Sports active: good gear: skiwear Warm and cool

They've got to perform, but style's important too. Simon O'Hagan checks out the latest snow lines

It can get lonely out on the mountainside, a bit scary even. That's when your gear needs to become your friend. And I don't think one could have a more rewarding relationship with any bit of kit than the one I enjoyed with my Helly Hansen insulated Echo jacket.

Like a true loved one, it kept me warm and seemed to have thought of what was good for me before I'd thought of it myself. An inner lining prevented the snow going up my back when I fell. A rubber-and-Velcro wrist buckle did the same job for my arms. It was roomy, but cosy; the first time I put it on it felt a part of me.

Above all, though, the Echo is a triumph of pocket design. Ease of access to pockets is crucial when begloved hands are struggling with poles and skis. Two outer breastpockets provided it without the need to unzip the jacket itself. A small, neat inside pocket was home to my ski pass. Further pockets, inside and out, added to one's options.

For fast skiing, the Echo might feel a bit bulky. But for those times when it's cold, or you're having to stand around, you wouldn't want to be in anything else. It's part of the HH Substance range - "where stretch fabric combines with style for maximum movement and flexibility".

In fit and feel, comfort and movement, my Helly Hansen insulated vertical pant scored just as highly. The main difference between men's and women's skiwear is style and shape. Women's jackets will typically be tapered around the waist, with slightly shorter sleeves and no chest pockets.

The pounds 169.99 Blanca jacket, a mid- to upper-range model from Swedish firm Peak Performance, comes in pale blue or pink with grey, with high- performance features such as Thermolite insulation, a basic hood stowed in the collar, a waterproofed outer shell and taped-sealed seams to minimise water leakage. It's sufficiently stylish to wear off the slopes, and warm and waterproof enough for cold days.

Cross-country skiers will find insulated jackets too warm and limited in mobility; they should look at water-proof shells, such as the superb new Sidewinder range from Arc'teryx. Crafted from Gore-Tex XCR, the women's Side-winder jacket has contoured sleeves and body, a built-in avalanche transceiver, a snow-skirt and hood. The catch? It retails for pounds 345.

Peak's Anatomic ski pants proved comfortable and effec-tive. Although few women find high-waisted ski trousers flattering, Anatomic trousers will at least keep you warm and dry. They're well-made, with tough hems for durability, Thermolite insulation and contoured knees allowing downhillers a good range of movement. Again, cross-country skiers will be better off with insulated tights or a lightweight shell.

In general, it's always worth paying a bit extra for good-quality skiwear: the higher quality of little details, such as the zips, means it will last longer than just a season and perform better.

Peak Performance Blanca Jacket

Hi-tech comfort with style for women: Thermolite insulation, hood in collar, tape-sealed seams. Stockists: 0800 056 0127, www.blacks.co.uk

Price: pounds 169.99

Helly Hansen Echo Jacket

Top marks all round: warm, well-designed, great pockets. Stockists: 0115 960 8797, www. hellyhansen.com

Price: pounds 200

Peak Performance Anatomic Pant

Cosy waterproof women's trousers with contoured cut and adjustable waist. Stockists: 0800 056 0127, www.blacks.co.uk

Price: pounds 149.99

Helly Hansen Vertical Pant

Relaxed-fitting cargo pant. Also available in slim fit. Stockists: 0115 960 8797, www. hellyhansen.com

Price: pounds 80

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