDICT: Overbuilt and tough, like a pair of sturdy work pants.
Mountain Hardware Compulsion 3L
BEST FOR: Ultimate protection
THE TEST: One of the main objectives of the uninsulated, waterproof-breathable Compulsion ($650) is keeping you dry from the inside. It's the most breathable and vent-able jacket here: the pit zips are the best we've seen—situated toward the front to reduce underarm bulk and protected by a storm flap to keep snowfall out. Two gaping mesh-backed chest pockets double as vents for hiking uphill. But as one tester noted, it also has "serious wet-weather chops," with a long hem and a cavernous hood to shed water like a tend fly.
THE VERDICT: If you're just as likely to be skiing in all-day blizzards as bootpacking for untouched snow, this is your jacket.
BEST FOR: Looking stylish for less
THE TEST: The Galaxy ($250) contains a constellation of features, including mesh-backed chest vents, a powder skirt, and wrist gaiters. And the long and loose cut doesn't just look cool—it also helps keep out moisture and allows total freedom of movement. A thick layer of synthetic insulation and a high collar kept us toasty even on windy 20-degree days in Jackson Hole. So what's the catch? The fabric doesn't breathe well, and the seams aren't sealed, so while the Galaxy held off average snow- fall for hours, it eventually got soggy.
THE VERDICT: Impressive performance for a fraction of the price. Stick to drier-snow resorts.
Patagonia Rubicon Windstopper
BEST FOR: Going from slope to stool
THE TEST: Water-resistant, moderately insulated soft-shell Gore Windstopper fabric makes the Rubicon ($349) quiet and gives it a casual drape. "It fits like an all-mountain sweatshirt," said one tester. It's also surprisingly techy, with articulated arms and a host of resort-friendly features, including a Recco reflector, a powder skirt, and huge pit zips. A layer of synthetic Primaloft Eco insulation is thick without being bulky, and it's warm for the weight; it worked well even after days of nonstop Oregon drizzle.
THE VERDICT: Technical enough for the resort, low-key enough to wear around town.
Helly Hansen Mission
BEST FOR: Rocking bells and whistles
THE TEST: The waterproof-breathable Mission ($400) sports the H2 Flow system, a grid of silver-dollar-size polka dots punched into the sheet of back-panel insulation. The design is supposed to keep weight down without sacrificing warmth and cool you off quickly when you vent the jacket. In short, it works: the Mission was plenty warm enough on a frigid day at Whistler and quick to cool down after boot-packs. Testers liked the zip-off hood, the quiet and stretchy shell fabric, and luxuries like wrist gaiters and a tethered goggle wipe.
THE VERDICT: Go with the Flow.
BEST FOR: The most brutal cold
THE TEST: Not only does the waterproof-breathable Macai ($850) look and fit better than your average down-insulated ski jacket, but it also does a much better job of managing moisture. That's because the design wizards at Arc'teryx did two things. First, each packet of toasty 850-fill feathers is wrapped inside a thin layer of synthetic insulation to absorb any loft-dampening perspiration. Second, the areas most likely to wet out with snowmelt — wrists, collar, hood, and hem — are insulated with synthetic stuff instead.
THE VERDICT: The best-fitting, most weatherproof down-insulated resort jacket we tested.
Next Up: The Best Women's Winter Jackets of 2014