by Mitch Weber
November, 2008-- Backcountry skiers who have been around
awhile know how sweet it can be to pull a lightweight puffy out
of the bottom of a pack when the afternoon suddenly turns cold,
and they need to get warm in a hurry. But few venture out with
the heavier synthetic or down-filled puffy parkas that have become
fashionable in recent years. In the backcountry, the layer system
works well in what is essentially an aerobic activity. Find the
right combo of layers for the temperature and the energy being
spent, and just keep going until you stop, then add a layer.
It's a formula that has stood the test of time.
But what about the layer system
for resort days?
Lift served skiing is anaerobic;
the morning usually begins with a cold lift ride, generally the
coldest of the day, followed by a heat generating blast down
to the bottom. As cold as you just were on the lift, you are
now just as hot, sweating as you try to open up some zippers
and cool off before that sweaty and clammy feeling really gets
going. If you don't cool off right now, you know you're going
to have that clammy feeling for sure, maybe even until lunch,
when you can shed a few layers and air out.
So you get your pit zips open, and
you unzip the front of the bombproof technical shell you're wearing-
the one that really is pretty neat in the backcountry, especially
in bad weather or when you stop and put your compressible puffy
on underneath- but for some reason, even with all those zippers
open, you don't find yourself cooling off much at all.
Is that a bead of sweat you feel
rolling down your back?
You pray the lift line is short,
and the wait brief.
You're cooking now, maybe even getting
a little cranky, and your multiple layers aren't allowing the
cool air to get to your skin, even where the zippers are wide
open. Short of "heading to the car to lose a layer"
(how many times have you heard someone say that?), there's not
much to be done about it.
Test of time, indeed!
Okay, this needs to be said: The
layer system flat out sucks for resort skiing.
All those people who told you differently,
well, let's just say they didn't do you any favors. They wrote
articles and produced resort TV segments and such, all recommending
the base layer / insulating layer(s) / outer shell approach.
You have to wonder: do these people even ski?
What doesn't suck for the
anaerobic, start and stop of resort skiing is a puffy.
Worn with a lightweight base layer
underneath, and nothing else at all, the puffy rules all.
On that first, morning lift ride to the top, you zip up, battening
down the hatches as needed.
When you get to the bottom, as usual,
you're breathing hard and warmed up to the point of beginning
to feel overheated, but now you can do something about it.
As you would with your shell in
the layer system, you unzip, but this time the cold air doesn't
have to penetrate layers of superheated fleece to get to your
skin. Immediately, your formerly fast- dampening base layer
turns cold, cooling your skin. It's as refreshing a feeling as
the clammy, sweaty shell was uncomfortable. You stop sweating
and the cold dry air quickly sucks away whatever slight amount
of dampness may have begun to build. It's almost impossible to
overstate how nice it is to be able to truly cool off at the
Shouldn't that be "Basic...
cold and wet uniform?"
Now you get on the lift and the
cold wind starts to cut. You zip up your puffy, and just like
that, you're warm again. Even better, you're dry. You wonder,
"why didn't I think of this sooner?"
Before long you realize that easy
and effective temperature control rules, and for area skiing
you won't be going back to the layer system. Not ever. Next,
you're probably gonna realize that you'll need at least three
kinds of puffy jackets and parkas: a lightweight, highly compressible
type, at least one medium weight model, maybe even more than
one mid-weight, since this will be the type you'll wear the most,
and of course an extra mondo-weight Michelin Man type puffy for
those certifiably gnarly cold days.
Next, in part two, I'll cover some
of the features Big Tim and I have come to appreciate in the
puffys we've tested, and I'll include a few mini-reviews of some
of our favorites.
After all, just because we call
this puffy love, doesn't mean it's not real!