Each winter, Britt Berg stands at the start of snowboarding’s longest-running and most beloved competition. After lining up racers and emcees, she is the final person riders see before launching down the deep, banked turns of the Legendary Banked Slalom course at Washington’s Mount Baker ski area.
Berg greets them all, too, this one-of-a-kind mix of sponsored pros and local rippers: the local legends, the hotdogging grandparents, the 13-year-old groms, the visiting riders from Chile, Japan and Norway all weaving into one community and celebration of winter.
This remarkable mingling of people is what Berg had in mind when she designed REI Co-op’s newest collection of snow outerwear. A senior product designer for REI and a longtime snowboarder and more recent part-time skier, Berg says she and her team constantly ask: How can we make the best, affordable outerwear to get the most people outside?
“I like to call it ‘small d’ democratic design,” she says. “We’re trying to make great gear at a really good price to include the most people we can who are curious about the sport and want to get into it.”
With that goal, REI returned to snow outerwear this winter with gear that not only addresses the needs of snowboarders and skiers in the resort and backcountry, but all types of snow play, from snowshoeing to sledding. The outerwear starts at just $139.
“Our intention is to lower the barrier to snow activity and get more people outside by providing awesome product value in these pieces that our customers can use for years and years,” says Tim Brown, senior product manager for REI Co-op.
From clean lines and a durable workwear vibe to technical features and sustainability aspects like bluesign®-approved materials, the eight styles—two jackets, two bottoms in both genders—are designed to appeal to a wide range of customers and work for both skiing and snowboarding.
The Powderbound insulated jacket and pants, for example, come in extended sizing: up to 3x for women’s jacket and pants and tall sizes for men’s jacket. That’s a rarity in performance snow outerwear, but closing the gear gap is a commitment the co-op has made.
“There are very few options in extended sizing available for snow outerwear,” says Alexa Mennella, an REI buyer for men’s outerwear. “If a customer can’t find the right clothes to enjoy the outdoors in winter, they might skip out on the activity, so offering more sizes is really important to us.”
Madeline Miles, an REI product developer, says the idea is “to get people who might not go to a resort or might not be able to afford the clothes—to get those people going and excited.”
The more approachably priced Powderbound insulated jacket ($199) and pants ($139) have key features like a drop-in goggle pocket, helmet-friendly hood, snap-away powder skirt on the jacket and boot gaiters, inner thigh vents and scuff guards on the pants.
Meanwhile, the more technical First Chair jacket ($299) and bibs ($249)—which offer many of same bells and whistles as the Powderbound—add tough two-layer Gore-Tex waterproof-breathable protection and more pockets (six!). The First Chair jacket also has two-way zippers, so you can accommodate a harness or pack hipbelt.
Britt Berg recalls her first winter snowboarding wearing her dad’s hand-me-down jackets. Back then, she couldn’t find women-specific Gore-Tex outerwear that fit her taller frame. “There were many years when I wore men’s gear and didn’t necessarily love it,” says the longtime snowboarder (pictured above).
With a shot at creating snow outerwear for REI, Berg and others wanted to do better. It’s not enough to use good fabrics and work with amazing factories, Berg says, “we also need to make sure that it fits correctly for the widest range of humans and that it’s hitting the right price point.”
Several rounds of fitting and testing proved key. It was one of the first times the co-op did actual fitting on plus-size models, allowing them to double-check everything from placement of pockets to reach of pit zips. The team also invited nearly two dozen employees at REI headquarters—men and women of different sizes and skill levels—to try out the outerwear and provide feedback.
“We got to talk to a lot of wear testers and field testers about what they wanted and then tried to balance that with what we could afford,” Miles says.
Last summer, Molly Enger, who is in charge of product research for REI, sent the new pieces to more than a dozen skiers and riders to field test on slopes in Argentina, New Zealand and Australia where it was still winter. Not every product goes through this level of fitting or testing, but since REI was betting back into snow outerwear, “we wanted to do due diligence and make sure we get it right,” she says.
Julian Lopez, a mountain guide in Bariloche, Argentina, says he appreciated all the features on the First Chair Gore-Tex jacket and bibs when he tested it last summer. He continued to use it every day last summer as well. Based on his and others’ feedback, the designers refined the fit, making it more streamlined and cut for movement and so it wouldn’t pucker and pinch.
Customers have praised the First Chair jacket for wide wrist cuffs that adjust to fit over gloves, easy-to-grab zipper pulls and ample pockets, including a lift pass pocket on the left wrist.
“This is my first REI brand jacket and I am very impressed with the quality and the thought that went into it,” writes one reviewer of the First Chair GTX jacket. “The snow skirt is adjustable and keeps the snow out, and there are plenty of pockets inside and out.”
Another customer praised the warmth and quality construction of the Powderbound, saying, “The jacket is warm without additional layers, which is great for moderate-temp days on the mountain.”
Berg was also able to field-test the First Chair jacket and bib last winter at the banked slalom, where she has volunteered for the past 18 years.
“To be up there, wearing the gear that I designed for REI, was an honor and a responsibility to do it right for my community and to think about what else we can do better in the future,” she says.
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