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  • Writer's pictureKristen Haskell

All Purpose vs. Slopeside vs. Backcountry Shell Pants

Are you a slopeside and/or backcountry skier/rider, or do you just a love the outdoors in the winter? Do you currently have different pants for different adventures? Are there features and styling that you want for one but not the other? Let’s discuss the features in shell pants and how they affect your experience in the woods vs at the resort. There is a spectrum that ranges from fully featured pants with triple layer laminated fabrics to an ultra-light minimalist shell and everything in between. What works for you?


Weight, waterproofing, and flexibility. There are always trade-offs in this department. I prefer a heavy-weight fabric in a backcountry pant. This is because I want better venting, which means more zippers and possibly mesh liners. A triple laminated fabric not only for extra water proofing but to act as a more durable brush guard while dipping through the trees. Don't forget about the weight of the extra material for the cargo pocket and scuff guards. There are certainly a lot of people out there who want to go light when they are planning on earning turns. Or maybe you just don’t care about features, you just want to get out there. We haven’t even mentioned soft shell fabrics. More flexible and breathable, the softshell adds layer of warmth with a brushed internal surface. With a decent level of water resistance, softshells are a great option for storm free days.

Pocket talk

Admittedly, I am a “backpack skier” regardless of where I am skiing. I want to have options for changing conditions as well as water and snacks with me all the time. When I am slopeside, I generally will make any adjustments while riding the lift. Lose a layer, add a layer, drink, eat a snack. When I am in the backcountry I want a cargo pocket on my pants so I can take off my hat, neck warmer, or glove liners and stash them on the fly. I don’t want to lose any momentum while climbing to put something in my pack. I’m almost positive I have never used a back pocket in any ski pant ever. If you do, I’d love to know what you put in them.

Skijoring up Amos Mt, Lovell ME


Airflow can be achieved in several ways and each has tradeoffs. Generally we need more venting when in the backcountry when switching between assent and descent. This is not to say that there aren’t the sweating and freezing cycles when resort skiing. However, any climb is guaranteed to be toasty and requires layer shedding and airflow adjustment, which sometimes, never feels like enough.

Vents can be fully open or have a mesh liner that restricts the opening in some manner. Mesh liners are often used on inner thigh vents so you don’t get all tripped up on gaping fabric as you move about. Mesh liners also give a cleaner pant look when applied to side leg. The major trade off with a mesh lined side leg vent is you lose the possibility of a fully zipped openable leg which may be a desired feature. The other caveat of mesh liners is that they add bulk and weight to the garment.

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