Your ski jacket is your best friend on the slopes. It keeps you warm in the sub-zero temperatures, protects you from snowfall and wipeouts, and of course, is fundamental to your look. Choosing the right one doesn't have to be a challenge - here are the main things you should be looking out for.
A hardshell is a waterproof and wind-resistant jacket designed to stand up to pretty much anything, which makes them ideal for the backcountry. They're not insulated, but form the outer part of your layering system, and can be easily packed away when you're hiking uphill, but for the more casual skier, a hardshell might not be the best choice as they're not as breathable as a softshell.
A softshell jacket is a versatile layer which can be worn as either a mid-layer or outer layer. Softshell jackets are usually treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating, but aren't waterproof, so if you're expecting heavy snow or heading into the backcountry, you'll need a hardshell jacket to wear over your softshell.
Slim-fit jackets are a good choice for technical skiers, as they reduce drag and give you better control over your movement down the slopes - and let's be honest, they look great too. You may need to choose a size up to allow room for your layers underneath.
The middle ground between the technical feel of a slim-fit jacket and the freedom of movement offered by a looser jacket.
A loose fit is great for coverage and mobility, so is a great choice for freestylers and boarders.
The type of ski jacket you go for ultimately decides on the type of skiing you'll be doing, and what you'll need from your jacket when you hit the slopes.
Lapping the mountain, carving up the piste all day, venturing into side country if it's an elusive powder day. Sound familiar? Then this is for you. If you're going skiing in a particularly cold area or at a cold time of year, choose an insulated jacket to keep the chill out. Otherwise, if you're a spring skier then go for a shell which lets you add or remove layers depending on the weather.
Hunting for untracked powder and skinning up untouched peaks works up a serious sweat. And that's before you throw in extreme backcountry conditions. A hardshell jacket will be necessary to keep out the elements on the ridges - look for pit zips to let extra heat out - and a softshell underneath will provide breathability and warmth.
Most ski jackets will have hoods to keep you dry when the snow (hopefully) falls. But there's more to it than that: does it adjust to snugly fit your head? Do you need it to be helmet-compatible? Is a removable hood important to you?
Wipeouts are part of the fun - but not when you end up with jacket sleeves full of snow. Wrist gaiters stop this from happening, and can be a simple inner cuff or one that goes over your hand with thumbholes. Which one you go for depends entirely on preference - the latter is warmer but some skiers find they get in the way.
Vents are usually around the underarms and chest of the jacket, and let you unzip them to cool down. They're usually mesh-backed to stop snow from coming in when they're open.
Like wrist gaiters, most jackets have powder skirts, but they're definitely not all the same. Some are removable, some attach to your ski pants and some just have stretchy panels to go over whatever you're wearing - again it's all down to preference.