The man who skis all day

Fabrics cut from a different cloth

These are exciting times in the world of technical fabrics. No, wait; don't turn the page. This might seem a dry subject, and it is, literally. But protecting skiers and boarders against moisture is important – and, on occasion, a matter of life and death.

Since its launch in the late 1970s, Gore‑Tex has been the market leader in "breathable" fabrics. Last season, however, it faced its first serious challenge, from a new fabric made by Polartec, named NeoShell. Gore‑Tex has responded: in the spring it will launch what it calls "a new generation of fabrics", with a product which – according to one clothing manufacturer's test – is 22 per cent more breathable than its predecessor.

It is simple enough to produce garments that are waterproof, and often a thick plastic jacket will do the job nicely; but for anyone working up a sweat – a keen skier or mountain climber, for example – such a barrier keeps moisture in as well as out. What is needed is a fabric that will allow moisture out through a membrane into the air.

Seriously high-performance outdoor clothing is for climbers and athletes: almost constantly on the move, they need as much breathability as they can get. In snowsports, however, much of the day is spent standing in queues and sitting on chairlifts, and at those times it's important to conserve body heat. This is the arena for the battle between Gore‑Tex and Polartec.

Most of what I know about technical fabrics I've learnt from Dave Whitlow, a buyer of mountain clothing for the Ellis Brigham retail chain for more than 25 years. Using as a reference next season's Gore‑Tex fabrics, Whitlow went through the key options. The new, top-of- the-range "Pro" fabric, he says, is designed for intense activities such as climbing and back-country skiing: "breathable, durable and expensive, it is intended for mountain professionals and will be adopted by high-performance clothing manufacturers such as Arc'teryx".

Gore‑Tex Active is thinner and lighter, designed for runners and cyclists, whose energy output is continuous. It is not so durable, says Whitlow, "and Gore will police its use so that it is not used for backpackers' garments". The third fabric is the classic Gore‑Tex, used in soft-shell garments aimed at stop/start leisure skiers who sometimes work up enough heat and moisture to test the membrane, but who want to retain heat when sitting on lifts and relaxing.

That is where NeoShell comes in. Polartec says its fabric has a much more progressive, constant form of breathability, drawing even very low levels of moisture out through its membrane. Does it really work? Whitlow says he got good reports in its first season "but it hasn't been around long enough to know how durable its superfine membrane is". There remains a debate, too, about the fabric's wind-chill protection.

Heavy marketing by Gore and Polartec has put other technical brands in the shade, but Whitlow doesn't dismiss them. Garments made with the Entrant fabric are good, he says, and can be 20 per cent cheaper than the Gore‑Tex equivalent. It's refreshing to know that you needn't splash out on clothing. Indeed, if you overspend you could end up too hot or too cold on the slopes.

Ice-cool in the city

For the newest ski scene you'll want to wear something a bit sharper than technical fabrics. And anyway, conditions are rarely extreme in Kensington. The winter theme popped up in London a couple of years ago with the temporary Alpine Lodge on the roof of Shoreditch's Clubhouse and the earlier opening of the Ice Bar off Regent Street, but this season ski style is becoming a prominent part of the city's nightlife.

Piste opened in a basement in Soho's Archer last month promising that "this winter things will be going downhill", and its alpine-retreat décor included the familiar old skis and snowshoes. This week Bodo's Schloss, "an authentic Austrian alpine restaurant, bar and disco", opened beneath the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington; it has a DJ booth in a former ski-lift gondola and serves alpine-theme cocktails. And later this month in Bloomsbury the Montague Ski Lodge, featuring a ski rack, will re-open outside the Montague hotel (it made its debut last season).

It's hard to know what this is all about; and it's equally hard to believe that ski-themed basement bars can survive the summer.

Stephen Wood is executive editor of Condé Nast Traveller

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, goes back to his family's Sicilian roots in the first 'Godfather' film
Kim Kardashian speaks on the Today show about her step-father's transition
Arts and Entertainment
Kermit and his doppleganger Hyalinobatrachium dianae
Wenger and Mourinho square-up to each other earlier this season
All the action from today's Premier League, including Everton vs Man Utd and Chelsea vs Arsenal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions