I've saved my review of Mountain Hardwear's ski jackets and pants for last for a good reason. First, because the Mountain Hardwear Hairpin jacket is the best jacket I evaluated. Second, because you can't buy it until the fall of 2008. (It's next season's model.)
Mountain Hardwear also sent 2008/09 Stance pant, which I'll review below. From Mountain Hardwear's 2007/08 line we received the Edge jacket and the Synchro jacket, bib, and pant. So, consider this a retrospective and prospective Mountain Hardwear jacket and pant review.
While I really liked Mountain Hardwear's 2007/08 models, I will admit that I've found it extraordinarily difficult to peel Mountain Hardwear's Hairpin jacket off. It is such a cool advance over anything I've seen in any jacket manufacturers' 2007/08 lines that it makes me anxious to see what the other ski apparel companies are planning for 2008/09.
I've never worn any Mountain Hardwear apparel before, ski jackets or otherwise. I have a tent of theirs and some other things but this was my first foray into their ski gear. I wasn't expecting much. As is often the case, I was wrong. Blissfully wrong.
First, the Mountain Hardwear Hairpin. I let my two-year old terror, Lily, wear it in the picture at right, but this was about the only time I was willing to part with it. It is amazingly comfortable because of an internal liner of shaggy fleece (see the pictures below). Mountain Hardwear calls it MicroClimate Zoning. I call it warm and comfortable.
Other jackets have fleece liners, but this one actually proactively reaches out to the skin. Instead of feeling like a frozen tarp, which is what many hard shells feel like when they gets cold, the Hairpin felt like I was wearing a bearskin rug against my neck and cheek. (Don't worry - no bears were harmed in our evaluations. :-)
The Mountain Hardwear Hairpin ski jacket, along with the other jackets we reviewed, has a slew of thoughtful, useful touches. Waterproof zippers and plenty of pockets, for one, including vents along both arms to allow you to cool down on the trail. The powder skirt kept absolutely every flake of snow out when we took the jacket through deep powder at Alta. Super warm. Not bulky. Lightweight. Form fitting.
Perfect. This is the sort of jacket you won't just wear on the slopes, but will choose to wear it everywhere. (In fact, if you've seen me lately in the Bay Area, you will have seen me sporting the Hairpin. With style.
Mountain Hardwear's Stance pant is also excellent. Mountain Hardwear seems to put a premium not just on the bare necessities (waterproofing, breathability, warmth), which it provides in abundance, but also on comfort. The Stance is a great example. It's super flexible, as evidenced by Jaime's review:
As you know I wear a large hinged knee brace post-ski surgeries and was concerned a medium pant would be too tight. They were a great fit after all because they flexed out well with the brace. They were soft, comfortable and warm.
Think about that. The Stance pant actually made room as Jaime pounded down through the powder (see the Alta video referenced above - Jaime is wearing a black coat and the Stance pant in that video), not holding onto the brace. It's rare to find a touch like that in a ski pant.
The only problem we found with the Stance pant is that it collected a few cuts in the fabric from the new Scott skis that Jaime was using at the time. The sharp edges cut it. It would be good for Mountain Hardwear to add some stronger material at the bottom of the pant to prevent this.
Which brings me to the entire Mountain Hardwear Synchro line. If you've skied you know the difference between a hard shell (superior weather proofing but less comfortable) and a soft shell (more comfortable but not as wind/waterproof as a hard shell). Mountain Hardwear appears to be trying to turn that old distinction on its head with the Synchro line which provides the comfort of a soft shell (very soft and supple) with the weatherproofing of a hard shell.
Mountain Hardwear does this, in part, due to its "conduit technology." The conduit laminate mixes hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials to push water vapor out but refuses to let it in, thus making for a very breathable, very waterproof material.
It's just one of many technological innovations that Mountain Hardwear has been developing.
Coming full circle, Mountain Hardwear has put this to good use in its Edge jacket. Like the upcoming Hairpin, the new Mountain Hardwear Edge jacket has what they call MicroClimate Zoning (same as the Hairpin above). Rather than line the entire jacket with the same material, Mountain Hardwear uses different lining material for different parts of the code, making it more lightweight, more breathable, and more tuned to the wearer's needs. That "shaggy fleece" I mentioned above? It's only on part of the back and neck. Right where you need it.
As mentioned, I had never worn a Mountain Hardwear jacket before. I just figured Mountain Hardwear made backpacking gear, since that is the Mountain Hardwear gear that I have. But it just took our reviewers a few days of skiing to realize there is much more to the company.
Like the Mountain Hardwear Hairpin jacket. When it becomes available for sale, buy it. It's awesome.