The Nuke Suit

How I Fell in Love with a Ski Jacket I’ll Never Be Able to Afford


December 11, 2017 Reviews By Photo by Sung Han

L
et’s get this out of the way: I wanted to hate Aztech Mountain’s Nuke Suit jacket from the get-go. My reasons were based purely on speculation and derived entirely from my own subjective experience growing up and skiing in Vermont. Skiing, I might argue, is one of the most exclusive sports in the world due to the exorbitant costs necessitated by gear and lift tickets — not to mention travel — needed for even just a weekend on the hill. For most, the sport is totally unapproachable, and for me, someone who has loved it for years and years, skiing didn’t need another expensive piece of gear — and it sure as hell didn’t need a jacket that cost $1,650.

Let me briefly describe my relationship with skiing, for context. I grew up with a ski resort just 20 minutes from my front door and six or seven more within an hour’s drive. My dad started teaching me to ski — against my young, unappreciative will — at age four. In the winters, school let out at noon once per week so that students could take ski lessons at the mountain in the afternoon. Season passes to Stratton (where a single day lift ticket now costs $115) were free through high school, thanks to a community-run initiative. Becoming a skier was inevitable, and it was also relatively cheap.

Despite my total indoctrination into the sport, I have always been wary of its classist trappings. My friends and I watched ski and snowboard videos and tried to adopt the laid-back style of the riders we saw, and certainly took on many of their anti-mainstream views. At the mountain, we were local punks, and anyone with a fancy-looking parka was a yuppie flatlander (and a potential target for any well-placed snowballs thrown from the chairlift). Clothing was important; it didn’t matter if a jacket was as waterproof as a sponge. As long as it looked cool, it was cool.

My gear priorities have since changed. I’m entirely concerned with performance, but that doesn’t mean aesthetics aren’t important. Nevertheless, when I saw the hefty price tag on Aztech Mountain’s Nuke Suit, I was forced to suppress my teenage angst in order to dig deeper. Why should a jacket cost this much? How can it be worth it? The only way to find out was to give it a try.

I tested the Nuke Suit in Sun Valley, Idaho over the course of a late February weekend. The first thing I noticed about the jacket was the complexity of its interior paneling and stitching. Stretch and ventilation fabrics are placed in targeted zones. The exterior, however, leans on simplicity. There is essentially no exposed stitching (common points of failure on jackets) — the down baffles are created with thermal welding instead. The pockets, and their angular zippers, lie flat. Even the velcro cuffs are thoughtfully tailored. When it comes to construction, Aztech certainly spared no detail.

When I did ultimately slip on and zip up the Nuke Suit in Sun Valley’s over-the-top-glamorous River Run Lodge, it was, to my dismay, immediately comfortable. The jacket is trim and tailored, following a more Euro-inspired cut; the bottom hem sits at the waist and the sleeves at the wrists. It didn’t feel loose or roomy like the ski jackets of my youth (it ain’t baggy).

Up on the hill, I felt silly. Like I was wearing someone else’s skin, like I had betrayed myself. There were no loose folds in the jacket’s fabric. But despite its snug feel, the Nuke Suit stretched with me and moved with me, like it and I were one. This was due in part to Aztech’s use of Dermizax EV nylon, a four-way stretch fabric, in the outer shell. I was starting to see why legendary ski racer Bode Miller sought out and partnered with the brand as Chief Innovation Officer after donning the Nuke Suit during a photo shoot in Chile.

But ski jackets aren’t all about comfort and fit. They do have a job to do: keep a skier warm and to ward off the elements of the mountain. After looking at the weather report on our first day I dressed warmly, predicting that I would need to layer up underneath the jacket as I normally would. I was wrong. The Nuke Suit is plenty warm on its own. It also breathes remarkably well — I was hot in all my layers but didn’t gush sweat — for a jacket stuffed with goose down. While we didn’t experience the fateful 20-inch blizzard every skier hopes for on a trip, the jacket did put up with the fog and flurries we did experience over the weekend, and I’d expect its 20k waterproof rating to handle much more with ease.

The Nuke Suit had managed to dispel my immediate skepticism in a weekend, but let’s return to where I started: its $1,650 price tag. Even after my experience, I can honestly say that I’ll never pay that much for a ski jacket — period — and there are many more like me that share the same mindset. But there are many who will, and to Aztech’s merit, there’s a point to be made that if there’s a market for it, make it. There is, without a doubt, a market for premium apparel within the ski industry. Sure, there are plenty of jackets that can match the Nuke Suit in terms of in-use performance; there are also many more that can’t. But tech specs aren’t the only thing that compels someone to buy one jacket over another — the attitude of my youth is proof of this. Price is a function of ascribed and perceived value. For many skiers, that’s an equation that can easily be balanced, regardless of numerical value.

No, the Nuke Suit didn’t fit with my personal, jaded style preferences. But it is stylish in its own way (many of the colorways aren’t quite as loud as the one I tested), and awesomely comfortable with a trim fit that’s pretty darn close to perfect. It’s exceptionally warm and waterproof, as a ski jacket should be. But my favorite thing about it was a construction that lets it stretch and retract and move with a skier’s motions and not against them.

So, would I buy this ski jacket? Not on these wages. But for the skier who places value in a premium brand using top-notch materials, the Nuke Suit certainly won’t disappoint. And given a chance to borrow one for an afternoon, a weekend, or maybe even a month? I’d shred this thing all over the mountain.