This year I decided to upgrade my complete set of cold weather gear. As I'm sure everyone knows, the key to being happy and warm in the coldest of conditions is layering to meet your requirements. As a guy who occasionally walks to work in the winter and tries to get out snowboarding as much as possible, I wanted to make sure I could keep warm.
It was a tough decision because I've always wanted a Canada Goose jacket, which is by design a very warm, cold weather coat. The issue is that it seems like everybody and their brother have a Canada Goose and I've never been one to blend in with the crowd.
Instead, I opted for a much more technical solution for my outdoor gear. I went with a set of gear that absolutely had to be layered to be effective.
The starting point was a down sweater / mid layer that I fell in love with after being able to check out one that a friend of mine had acquired on a trip to Boston. TheNorth Face Summit Series Thunder Jacket is a perfect mid-layer and shoulder season outdoor jacket. This ultralight bad boy packs a lot of punch with 800 fill down. And since it is down, it is very compressible so you can wear it or easily stow it in your pack if you know that you will be seeing temperature fluctuations. While it is available in a variety of colours, I went for the standard winter black to draw any extra heat possible from the sun when not using my shell. This jacket is actually the piece of gear that I got the most use of through this winter so the price tag of $300 is well worth the investment.
For my shell, I decided on the Arc'Teryx Stingray Jacket in Blue Sky colour. I knew going in that I wanted lightweight and waterproof so I was buying GORETEX no matter which shell I chose. After trying on a bunch of different brands and styles, the Stingray was the clear winner. It had the best range of motion in the arms without having a bunch of extra fabric at your sides. Then I did a little research. I've been looking at Arc'Teryx backpacks for a long time so I know the brand quite well. One or their hallmarks is a special waterproof type of zipper. This shell uses that zipper everywhere.
I later learned that the shell is also great as a fringe season rain coat. Water just seems to bead off of this thing. And with my propensity to take some pretty impressive tumbles on the hill, I'm thrilled that I didn't have rips or scrapes in the fabric.
On the hill or off the hill, this jacket adjusts to fit your needs. The hood has special adjustments to fit a toque or a full helmet. The helmet cover was a godsend while sitting in the wind at the top of the chairlift at Tremblant this year.
I picked up a great helmet, made by the folks at Protec. I knew that I wanted to ride with a helmet this year after taking a couple of solid smacks in the head last season. In the off-season I got really lucky at a sample sale to find a model with built-in headphones! The functionality is such that you have volume control and an instant mute without removing your gloves or mitts. At first I was pretty nervous about the distraction but, on low volume, its a really nice touch.
For gloves, I went with another layered solution. As a base, I turned, once again, to North Face for their Power Stretch glove. This is a comfortable, moisture wicking, everyday glove that is good on it's own for down to minus five celsius or so. It's also great for driving and going between meetings. They are thin and easily fit into almost any pocket.
For cold weather, I opted for a set of Kombi Mitts that I picked up at Blue Mountain. They have just enough room for the base gloves and are virtually wind-proof. I've never been warmer on the slopes.
I've also added a Tilley Endurables Montana winter hat. It's a felt hat with a built-in ear warmer so it's both stylish and functional!
Combining the Tilley hat with the Thunder Jacket with the Danner Striker II boots that I bought last year is a look that I affectionately call "The Urban Cowboy". I think it's brilliant, but my wife absolutely hates it!
The one weakness in my system is a lighter base layer to use with the shell for days that aren't too cold, but I want to snowboard. If anything, the Thunder Jacket is too warm on all of the greatest mountain days. I got away with using a golf windbreaker as a base, but I need something better. I'm considering a North Face Summit Series base layer, but need to do some more research before I decide.
Now that the end of the season has come I only wish I could have gotten out snowboarding a few more times.