(The Gear Loop) - With many of the world's pistes closed over recent years, keen snowboarders and skiers are chomping at the bit to taste fresh powder once again. It seems the perfect excuse, then, to upgrade the winter sports wardrobe with some of the hottest a high-tech items to land this year. Because progress never stops.
In our experience, jackets crammed with tech often look bulky, with shapeless silhouettes. It's immediately obvious that this isn't the case with Columbia's latest Bird Mountain jacket, which has an elegant, fitted cut and none of the bulk we were bracing ourselves for.
Let's not beat around the piste basher, this is a fantastic jacket that works well for both skiers and snowboarders. It's incredibly well designed, looks great and provides the kind of insulation associated with much bulkier jackets. Its slightly higher price tag - one of our few gripes - might be a thorn in the side of skiers and boarders on a budget, but we'd argue that when a jacket is this well designed, it's a brilliant investment that is worth every penny.
Columbia Women's Bird Mountain Insulated Ski Jacket
- Great range of sizes
- Slimline design - despite the added insulation
- Plenty of added features and pockets
- On the pricey side
- Fewer colourway options for fans of bright hues
In the Loop
Here's a quick summary of what to expect from the Bird Mountain jacket:
- Fitted cut
- Glove-friendly zip toggles
- Great hood design
- Warm without restricting movement
Design & fit
Its slimline styling is enhanced by strategically-placed patches of insulation at the front and back, while the jacket's sides feature thinner material. The result? A definite slimming effect (without compromising heat retention, more of which later). Don't get us wrong - when we're slashing our way through the fun park or down powder-blanketed tree runs, our priorities are staying upright, not how good we look in our shiny new gear, but there's something to be said for a jacket that won't make us look like the Michelin Man (or woman, in this case) just because we couldn't resist the raclette at that slope-side restaurant.
The Bird Mountain jacket also has the perfect length. There's nothing worse than a short jacket which leaves us shaking snow out of our nether regions after the tiniest of tumbles, but all too often ski and snowboard brands take it one step too far, with jackets that fall ridiculously far below the waist, posing snag hazards on chairlifts (and yes, we're speaking from experience) and leaving our upper legs burning - not because we've mastered those moguls, but because of the extra (unnecessary) insulation provided in the area where the jacket and the top of our snowboard pants overlap.
But the Bird Mountain gets it just right, with a slightly flared lower section that provides just the right amount of cover, while allowing air to circulate. We also loved the use of pockets with vertical zips - jackets with pockets which have vertical zips are weirdly few and far between, but (at least in our humble opinion) they're much easier to open and close. Extra marks for the lift pass-friendly pocket on the left sleeve and the supersized pocket toggles which are easy to grasp, whether you're wearing thick snowboard gloves or are suffering from coordination issues after downing that sixth shot of Jägermeister at your favourite après-ski bar.
All good in the hood
We love this jacket's hood so much that we're dedicating an entire section to it. Fur is a hot topic in cold climates. We're not talking in an animal rights sense (not that we're not fans of anything fluffy, but because these days, fur trims on ski and snowboard jackets will almost always be faux far) but because it's an element which is easy to get wrong - fur trims can easily look tacky, and we're not particularly keen on the idea of looking like an oligarch's wife.
Which brings us onto another major selling point of the Bird Mountain jacket: the fur trim, which is easily removable, and attached to the jacket by a zip. A combination of top quality, glossy black faux fur and the trim's reassuring weightiness gives the hood a wonderful structured sleekness. However, a word of warning: if you opt to remove it, never, ever leave it lying around – its appearance means it will almost certainly be mistaken for a ferret/chipmunk/rabbit and thrown out of the nearest window.
But the best thing about the hood? Its size - it easily slid over our snowboard helmet, although the combination of a drawstring and the structure provided by the sturdy, fur-adorned rim meant that, despite its generous proportions, it neither flapped around or felt too claustrophobic.
Let's talk tech
Full disclosure - we're familiar with (and admittedly fans of) Columbia's Omni-Heat technology, which has several different variations, including Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective, which uses tiny silver dots to reflect body heat, Omni-Heat 3D, which uses a combination of silver reflectors and pods of soft fibre to crank up insulation, and Omni-Heat Black Dot (the version we're most familiar with), which uses a layer of heat-trapping black dots on the exterior of garments for a double-pronged approach - the dots capture solar heat, and prevent it escaping, too.
We've previously owned a jacket featuring the Omni-Heat Black Dot technology, and it did exactly what it said on the box, keeping us warm during a (very chilly) snowboarding holiday in the French Alps, without causing us to overheat when we slung it on during winter walks in the UK. For this reason, we were keen to see how the latest incarnation - Omni-Heat Infinity - stacked up.
According to the blurb, which refers to it as the "gold standard in warmth", it cranks up garments' heat retaining abilities with the addition of a gold reflective lining that reflects and retains heat without adding bulk. Apparently, it's inspired by technology used by NASA. Which all sounds lovely, but as testers without any imminent plans for space travel, we were admittedly somewhat sceptical about whether an element of gimmickry had crept into Columbia's newest garments.
Feel the heat
There's no denying that this jacket helped retain heat, but what's more, it did so without turning us into a sweaty mess. It's another example of a brilliantly balanced approach to design - Columbia has applied the Omni-Heat technology in a way which will absorb heat while preventing it escaping, but at no point did we feel either too hot or too cold, and we put the technology to the test in a wide range of conditions. Weirdly, the panels of reflective material on the inside didn't feel cold on our skin when wearing it over a short-sleeved t-shirt, either.
The careful placement of thicker insulated panels - on the front and back and not the sides – meant movement was in no way impaired, and we loved the wide range of added extras, which include plenty of pockets in all shapes and sizes (including one on the sleeve for a lift pass and another for goggles) along with the standard features, such as thumbhole cuffs and an adjustable powder skirt.
It's surprisingly true to size, too. For reasons beyond us, this tester feels the cold more than most people, and will wear a t-shirt and thick jumper under our jacket even when snowboarding on fair days. We also prefer our jackets on the roomy size, and all of these factors explain why we opted for a large, which turned out to be the perfect choice.
This year, Columbia has taken its Omi-Heat technology one step further with the introduction of Omni-Heat Infinity, one of many features crammed into the Bird Mountain jacket. Designed with both skiers and snowboarders in mind, its a fantastic combination of sleek design, clever heat retention technology, a great fit and superb on-piste performance. Granted, it's a little on the pricey side, but view it as an investment piece and you won';t be disappointed.