Skiers warm up to lightweight fashion

It's a classic movie scene: The youngest son in the 1983 film "A Christmas Story" is stuffed in a bulky snow suit, with scarf upon scarf wrapped around his neck, to fight off the cold.

"I can't put my arms down!" he whines.

Decades ago, similar scenes played out at ski slopes all over as people layered puffed-up coats atop turtle necks and wool sweaters in an attempt to stay warm, compromising comfort and style. But thanks to advancements in outerwear technologies, outdoor activewear now comes in better fits and provides an improved shield against bitter temperatures.

"In the past, a heavier feel was associated with warmth and protection," said Michiel Roesdi, outerwear design director at Lands' End. "We're shifting."

Developments in down and other synthetic insulators have helped brands create coats that are lighter in weight yet greater in warmth. Some fibers used now as fillers are so thin they barely can be felt if placed in one's hand, Mr. Roesdi said.

"That's how light it is, but at the same time it gives you the same protection."

Lands' End lets people pick how much warmth they want by creating categories of down pieces, each varying in heft and protection. Water-repellent fabrics also keep coats from getting damp in snow and slush. Improvements to fleece plus a partnership with Polartec fleece also have enabled the brand to increase the coziness of its designs.

Some selections from Columbia Sportswear use a person's body heat to keep them toasty on the slopes. The brand's omni-heat reflective technology reflects a person's body heat back to them, yet coats are breathable enough not to trap perspiration.

"It allows us to bring those slimmer silhouettes, less bulk and keep you even warmer than ever before," said Fred Dennis, Columbia general manager of outerwear.

But being too warm isn't good either. Special fabrics now can wick sweat, and ventilation features such as pit-zips work to keep people from getting overheated.

Versatility is another growing trend in ski apparel, allowing clothes to transition from the slopes to the street. Coats with removeable components such as hoods and powder skirts make them more wearable in daily life. Some include zip or snap-out liners that let wearers make the coat lighter or warmer, depending upon the weather or the season. Technology pockets designed to keep cell phones and other small electronics safe and dry also make outerwear more modern and practical.

For kids, Lands' End's line of "grow-a-long" coats have sleeves that can be extended by an inch and a half by removing a seam. As a result, most children can wear the same coat for more than one winter without outgrowing it.

Ski apparel also has taken on a more stylish side in recent years, even boasting its own fashion week in Aspen, Colo., for a few seasons. High-end designers such as Marc Jacobs and Maison Martin Margiela also have churned out their own ski-inspired collections.

"Styling is faster, colors are brighter and the fabrics and constructions have improved," said L.L. Bean outerwear product developer Brent Vanni.

Some brands have found ways to combine casual looks and materials with more high-tech activewear features. For instance, a luxe wool peacoat can incorporate active insulators for added warmth, or a wool piece can be trimmed with nylon for a sportier aesthetic.

"It's fun to see the trends," Mr. Roesdi said. "Now the options are endless."

Sara Bauknecht: or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

Join the conversation:

Commenting policy | How to report abuse
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Commenting policy | How to report abuse


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?