Last week Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth and I hit the slopes of Las Lenas, Argentina. The North Face kept us warm for the trip with The North Face Explosivo and Hetch Stretchy jackets. In seriously rough weather (fierce winds part of the time, around nine feet of new powder the rest of the time), The North Face Explosivo and Hetch Stretchy jackets rocked.
Verdict? Two thumbs way up.
Both the 2008/09 Explosivo and Hetch Stretchy jackets are heavier than The North Face jackets I reviewed last year. You won't need to layer with either the Explosivo or Hetch Stretchy jackets, except perhaps in extreme cold weather conditions. I suspect both jackets would serve particularly well for many reading this blog, i.e., people who hit the slopes once or twice in the season and so don't want to have to buy multiple layers of snow clothes, but want zero chance of getting cold when they do go.
Either the North Face Explosivo or Hetch Stretchy jacket will keep you warm around town, but then outperform on the slopes.
How well? The second day in Las Lenas, it snowed hard all day long, as shown below. I heard some reports that Las Lenas received up to nine feet (!!!). While we only skied in three feet of that, it was more than enough to suggest that both the Explosivo and Hetch Stretchy jackets are excellent ski jackets.
When swimming through several feet of deep, wet powder, the North Face Explosivo and Hetch Stretchy jackets kept us completely dry. How?
The Explosivo jacket comes with a waterproof polyurethane HyVent coating that blocks melted snow and rain, but is also amazingly breathable.
It had to be: I was chugging through serious powder at points, but Argentina powder is nowhere near as dry as Utah powder, so it was work. The Explosivo jacket kept the elements out and also kept me from drowning in my own sweat. The North Face Hetch Stretchy was much the same, but it accomplished this with a dual-layer GORE-TEX Performance Stretch Shell that's breathable yet also effective against external elements.
For how heavy both jackets are (heavier than a shell, but lighter than a "big" jacket), they provided surprising agility and performance. Mark and I were rocking down couloirs and hopping down some exceptionally steep ravines. Though I'm used to skiing with a light hard shell, the jackets never felt bulky. (I say this with real surprise because I was really nervous about skiing with something heavier than a shell.)>
In the case of the Explosivo, its down-like, compressible 100 gram Heatseeker fleece allowed the jacket to be heavy (in terms of warmth) while light (in terms of feel) at the same time. The Hetch Stretchy accomplishes this with a PrimaLoft Stretch fleece.
Both were great jackets, but of the two I preferred the Explosivo by a small margin. I loved the Heli-embossed taffeta against my skin. It was even better than the Mountain Hardwear Hairpin jacket's lining that I reviewed earlier this year. Sooo soft, and less susceptible to freezing up and chafing the skin.
You won't go wrong with either jacket. Both the North Face Explosivo and Hetch Stretchy jackets feel much lighter than they are, not slowing you down when barreling through moguls and keeping you dry when swimming through Argentina's wet powder. When North Face sent the jackets for us to try, I was worried that they weren't shells. No longer.
Both jackets are worth buying to keep you warm around town this winter, but will pay double dividends when you hit the slopes.
On that note, I brought but wasn't able to fully test the North Face Helicity Windstopper (women's) jacket, as our reviewer bailed out at the last minute. She did put the jacket to the test in a cold, windy apres-ski scene, however, and it came off in flying colors. But I'll provide a review closer to the North American ski season.)
This ski apparel review is provided as a courtesy to The Open Road readers who ski and aren't blessed to live in Utah, like I am. For those not interested in skiing, there's more of our regularly scheduled programming on the way.