Sitting on a jetliner headed to Colorado at 7 a.m., my Helly Hansen Supreme Jacket ($900) was already coming in handy. I had the hood, which fits over a helmet and can adjust to any position, pulled down over my eyes so I could sleep for as much of a 4.5-hour flight as possible. The Supreme Jacket is supposedly one of this winter’s best, so I was taking it out for a few days of skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing to see how it held up. The irony was that everyone working on the mountain in Beaver Creek wears Helly Hansen. It’s the mountain sponsor. I could have just called ahead and asked for their review.
Let’s just get this out of the way: this jacket costs $900. Helly Hansen’s only other offering at this price is an ocean drytop for professional sailors. This had better be good.
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When I woke a few hours later, I didn’t have much faith in the jacket: after a while, even crunched in a seat, I had forgotten I was wearing it. The Supreme wants to rival the warmth of Canada Goose, those puffed-up jackets filled with down that people drag to Antarctica and Whole Foods, but it was thin and the cut was fitted. I couldn’t imagine packing more than two layers underneath.
This is due to the four-way full-stretch fabric used in every layer of the jacket. It’s immediately noticeable and counterintuitive; the jacket, whose waterproofing makes it pretty difficult to get wet, flexes whichever way you pull it. Its interior and shell are lined with a blend of 85 percent polyamide and 15 percent elastane, which are highly durable and stretchable. When you sit, your body pulls the jacket, instead of the other way around, as is the case for typical hard shells from the past.
Helly Hansen calls the Supreme an “iconic resort-oriented jacket”. It’s a small, well-tailored step up from their most popular resort jacket, The Enigma ($750). The Supreme designed for comfort in the lodge and utility on the slopes. The comfortable hand-warming pockets are situated higher and more to the middle of your stomach, along with the interior pockets, which keep objects off your hips and out of the way as you move down the mountain. I was skiing with a bulky DSLR packed into an interior pocket, and the fitted body and stretchable fabric kept the camera snug to my body, even if I fell. There’s a small zipper pocket on the left arm for your ski pass, and the stow-away snow skirt and low-profile hood keeps it out of the way at après-ski bar.
To keep your bottom half as warm as your top, check out Mountain Hardware’s Returnia Cargo Ski Pants ($140+). The thick nylon, reinforced around the ankles, holds up to small branches and rocks as you ski through tough terrain, while the small zippered pockets and larger cargo pocket keep valuables out of the way. It also comes in tall and short inseams, and the correct fit is vital for facing the cold.
For your hands, the Jalapeno Outdry Glove ($124) mixes a classic goatskin leather grip on the palm and fingers with nylon to keep the weather off your hands, and the Thermal.Q Elite insulation keeps them warm with or without a liner. The adjustable wrist allows you to fit the glove either over or under your coat and keep a tight seal in order to stay warm and maintain a great range of motion.
Testing the jacket while skiing was tough, since temperatures crept above freezing each day. I ended up wearing a t-shirt underneath the jacket to try to test its warmth, which is nerve wracking if you’re used to a huge puffy jacket — but even then I ended up sweating. This is due to the jacket’s “H²Flow” technology, which traps air between the liner and the shell in Primaloft Gold insulation, a blend of quick-drying synthetics and goose down that circulates warmth around your body inside the snug jacket. This ventilation provides a high warmth-to-weight ratio by reflecting your body heat, which, according to the manufacturer, allowed them to cut up to 30 percent of the weight comparable to traditional jackets. While working up a sweat skiing or spiking adrenaline nearly careening into a tree, the jacket reflected the warm like nothing I’d ever worn.
It’s the best ski jacket I’ve ever worn, but for $900, it damn well better be.
This brings me to the front air vents, two hidden zippered mesh openings in the chest. I was most familiar with air vents around the armpit, those common ones that are easy to open and relatively impossible to close. The front zippers on the Supreme were immediately more intuitively designed for practical use — and more importantly, they worked. As I flew down the mountain, I could allow air to enter the front of my jacket and cool down the jacket when necessary. Otherwise, the zip-away, stretch powder skirt secured snugly around my waistline to keep air from entering from below, while form-fitting wrist gaiters at the end of each armhole secured on my thumb to keep cold from coming in at the glove line.
Waterproof and quick drying
Tight fit means little room for layering
Only two available colors
The coldest day of the trip was snowmobiling near Maroon Bells. Knowing I’d be speeding along with the top down at about 40 mph in freezing temperatures as the sun set, I again wore just one base layer underneath in order to fully test the jacket’s warmness. The adrenaline of riding through the tree-lined path of Independence Pass was enough to keep my temperature up inside the jacket for the entire ride, though I never sweated. I could feel the cold creeping in around my knees, which were exposed to the wind on either side of vehicle, and because my arms were forward the entire time, resting on the handles, the fabric at the center of my back was pulled tight and didn’t allow for heat to circulate in the lining. This created an odd cold spot on my upper back that I hadn’t felt while skiing.
Which makes sense, because the Supreme Jacket is a ski jacket at heart. It drops weight, but not warmth, under the assumption that you’ll be generating a little heat while wearing it. Sit outside on a park bench for a few hours and you might fare better with a 10-pound blanket. But, when used as designed, it’s the best ski jacket I’ve ever worn — but for $900, it damn well better be.