Every winter, Outside gathers a group of several dozen skiers to test new launches from all of the industry’s major brands before they hit the market. The best of each year’s test winds up reviewed in our annual Winter Buyer’s Guides. In 2020, that test took place at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. But while we were reviewing skis nonstop, we were also battering the latest apparel and accessories. It was gear testing intensified. Over four days, we tallied 160,000 vertical feet of descents—per person—while the weather gods delivered snow and brutal cold. To keep the testers comfortable, we only called in gear we could trust. Here’s how it fared.
Marmot Men’s Freerider Jacket ($485)
The Freerider is about as fully equipped as an in-bounds jacket gets. Two-layer Gore-Tex with an environmentally friendly (PFC-free) water repellent on the pliable face fabric keeps it waterproof and breathable; the hood is big enough to envelop a ski helmet, thanks to a unique zippered neck gusset; and extended pit zips let you dump hot air. Ample pockets and a storm skirt make it powder-day ready. Testers appreciated its athletic cut and and how unencumbered they felt wearing it on the hill. “Most of my fully waterproof shells are crinkly and restricting,” said one. “This Marmot just moves with you.”
Marmot Men’s WarmCube Featherless Hoody ($500)
This hooded jacket isn’t really made for everyday skiing, but everyone needs a versatile puffy that can be worn on extremely cold days of lift riding or thrown on for après. Instead of using down, which is a great insulator until it gets wet, Marmot’s new WarmCube technology employs Pertex-stuffed cubes stacked up like bricks as insulation. The cubes (which are only visible when you open the coat) will continue to keep you warm even if you’re caught in wet snow before happy hour; they also allow for amazing loft and impressive compressibility. We were glad our test piece arrived just before an arctic air mass spilled over the Continental Divide, putting us in the deep freezer for a week. We wore it standing around on frigid mornings, waiting for the lifts to start, and walking the ski village at night. It’s a perfect car-camping layer to boot.
Marmot Women’s Ventina Jacket ($350)
We’re all about hard shells for skiing, but on the coldest days, it’s tough to beat the comfort of an insulated jacket. Marmot’s Ventina delivers, with a seam-taped, water-resistant face and just enough synthetic to retain body heat without overheating. A full array of features—the helmet-compatible hood, a powder skirt, chest and hand pockets, two-way zippers, pit zips—kept us comfortable during long days riding lap after windy lap. This garment is cut to cover the butt, which is nice on chilly lift rides, and stretchy cuff guards seal out snow and icy gusts.
Scott Symbol 2 Plus D Helmet ($220) and LCG Compact Goggles ($200)
We’ve required helmets at Outside ski tests for years. For the past few seasons, we’ve gone with Scott’s wares. Why? Skiers get accustomed to their helmet and goggle systems, and it’s no fun testing skis in stuff that doesn’t work right. Scott’s Symbol Plus helmet and lens-change goggles (LCG) offer seamless helmet-goggle compatibility (no gaper gap) and a fit without pressure points. More upsides include special inserts in the Symbol 2 Plus D to reduce the impact of slow-speed hits. And the LCG Compact goggles come with Scott’s Illuminator Blue Chrome storm lens—still one of the best low-light lenses we’ve ever run.
Hestra Sarek Ecocuir Gloves ($150)
Skiers in the know have relied on Hestra gloves for decades. They fit a million times better than those hardware-store statement pieces, while also allowing for supple articulation. You can unzip a jacket with them on. At our test, this dexterity comes in handy when filling out review cards, which every tester has to do on lift rides in between laps. The styling is timeless. And if you buy a pair with a removable wool liner, like the Sarek, and dry the liner separately each night, they’ll never stink like those overbuilt, plastic-rich ski gloves of your childhood. Better still, the Ecocuir features cowhide that’s cured without nasty chromium and the toxic wastewater that the standard process creates. “I own a couple pairs of Hestra products—mitts and now the Sarek gloves,” said a tester. “These are heirloom-quality items that I take pride in maintaining with warm beeswax. I hope my grandkids will ski in them someday.”
Leki Spitfire Vario 3D Pole ($150)
Adjustable-length poles aren’t just for backcountry skiers. With the Spitfire Vario 3D, you can shorten the shaft to save your shoulders in the bumps or for traverses, extend them when you’re skating across the flats, remove the basket and elongate one pole as an emergency probe, and even loan your poles to a friend. They’re also perfect for kids, since the Vario can grow along with them up to adulthood. Our testers also love the secure but easy-to-change baskets that let you go aerodynamic on groomer days or float in soft snow.