The next wave of skiwear is poised to invade your closet. Designed for comfort and versatility, new soft-shell garments look and feel different from anything you've ever skied in. Because they stretch, soft shells have a close-to-the-body fit without restricting movement. Their technical fabrics -- including Schoeller Dynamic and Skifans, and Malden Power Shield -- block wind and resist water. (These fabrics first appeared in high-end mountaineering garments, where performance, durability, and light weight are not negotiable.) Soft shells are not completely waterproof -- in a deluge, you'll eventually get wet -- but they breathe so much better than traditional waterproof-breathable shells that you'll probably feel drier anyway. In fact, it's this shift in thinking, away from waterproofness and toward breathability -- and thus comfort -- that really sets this new school of clothing apart from the layering systems you're used to.
A soft shell can take the place of a light fleece (soft shells insulate) and a laminated "hard" shell in a traditional layering system. Only in extended wet storms would you need to pull a truly waterproof shell out of your pack. Most likely, your soft shell will become the one garment you grab nine times out of 10 to wear hiking, cross-country skiing, and running around town. That's partly because of technical merit, but also due to soft shells' comfort and undeniable fashion appeal. Now you can wear something that does it all and looks cool, too.
Click on KINDER, GENTLER SKIWEAR: THE PRODUCTS in the related slideshows at right.