They take your breath away

Ever since the appearance of breathable fabrics, choosing ski-wear has been a trade-off between ease of use and weather-proofing. Stephen Wood tries the latest contender for the comfort crown

Only recently have I become aware of this phenomenon: as a man grows older, the ability to manage his own pockets declines. Being one of those processes which creeps up insidiously rather than suddenly announcing itself, it is most noticeable in others; and I first observed it in the case of A, with whom I travelled on a skiing trip to Vermont. Slightly older than myself, he tended towards forgetfulness. On this trip, what A forgot was that he had remembered his jacket: the result was that he travelled with two, wearing one and carrying the other.

Only recently have I become aware of this phenomenon: as a man grows older, the ability to manage his own pockets declines. Being one of those processes which creeps up insidiously rather than suddenly announcing itself, it is most noticeable in others; and I first observed it in the case of A, with whom I travelled on a skiing trip to Vermont. Slightly older than myself, he tended towards forgetfulness. On this trip, what A forgot was that he had remembered his jacket: the result was that he travelled with two, wearing one and carrying the other.

At several points on the journey, A was obliged to find his ticket or passport, pounds or dollars; and on each occasion a queue formed behind him as he searched up to 11 pockets for the required item. With two jackets, the number of pockets available far exceeded A's capability to manage them.

My own ski jacket has six pockets; and from comparing my behaviour with observations of A, I came to realise that was one too many. It would be untrue to say that my affection for the Salomon ski outfit I wore on a recent trip to Chile was caused solely by the fact that the jacket had only five pockets; but it helped. (And my overall carrying capacity wasn't even reduced, since there was an extra pocket on the left leg of the matching trousers.)

The Salomon Covalent jacket and trousers are part of the "soft shell revolution", which one North American analyst has enthusiastically described to the trade as "the biggest apparel-market opportunity since Gore-Tex in the 1970s". In recent years the dominant trend for skiwear has been towards layering: most skiers and boarders wear a "moisture-wicking" base layer, a mid-layer fleece for insulation, and an outer "hard shell" which is wind-proof and water-repellent. Now the orthodoxy of layering is under attack, largely on the fairly specious ground that changing conditions demand the tiresome and time-consuming removal or replacement of layers. (Personally I have always found it both pleasant and logical to add a layer when I'm cold, and take one off when I'm hot.)

The real drawback of layering lies in the performance of the hard shell. In an ideal world, fabrics would let sweat out (so-called "breathability") without letting wind and rain in (impermeability); in reality there has to be a trade-off between the two characteristics - and technical fabrics used for hard shells, such as Gore-Tex, favour impermeability over breathability. That's fine if protection from the elements in an extreme environment is the wearer's prime concern. But for those involved in active sports or, say, going no higher than the top end of the King's Road, more breathability is desirable. So, propelled partly by the cross-over between snowboarder gear and street fashion (and that between technical ski-wear and year-round outdoor clothing), manufacturers have started to use softer outer-layer fabrics such as the Schoeller WB-400 from which Salomon's Covalent garments are made.

Made by a Swiss company, Schoeller WB-400 is actually three fabrics bonded together. The surface layer is an elastic/synthetic mix which is hard-wearing, unconstricting and dirt-repellent; beneath it is an acrylate layer which repels water but does not inhibit the passage of perspiration; inside that is a fleecy fabric to retain warmth. Although the outer surface is treated to make moisture form "beads" and roll off, the Schoeller fabric is by no means waterproof. By common consent among the marketing people, it is suitable for 80-90 per cent of weather conditions - excluding persistent heavy rain or wet snow. On the other hand, the fabric's breathability is 25-30 per cent better than hard shells, according to a Schoeller spokesperson.

Thanks to the innermost layer of the soft shell, the mid-layer becomes something of a luxury. In extreme conditions it may be necessary to add either a fleece to protect against cold or a thin, hard shell garment to keep moisture out. The snowsport clothing buyer at Snow+Rock, Jon Stevens, says that a light, packable hard shell should be the only extra protection needed for extreme weather, because the soft shell will keep the skier warm.

Mr Stevens admits that his enthusiasm for soft shells lies partly in the tailoring quality of the fabrics. "They're light and durable; they stretch and hang really well; and they're quiet - you don't get the rustle of a hard shell," he says. All this is true; and the Salomon Covalent outfit I borrowed comes in an unusually stealthy matt black. Unfortunately, I have black boots, too: when I modelled the whole ensemble - including my matt-black crash helmet - for my wife at home, she judged that I looked "like a man who delivers Milk Tray cautiously".

Ever since Salomon launched its futuristic-looking skiwear two years ago I have been an admirer - but only from afar: apart from a single base-layer garment, I have never worn Salomon. The detailing of the garments has always been seductive. Take one tiny but brilliant feature on the Covalent jacket: a "tongue" on the inner section of cuffs protrudes slightly to allow the middle fingers to hold it in place while the other hand is tightening the Velcro fastening. Jon Stevens made an acute observation about such features. He pointed out that companies which are innovators in snowsport hardware, such as Salomon and Burton, maintain test teams of serious skiers and boarders, with the result that their clothing ranges also benefit from rigorous, expert input.

The Covalent outfit - worn with just base-layer garments - was not rigorously tested at Chile's Valle Nevado resort, where the weather was warm. But it was comfortable, and extremely light: I have never felt so at ease in skiwear. The day-long blizzard at Portillo was a greater challenge; but the fleece layer I put on was more to comfort me than keep out the cold. And the pockets? Some were obviously useful (such as the "goggle net" inside), some not (what do you store above your left knee?); but I had all of them under control at all times.

The Salomon Covalent jacket is available for men and women from Ellis Brigham (0870 444 5555; www.ellis-brigham.com) at £225, the trousers at £149.95. Stockist information: Salomon (0800 389 4350; www.salomonsports.com)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine