The Lists

Black Diamond: Inside Guide to the Best Luxury Ski Gear

As you prepare for ski and snowboard season in the Northern Hemisphere, and plot your snow adventures for the next six months, we thought it was time for a round-up of what our luxury class friends will have in their backcountry backpacks and LV suitcases. A couple of our lucky friends regularly ski the world off-piste, and at least half of our pals will be spending the year-end break on the slopes at a luxury resort, so we got the inside skinny on what the jet set is loving right now (you might find some good holiday gift ideas here, too).

One interesting theme to note before we head out from the lodge: for some people, “luxury” gear means designer elements that make them look great. For others, it’s about gear that protects them in the backcountry and allows them to adventure as far away from the crowd and into the natural world as possible. For others, it’s about the coolest tech and making every run into an online competition with friends, or into a video documentary that can be immediately posted on social media. However you define luxury, we’ve asked someone who thinks about it exactly the way you do, and we’ve got recommendations for you that will help make this snow season the best ever.

While there is absolutely no issue with brands like Patagonia, Spyder, Columbia and North Face (we’ve owned all of them, and our kids still do) , we wanted to explore the most expensive reaches of snow gear, to see what brands are best if you decide to step up to the double-black diamond highest price points.

Here’s what our expert insiders recommend:

Inner Layers:

–It’s all about that base (we know, awful pun, but it was just lying there in plain sight, and we couldn’t resist picking it up). We grew up with Hot Chillies and Under Armour as our base layers, but the next step up is German brand Falke – the brand has everything, including balaclavas. Peak Performance and Lacroix are other luxurious options, with a great range of color choices and a very soft “hand.”

–Stylish and functional middle layers (that can easily do double-duty après ski) include Kjus, Sweaty Betty, Marmot, M. Miller, Sirri (for women), and X-Bionic (for men). Why not look chic when you come inside for a hot chocolate break?

Outerwear:

–Jackets. Here’s the best opportunity to really up your style game. Canada Goose and Moncler are readily available in U.S. luxury department and specialty stores (Moncler’s Grenoble line is really sensational this year). Fendi has great jackets with their usual sassy sensibility. But if you want to kick it St. Moritz style in a luxury European niche brand, go online or to a top-end ski shop and see what else the chic global crowd is wearing: Lacroix, Authier, Bogner, Bandier and Frauenschuh were born in the Alps and will give you that on-my-way-to Gstaad vibe. Guys should also check out Mammut (a Swiss mountaineering and trekking company), Loro Piana and Aztech Mountain. One Snow Editor swears by Arc’teryx jackets: “they’re light, warm, and work in all conditions; I have a couple that are 15+ years old, and they’re still like new.”

–Pants. Perfect Moment, Fusalp, Capranea, KRU and Toni Sailer have a designer sensibility and slim silhouette not often found at American ski shops; ladies, if you prefer boot-cut, check out Stella McCartney for Adidas. Ortovox has great men’s ski pants.

–Mittens. We’ve learned the hard way that when it’s really cold at the top of the mountain, you need mittens, not gloves. Fendi has seriously funny ski mittens; more sober ones are on offer from Hestra Henrik. Seirus Heat Touch Glow heated mittens will also get the job done. If you’re too cool for mittens, and disdainful of heated gloves, then go with the Arc’teryx Lithic Glove, which has three different types of insulation.

–Socks: We love Smartwool, but if you want to try something new, check out Falke, Fusalp and X-Bionic. If you have poor circulation, Therm-ic Powersocks have batteries to keep you toasty warm.

–Knit hats and beanies. Eisbar outfits the Austrian ski team, so they’ve definitely got you covered (they also make great sweaters).

Helmets: The Giro brand is well-known and readily available. If you’re ready for something new, Swiss brand Zai will have you Zermatt-ready in no time; Swedish brand POC’s Fornix helmets are legendary; ditto Vantage and Bogner. “Smart” helmets are everywhere – POC’s Fornix Communication helmet has built-in Beats by Dr. Dre headphones, and you can also take calls and adjust the volume via remote control. Helmets with MIPS protection offer the best available shield against brain damage, and are totally worth the extra cost.

Ski Boots:

–If you are properly fitted, Rossignol, Lange, Solomon, Sorel and Dalbello are all great choices (our beloved boots are from Lange, and when our Snow Editor makes a rare appearance on-piste, he wears Lange boots, too).

–For freeride skiing, our Snow Editor recommends Scarpa. The Gear Institute also recommends the Dalbello Lupo Ti; Rossignol’s Alltrack Pro 130; and the Technica Cochise Pro.

–If you opt for a handmade custom boot, the brands of choice that everyone seems to love are Surefoot, Daleboot and Strolz.

–On the tech front, Carv is a smartphone app combined with sensors that are fitted into your boots that provides instant feedback on your performance (we’re not sure we want that judgmental voice in our heads, but that’s your call). PIQ has partnered with Rossignol on a boot sensor that tracks your speed and turns and allows you to compare yourself with others on the same run, or with friends on a different mountain altogether (your apres-ski conversation could be based on actual facts about your athletic prowess, not trash talk).

–If you’re in the market for boot warmers (and we are, Santa), Therm-ic has a remote-controlled set with 10 gradations that you can adjust without having to take off your mittens.

