FREESKIER’s quest to find the best outerwear of 2019-20
The hunt was on. Spring was in full bloom in southeast British Columbia. The rivers had broken free from the icy shackles of winter, songbirds greeted each morning with splendid melodies and the valley’s colors at 5,700 feet were luscious shades of green. Yet, we all knew that stashed in nooks and crannies a few thousand feet above Retallack Lodge was cold smoke snow just waiting for us to pounce on.
For the second consecutive year, the iconic lodge, nestled in the forested hills of the Selkirk Mountains between Kootenay and Slocan Lakes, served as the headquarters for FREESKIER’s Apparel Test. Walking through the timber-framed threshold was like returning home for our group of staff and testers. Accompanying us were representatives from 14 outerwear brands, each eager to get their products onto our bodies and out into the wild. Through home-cooked meals worthy of Michelin stars; rousing games of Neglin, the “sport” of choice in these parts; freaky trips to Ravendale, a party portal on the banks of the river; and downtime spent in front of the roaring fire, Retallack once again proved itself the perfect base camp for our four-day raid in the hills.
The Retallack routine consisted of a morning prowl up slushy forest roads in hulking snowcats, stalking our prey into the blinding white alpine. Our hunt was twofold: Along with our mission to uncover the hidden stashes of a Selkirk spring, we were on a search to discover the most protective, best-fitting and most stylish threads—outerwear that would eventually make its way onto these pages of the annual Buyer’s Guide.
The Selkirks provided fertile proving grounds for assessing these ski jackets, pants, midlayers and baselayers. Mother Nature’s seasonal mood swings were welcomed, giving us an environment that truly spanned the full spectrum of weather conditions. We basked in sunlight streaming through the clouds one minute, then pulled up our hoods to shield our heads from precipitous spring storms the next.
Day one gifted us with atmospheric consistency. The hot sun hovered above us all day as we crept up ridgelines looking to ambush unsuspecting, north-facing powder. We huffed and puffed up steep slopes, noting how each piece of clothing breathed and wicked away our perspiration as we followed the tracks of the bootpack to get the goods. We reaped the rewards of our stalk, of course, and slithered down untouched snow preserved in the shadows of the hulking peaks above.
As our four-day stay at Retallack progressed, temperatures dropped and clouds hung onto the mountaintops like wispy halos. Intermittent precipitation bombarded us with stinging graupel, wet flakes and countless other forms of frozen liquid. When each day was done, we descended the cat roads after hours on the prowl, and as we lost elevation, the snow transitioned to rain, turning up the intensity of the waterproofing assessment for each garment.
While lesser women and men would’ve wished for the return of balmy spring weather, we welcomed the soggy, drenching storms because we knew that each flake and droplet that hit our clothes brought us one step closer to finding the gold-standard outerwear selections for this magazine.
By Friday, after many productive hours exploring the far reaches of Retallack’s snowy tenure, we had tagged and bagged the top outerwear of 2019-20—the stunning, eye-catching, make-you-reach-for-your-wallet-right-now garments that are primed to join your gear closet this fall.
Please, have a taste of the feast we’ve prepared from our hunt at Retallack. We’re confident the in-depth reviews and stunning shots from sharpshooters Zoya Lynch and Bruno Long will have you salivating for more and nudge you into a ski shop to grab your own outfit for this season.