If the above sounds hyperbolic, I get it. Ski pants aren’t glamorous. We don’t even have a page for them in our Winter Buyer’s Guide.
But good pants are arguably more important than a good jacket. They need to be just as warm while being chafe-free, and nailing the right fit is hard. And that’s what my favorite winter bottoms of all time, the Black Diamond Mission, get so right.
Two years ago, I tested ski pants for a Gear Guy piece, and the top-shelf Mission came away as my favorite. These pants are so versatile that I’ve used them countless times—whether waiting 40-plus minutes in the cold for first chair on a pow day or huffing and puffing while skinning up a local peak in spring conditions. Part of the secret is the burly three-layer Gore-Tex that’s hearty enough to insulate yet dumps heat with smartly placed vents. There are more-breathable pants out there, to be sure, but none that I would ever be comfortable getting caught out in a storm with.
For a hard shell that doesn’t stretch, the Mission moves with me both climbing up and skiing down. Black Diamond accomplished the rare feat of articulating the leg in such a way that the pants don’t ever bind up on me or restrict my movement. The gaskets at the ankles are another of those nuanced details that Black Diamond nailed. On most pants, these are usually too loose and let pow in on deep days or too tight and make adjusting boot buckles hard. The Mission’s are just right, and zippers at the base of each leg only make boot access easier.
One of my other favorite features is the special pocket that Black Diamond designed to hold a beacon. Having your beacon in your pocket is safer than having it on a strap around your chest—but that’s only true if the pocket is built correctly. Black Diamond’s “Pieps pocket” is at the perfect spot for me to grab the beacon quickly in an emergency—and it’s sturdy enough to not tear open if I get caught in a slide.
And now the kicker: These pants aren’t cheap. At $449, the Mission pants cost $150 more than my local ski pass at Mount Ashland, in Oregon. But I stand by them in the face of that steep price tag. My pass usually pays for itself within the first month of winter, and I would argue that these pants have paid for themselves after two hard winters of use. I plan to keep using them for the next decade. So, over the life of the pants, it amounts to about $38 season. That’s a pretty good deal to me.