Westcomb Switch LT Hoody
Best for backcountry
When hauling around a dozen pounds of avy gear is on the itinerary, we reach for the sub-two-pound, waterproof Switch LT Hoody. Its cavernous chest pockets easily stash a pair of climbing skins and are high enough to stay clear of your pack’s waist belt. Plus, it’s cut from Polartec’s NeoShell, which is stretchier, softer, and more breathable than any waterproof hard-shell fabric we’ve encountered. The jacket breathes so well, we were able to shoulder our skis through notoriously damp Whistler sidecountry without having to stop and crack the pit zips (though they came in handy on spring hikes).
Best for aerobic pursuits
The Cristallo is like a lot of breathable soft shells we’ve tested, with one critical distinction: the nylon wind- and water-resistant face fabric is bonded to a merino wool layer, not fleecy polyester. We were skeptical about taking the piece on fast-paced adventures, since wool doesn’t wick as well as synthetic fabrics. No problem, though. To shed some weight and improve functionality, Ortovox strategically allocated the material— a thick layer in front to help retain body heat, and less in the arms and back, which increased breathability. Worn over a synthetic base layer, it was great for everything from backcountry skiing to nordic excursions to winter training runs.
Columbia Aerial Arson
Best for wet resorts
For those days when the storms come in so warm that there are puddles on the chairlift, Columbia’s Aerial Arson hard shell has your back, literally: it’s cut long enough to provide a critical panel of protection between you and that soggy seat. Of course, how well it breathes is just as important. While it’s too bulky for sidecountry excursions, the Arson effectively shunts heat thanks to chest vents, pit zips, and Columbia’s Omni-Dry fabric. For colder weather, a space-blanket-like layer of heat-reflecting metallic dots in the liner adds warmth.
Nau Down Load
Best for slope-street crossover
Beneath the Down Load’s slim tailoring and sleek look lies a serious ski parka with an environmentally sound heart. The textured (and recycled) polyester-and-organic-cotton outer layer feels more like a men’s suit than a technical fabric, but it adhered to the waterproof-breathable membrane and shed snow and even rain like the best of ’em. The seam-sealed shell is backed by puffy 650-fill down insulation, fortified by wide zipper flaps, and stocked with features like a storm skirt, an interior goggle pocket, and cuffs that easily slip over bulky ski gloves. Bummer: the hood cinches only two ways and is too small to fit over a helmet.
Arc'teryx Venta MX Hoody
Best for sunny resorts
Unless you’re skiing in the soggy Pacific Northwest, a completely waterproof jacket is overkill. A highly water-resistant, fleece-lined soft shell like the Venta MX, which has taped seams, offers more than enough protection. While really wet storms will eventually overwhelm it, the Venta MX’s Gore Windstopper fabric had no problem shedding drier fluff in Utah and Colorado. Come spring, it’ll vent heat via 16-inch pit zips. And because it’s softer, quieter, and stretchier than a typical hard shell, it was one of the most comfortable jackets we tested this year.
FlyLow Gear Ice Man
Best for cold resorts
The warmest here, Flylow’s jacket is your cozy Michelin Man camping puffer wrapped in a bombproof raincoat. On a day when howling winds and windchill temperatures near zero eventually shut down Jackson’s lifts, the Ice Man lived up to its name. With a high collar and generous amounts of lofty 700-fill down throughout, including in the helmet-compatible hood, it let us hunker down and keep skiing after most of the group had bailed for the lodge. The only extras you need—huge pit zips, four well-placed pockets, and a removable powder skirt—seal the deal.