If you haven’t looked at Columbia in a few years, you’re not alone. Dan Hanson, Columbia’s Vice President of Marketing admitted as much when we were talking at The Canyons in December 2011. “We lost our focus,” he told me. “When we look back at what made Columbia successful, it was innovation. We created an interchangeable jacket system that was highly successful. Then we stopped innovating. Three years ago, we made a decision to recapture innovation.”
Natural Systems: Warmth
Columbia’s innovation focuses on understanding the human body and its natural systems for heating and cooling. In Fall 2010, they launched Omni-Heat. Omni-Heat is a lining of silver dots which reflects body heat back to the body. I’ve got several Omni-Heat items, and while it’s hard to compare how cold I would be on a cold day without Omni-Heat, let’s just put it this way: I’m warm. With one caveat: You have to build up heat to have heat reflected back at you. If you’re sitting still or you start out really cold, Omni-Heat isn’t going to warm you on its own. You gotta keep moving.
Last season, Omni-Heat was readily available in ski coats. I tested a coat, which I still love. This season, I’ve got Omni-Heat baselayers, ski gloves, ski socks, a fleece sweater, snow boots and ski pants, in addition to a coat and shell. Putting it all together, I have to say that skiing on one really cold, but sunny day, I was almost Omni-overheated. That was fine with me. Better hot than cold. On another bitterly cold day however, I let my hands get too cold before I put them in my Omni-Heat gloves. They never really warmed up (so I switched to mittens, which I prefer anyway for warmth).
For 2012, Columbia is marrying those little silver dots with lightweight down, to create the super warm, super light (13.6 ounce) Powerfly Down jacket. I have one (lucky me!) and I wear it daily. Outside, in the house, everywhere. I run in it when its super cold and wear it to the store. I put it under an Omni-Heat Shell (The Triple Trail) from the 2011 line and it’s perfect on a cold day.
Natural Systems: Cooling
When thinking about snowsports or winter hiking, I rarely think about the need to cool down until I’m overheated. Then I love the pit zips. Recognizing that the body is warm in some areas and cold in others, Columbia created Omni-Wick EVAP. Omni-Wick EVAP is designed to disperse sweat across a larger fabric surface so that it evaporates more quickly. Used in combination with Omni-Heat, Omni-Wick EVAP is strategically placed in the places you sweat.
I’ve skied, on a brutally windy, wet snowy day, in a women’s 2012 Ultrachange jacket which has Omni-Heat, Omni-Wick EVAP and Omni-Dry waterproof, breathable fabric. The Ultrachange is actually from Columbia’s Trail line, so it doesn’t have skiing essentials like pit zips, an arm pocket for RF passes or even a loop for a lift ticket. But is weighs nothing — only 24 ounces and it kept me warm and dry.
You Don’t Have To Wait
With all this information about what’s coming in Fall 2012, should you wait? Well, if you’re happy with what you’re wearing this winter, why not? But if you’re not, Columbia’s 2011 line has some great pieces. I’ve mentioned a few in other posts — specifically the baselayers (which are so cute, I don’t cover them up), and the McQueen boots, which I am in danger of wearing out, I wear them so much.
But I also like the Omni-Heat ski socks, especially if you like a thin sock, and the Triple Trail shell. It’s super versatile, I love the bold colors and it is perfect for heat-building activities like cross-country skiing or skinning up the resort on a cold day. I have no doubt it will be great on warm, sunny spring skiing days as well.
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