Goggles: Several of our experts advise not skimping on goggles, especially if you are skiing backcountry: the Snow Editor says “goggles are expensive, and the good ones are totally worth it.”

–If you’re all about style, you can step up to Gucci or Fendi goggles.

–If function is your top priority, Salomon, Bolle and Scott are excellent.

–If “smart” is your thing, check out Smith Optics I/O goggles (the I/O X Elite Turbo Fan is perfect if you wear glasses while on the mountain); Oakley’s Flight Deck or Airbrakes; or Zeal Optics’ Z3 GPS Live. Oakley and Smith both offer goggles integrated with Recon’s Snow 2 heads-up display: it has sensors to track speed, distance and altitude, as well as turn-by-turn navigation. RideOn augmented reality goggles turn every run into a personal video game – they’re not out yet, but you can pre-order them on Indiegogo. Abom goggles function like a defroster in a car to keep your vision clear even in the worst conditions.

Skis: There’s a veritable blizzard of luxury ski brands, and the right pair for you will depend on the type of skiing you’re doing, your skill level, possibly your gender, and your personal taste.

–For all-mountain skis, you cannot go wrong with Renoun, Scott, Zai, K2, Meister, Bomber, Wagner, DPS, XO, Stockli, Blizzard, Nordica, Dynastar or Head.

–Some swear that “women’s” skis are built to perform better for us. We were skeptical until we bought a pair, and now we’re sold. Top recommendations in the category are Armada’s VJJ 2.0; Salomon’s Q 103 Stella; and Rossignol’s Savory 7 and Star 7.

–If you’re looking for “fat” skis for the backcountry, Volkl’s Nunataq and Voile’s V8s get top marks from the Gear Institute. The Snow Editor reports that his favorite pair are hand-made in Savoie in the French Alps by a small French company called BumTribe (he likes the FreeBum 188). Part of the fun? You can visit the workshop and watch your skis being made by hand.

Snowboards and Boots.

–Fashionistas of the world, your prayers have been answered: Chanel now makes snowboards!

–For Burton loyalists, the Custom 20th Anniversary board gets high marks. Other top picks: Gnu and Lib Tech.

–For snowboard boots, we hear good things about Burton, K2 and Ride.

–Smart snowboard bindings have become a recent area of more focus, and the Cerevo Xon Snow 1 seems to be best-of-breed right now – it has lights, tracks all performance metrics, and helps you distribute your weight more effectively as you ride.

Daypacks and Safety Gear: If you’re freeriding off-piste, The Snow Editor says its crucial to bring along the best and newest in safety technology:

–A backpack with an airbag is a must, and the Snow Editor says that the ABS brand is the original and still the best; he recommends Mammut for transponders and other safety gear, and Pezl for ice screws and harnesses.

–If you want to try something new, the Dainese D-Air Ski Airbag is sleek “body armor” that goes under your jacket and deploys in the event of a crash.

–The Black Diamond AvaLung II is an emergency breathing apparatus, and the Arc’teryx Voltaire has an electric airbag that will help keep you above the snow. Mammut’s Protection Airbag Pack does double duty, offering 35 liters of storage space as well as an airbag. The Gear Institute raves about the Wolfpack Summit daypack.

–If you’re not in the mood for getting banged up, on or off-piste, the Crash Pads brand offers a front-zip long-sleeved foam jacket that provides more comfortable protection than plastic. Forcefield’s Pro Shirt X-V will also give you that Iron Man aura.

–Particularly if you’re skiing way off the grid, be sure you have a proper watch with monitors for altitude, heart rate, and a GPS. The Garmin Fenix 3 would be a good choice.

Sunscreen. Some nurturing person in your life will always remind you: don’t forget the sunscreen! We’re happy to join the chorus, and we love Soleil de La Mer Reparative Face Sun Lotion, and Sisley’s Sunleya.

Sunglasses. The epitome of cool, Vuarnet 1315 Glaciers or pretty well any pair of Oakleys are perfect on the slopes, on the street, or chilling at your chalet.

Once you have everything you need, here are a couple of new gadgets to help you capture the fun on the mountain:

–The Trace Action Sports Tracker’s sensor attaches to a snowboard (or surfboard) and records both data and video, which you can download and easily edit and share (because why waste the early-evening hours editing, when you can be out and about showing off your coolest runs of the day?).

–GoPro’s Hero5 Black is the mobile camera company’s latest top-of-the-line offering, launched just in time for the season.

–The new-new thing? A personal drone from DJI, Parrot, or Ehang will follow you down the mountain, recording every run.

Our experts note a couple of interesting trends they’ve seen in their travels: one, tourists from mainland China are increasingly taking ski vacations in the U.S., Canada and the Alps – in St. Moritz, it is now common to find instructors and guides who are fluent in Mandarin. Two, in general, skiers are getting better (perhaps because of all the new enhancements to their gear) and they’re increasingly looking for high adventure, rather than nicely groomed trails. That’s good news for resorts like Whistler, Jackson Hole, Chamonix and Courmayeur in northern Italy.

What to wear, see and do après-ski is a topic for another time. For now, whether you’re heli-skiing, hanging at the half pipe or just cruising on fresh powder, stay safe and have fun. See you on the mountain!

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