Listen to this article
Editor, Fall-Line magazine
One of my earliest childhood memories is learning to ski, aged four, dressed in a brand new, baby-blue, all-in-one ski suit from C&A – which, my mum reckons, cost about £15 – with a matching blue hat. Twenty-seven years later and I’m editor of Fall-Line, a skiing and snowboarding magazine, and still wearing matching skiwear: purple top, purple bottoms, purple and white hat. However, the cost of the Norrøna Lofoten jacket and pants I am currently wearing is just shy of £900. But then this is one of the most tech-packed get-ups I have ever worn.
The Norrøna brand dates back to 1929, when a Norwegian named Jørgen Jørgensen, a lover of the great outdoors, began to produce technologically advanced gear that could withstand Norway’s often harsh climate and terrain. Fast forward 84 years, and the company, run by Jørgensen’s great-grandson, still operates on similar principles.
My outfit, for example, is made with new Gore-Tex Pro fabric, which features a polytetrafluoroethylene multilayer membrane. I’m not sure what that means exactly, except that it makes the fabric up to 28 per cent more breathable than previous versions. This is an essential feature in freeride skiing-specific gear, such as the Lofoten jacket and trouser, which are designed for off-piste forays that usually involve some degree of hiking to virgin powder away from the pistes. (Incidentally, on expeditions like this, regardless of how breathable the fabric is, you are still likely to overheat.)
There wasn’t much powder at Snowtrax, the artificial ski slope in Dorset where I tested the Lofoten on a balmy autumn day, so I was concerned about how hot I might feel with a merino mid-layer underneath. But during my climb to the peak I simply whipped open the jacket’s underarm vents and the full-length vents on the pants, all of which have easy-pull, two-way zips, and didn’t sweat a drop. Rain wouldn’t be a problem either: the fabric has the water-repellent properties of cling film; water just beads up and rolls off.
Had I been in a situation where there was waist-deep powder, however, there was also no chance of it getting into my jacket: the removable powder skirt (material inside the jacket that clips together and sits snug to your body) has a good fit, plus a silicon grip to keep it in place, aided with poppers that secure it to the trousers.
In addition, the trousers have an integrated zip-off bib – not normally my favourite feature, as it often feels restrictive, but here it was so lightweight and elasticated that I forgot it was there after the first five minutes. Similarly, elasticated gaiters ensure no snow creeps in down below, while a helmet-compatible, wire-brimmed hood protects the head.
There are two decent-sized pockets on the jacket (one has a handy goggle-wipe cloth attached to the inside), which sit clear of backpack straps, as well as a small interior zip pocket for a phone or money. I would have liked an interior mesh pocket – useful for storing goggles on lifts – but the two thigh pockets on the trousers are roomy enough to serve this purpose. There is also a large back pocket and a small key card pocket at the waist.
When I posted a picture of myself wearing the outfit on Facebook, I got 23 “likes”, with several people commenting on the purple and green colour combination. “There’s no chance of losing you in a whiteout!” commented one friend. The jacket also comes in green, yellow and two different blues, while the trousers come in green, blue and black.
The fit of both jacket and trousers is relaxed, verging on loose. I tested a medium, which is what I normally wear in ski gear, but given that I could have fitted the photographer down one leg, I would probably buy the small (Scandinavian ski gear often comes up large). Regardless of that, the Velcro adjustable waist tabs ensured the trousers stayed in place.
For those of you who – like me – wore all-in-one ski suits back in the day and feel nostalgic now, the Lofoten range also includes a unisex Gore-Tex Pro one-piece suit. Just don’t forget to pair it with a matching hat.
FT travel editor
In the 1980s, when ski racers were gods, their boldly-patterned skin suits and shiny, futuristic helmets inspired the exuberant clothes worn by many a downhill holiday maker. “Then in 2010, freeskiing finally broke through,” says Reinhard Schitter, product director for clothing at Atomic, a leading skimaker. “Freeskiing” – skiing off-piste, heading away from the resorts and into the wilderness – “changed the entire world of skiing.”
And the world of skiing wardrobes with it, as anyone shopping for new gear recently would have noticed. Out have gone the race pants and tight-waisted neon suits; “backcountry” skiing, walking your way uphill on your skis, rather than using lifts, to access fresh powder fields means getting hot, so you need layers to regulate heat. Padded, traditional ski jackets are useless for this. Instead, skiers need to dress more like mountaineers. The same trickle-down effect that brought the aesthetics of racing to the ordinary slopes has ushered in an era of new, highly technical and far more sober backcountry looks; the novelty hats and poles with inbuilt hip-flasks that once filled the pages of ski-shop catalogues have been replaced by shovels, avalanche probes and rucksacks.
Admittedly, I did feel like my £1,000-plus Arc’teryx outfit was taking it a bit far, especially since I tried it out not in the Alaskan backcountry but on the backstreets of Hemel Hempstead (where the indoor Snow Centre offers the closest pistes to London). Arc’teryx epitomises the modern look, and has impeccable freeskiing credentials. The company started out in 1991 in Vancouver, making climbing harnesses under the name Rock Solid, before diversifying into rucksacks and then, finally, skiwear. Rather than the racing slopes, its ideas came from climbing and camping, straight from the backcountry.
I tried a new version of the Sidewinder SV jacket, which is uninsulated, unpatterned, monochrome – and costs £500. The main difference to its previous incarnation is the lack of lining, cutting weight from 690g to 585g. Cynics might detect a whiff of emperor’s new clothes here – you strip a product back to basics, then charge more. But great thought has gone into the tiniest details: the waist pockets are high enough not to be impeded by a climbing harness, while a lift-pass pocket on the left arm can be easily swiped on automated gates. The hood has a strengthened peak; the underarms, long ventilation zips. Warmth comes from wearing layers underneath, either synthetic or down.
I opted for a Cerium LT (£240), part of a new range of down jackets, the first that Arc’teryx has made. Down still offers more warmth for its weight than any other fabric but only if it’s dry, so teaming it with a waterproof shell such as the Sidewinder works well, especially since the Cerium uses “down composite mapping” (swapping feathers for synthetic insulation in places prone to condensation or damp: cuffs, underarm and collar).
I was not entirely convinced by the “maize” colour of my Sabre trousers (£370) but, again, the quality and detail were clear: thigh vents to release heat, an inbuilt reflector to help during an avalanche rescue, and instep patches to prevent abrasion. The only problem is the width of the trouser leg (30cm): anyone embarking on serious backcountry skiing will need to wear crampons occasionally, and a leg this wide would get caught in the spikes and would soon be ripped to shreds.
Still, that’s a detail unlikely to worry most users, who might aspire to the wilderness but are likely to spend more time on pistes and in après-ski bars. True, there might be something risible about wearing kit fit for the Himalayas on Hertfordshire’s faux Alps but if you didn’t know its origins, all you would know was the Arc’teryx kit is light, warm and comfortable. The fact is, apart from the price, there’s no real downside in wearing backcountry gear for an ordinary ski trip. Plus, on the train back to London, the simple grey jacket blended in far better than a neon one-piece ever could.