Ski jackets have long benefited from trickle-down technology: the features developed for serious backcountry shells work just as well when you’re huddled on a wet chairlift. This year there are more excellent options than ever. To whittle our initial list down to these seven, we spent a season skiing both sides of the ropes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We tried jackets with everything from an aerogel fill, developed by NASA and said to be the best insulator ever made, to a new design that features overlapping down baffles. The difference between enjoying a powder day and warming up in the lodge often comes down to what you’re wearing—it’s worth investing in quality outerwear.
Gear of the Year
The supple Rethel is hands-down the most comfortable ski jacket we’ve ever tested. Imagine your favorite sweatshirt, but built to shred. A soft shell with synthetic insulation in the torso and arms plus stretchy fabric along the sides, it offers fantastic mobility and a stellar warmth-to-weight ratio. Arc’teryx kept the design blessedly simple by slimming down the powder skirt and putting diagonal vents over the ribs, which cool remarkably well for their size.
Price $475 Versatility 5 Durability 4
Marmot Storm King
Best For: Spring slush.
The Test: Soft shells used to be restricted to mild days on the hill; they were comfortable and breathable, but they wouldn’t keep you dry. The Storm King can handle it all. Marmot embedded a Polartec NeoShell layer into the thick, fleece-lined fabric and taped the seams, making the jacket almost as waterproof as a traditional hard shell while offering much better breathability. The massive hood covered large helmets on blustery chairlift rides. Tip: zip off the powder skirt to shave a few ounces.
The Verdict: An overachieving soft shell.
Price $550 Versatility 5 Durability 4
Under Armour Nimbus
Best For: Rippers who run hot.
The Test: The Nimbus ditches standard pit zips in favor of 14-inch-long mesh-backed vents on the chest. Open them up when you’re skiing and it’s like having an air conditioner blowing right at your core. There’s also an ingenious zipper at the base of the collar that expands the hood to accommodate a wide range of large helmets. Pair those nifty features with bomber three-layer Gore-Tex Pro fabric and you have an exceptionally durable waterproof-breathable shell.
The Verdict: Equal parts clever and tough.
Price $599 Versatility 4 Durability 5
Black Diamond Mission
Best For: Skiing in a blizzard.
The Test: The Mission is built for the worst days on the mountain, with burly 70-denier nylon face fabric, a one-inch-long drop hem, and a massive helmet-compatible hood. Testers appreciated the 18-inch-long pit zips, which dumped heat in a hurry huffing up Jackson’s sidecountry boot-packs. The Mission happily does double-duty as a backcountry shell, with large internal mesh pockets that fit climbing skins for even the fattest planks.
The Verdict: Everything an expert needs, including seven pockets.
Price $599 Versatility 5 Durability 4
Faction Darwin Aerogel
Best For: Early adopters.
The Test: Faction filled the Darwin with a NASA-designed insulation called aerogel, developed to keep astronauts warm and comfortable in space. The ultralight, porous material is limited to just six of the jacket’s panels, but in testing we found it to be much warmer than a standard shell and just as waterproof. The Darwin earns bonus points for its soft, stretchy face fabric, supple wrist cuffs with thumb holes, and seven huge pockets designed to hold all the essentials.
The Verdict: High-tech armor for chilly days.
Price $569 Versatility 4 Durability 4
Helly Hansen Alpha 2.0
Best For: Cruising groomers.
The Test: If your ski day revolves around ripping down blue runs and hunting for fresh corduroy, this is your jacket. With plump PrimaLoft insulation wrapped in a soft, stretchy, waterproof exterior fabric and trimmed with a cozy fleece-lined collar, it’s as plush a coat as you’ll find on the slopes. Bells and whistles for resort skiing include a tethered goggle wipe, a slick cable port for headphones, and a zip-off hood. The only downside to all this luxury? You end up with a heavier rig.
The Verdict: The ultimate deluxe downhiller.
Price $450 Versatility 3 Durability 3
Columbia Heatzone 1000 TurboDown
Best For: Surviving a night on the ski lift.
The Test: Most down parkas have cold spots at the seams where the baffles are stitched together. Not the Heatzone 1000, which stacks a second overlapping layer of fill above the first to eliminate the lines where heat can escape. The result: arguably the warmest ski jacket for its weight ever made. The 900-fill feathers, fortified by a thin outer layer of synthetic insulation, maintain their loft in the slop, while thicker fabric on the shoulders adds durability.
The Verdict: The toastiest jacket here. 1.4 lbs
Price $450 Versatility 3 Durability 3