Technical skiwear-apparel specifically designed to protect against the elements and regulate your body temperature-often has more advanced features than some of the equipment reviewed in this Buyer's Guide. Yet only about one in five skiers actually uses technical apparel. "You'd think the best skiers would always wear technical clothing, but even very good skiers seem to be hit and miss," says Ray Howell, sales manager for Phenix Sports, which outfits both the U.S. and Canadian freestyle ski teams.
So do you really need technical apparel? That depends on how and where you ski. If you ski mostly groomers and take numerous breaks, then you can get by without it. But if you ski from the milk run to the last chair in a variety of conditions or head into the backcountry even just once a season, then technical skiwear is a worthwhile investment.
When shopping, look for apparel that is waterproof and breathable so you stay dry and comfortable. The breathable part is just as important as the waterproof aspect, because, while you want to keep water out, you also need to release some of the moisture that condenses inside your jacket when you perspire. Gore-Tex, Activent and Entrant are all popular waterproof/breathable treatments. Jackets and pants with ventilation systems, such as pit zips, will also help control your temperature, while sealed seams and adjustable cuffs will prevent water from seeping in.
Skiers who want versatility should consider a layering system, such as Phenix's Trio Jacket (shown above), which features a removable vest that can be worn separately. A fleece-lined collar with a chin protector not only insulates your neck but also prevents chafing from a cold zipper. A detachable hood prepares you for changing weather conditions, while a powder skirt prevents snow and wind from blowing under your jacket.
A technical jacket will cost from $300-$700. But it will keep you out on the hill longer and last longer, too.
The key is to think of your apparel as part of your equipment. Talk to a knowledgeable salesperson at your favorite ski shop to determine the most important features and best options for you. In the meantime, here's a breakdown of the anatomy of a technical ski parka to get you started.