It’s easy to skimp on a piece of gear here or there when you’re just visiting. But when you put down roots in a mountain town, there are a few essentials that truly merit the moniker. From the ski bum’s unofficial uniform (the flannel) and backcountry-ready slippers to down parkas and bombproof water bottles, here are a few of our favorite pieces of gear that help make mountain-town winters even more amazing.
The Flannel: Eddie Bauer Expedition Flannel
In a ski town, the flannel is a utility player, a true do-everything garment. For anything less than a funeral, it might as well be a tuxedo. Heading out for a night at one of the four bars on main street? You might not stand out in the sea of plaid, but you’ll fit right in.
Our favorite flannel? That’d be the Eddie Bauer Expedition Flannel. It’s a simple enough beast—we’re not looking for rocket-worthy tech here. But Eddie Bauer’s gone a bit beyond the basics with the Expedition, as the 100% polyester Freeheat fabric wicks moisture but still has a soft cotton feel to it. The Expedition is hardly noticeable against the skin (even if you aren’t wearing a t-shirt underneath), but it’s also rugged enough to cope with mountain town hazards like campfire cinder and IPA spillage. Should blue cheese fail to stick to your happy hour chicken wing, don’t despair—just chuck it in the wash and keep on truckin’. Even if you do abuse it—as all flannels should be—this durable, no-frills longer-sleeve flannel shirt may very well be a family heirloom in the decades to come.
Best For: Everyday wear, mountain town formal occasions
The Parka: Stio Durrance Jacket
Bundling up in a mountain town is non-negotiable—unless you want to freeze into a statue on the main drag. On or off the ski hill, down insulation is a must. Stio’s Durrance Down Jacket is bursting at the baffles with 650-fill Allied Feather HyperDry water-repellant down: while this isn’t the most packable down, it is warm, affordable, and performs well in wet weather. The outer fabric is a 2-layer polyester DELFY membrane-equipped shell rated at a middle-of-the-pack 10K/10K waterproofness.
The sheer size and warmth of the Durrance Down Jacket makes it less than ideal to ski in, aside from all but the most windshield-shattering, windchill-battering of days. The voluminous puffy gives off a clichéd but truthful Michelin Man feel that hinders aggressive movement required by aggressive skiing, and the insulated jacket is sure to crank sweat glands to overtime if temperatures do rise during the day. That being said, the Durrance is a perfect parka for rocking day-to-day, barhopping downtown, riding snowmobiles, going dogsledding, and other mountain-town recreation.
Stio decked the Durrance out with plenty of ski-friendly features, however, like a removable down hood and powder skirt, mesh-lined pit zips, two chest pockets, and two hand pockets. And while we wouldn’t recommend relying solely on the Durrance for your skiing needs, it’s near perfect in other settings: essentially, it’s as snug as a wearable sleeping bag, but still retains a sense of style.
Best For: Extreme cold-weather skiing, chopping wood, running errands, surviving a mountain town winter
The Kicks: Vans SK8-Hi All Weather MTE
Vans launched their All Weather MTE Line with mountain towns in mind. For those who favor skate shoes over bulky snow boots, Vans has essentially weatherized classic skateboard models.
Yes, the SK8-Hi MTE looks just like the original Vans classic—from afar. Come closer, and you’ll notice a beefier build and a heavily-lugged sole (Vans has been making snowboard boots for two decades now, so the traction is on-point). Put it under the microscope, and the leather uppers have been weather-treated with Scotchguard, the plaid liners are exceptionally warm, the laces are burly, and a heat-retention membrane is sandwiched between the outsole and the non-removable liner. While not as warm as bulky boots twice the cost, twice the size, and infinitely less stylish, the SK8-Hi MTE makes for an awesome everyday winter shoe.
Best For: Looking stylish without getting frostbite in your toes
The Shades: Spy Frazier Sunglasses
Sunglasses are crucial to mountain town survival. Have you ever tried to walk around—let alone drive—after a fresh snowfall when there’s not a cloud in the sky? How does that Bruce Springsteen song go—“Blinded by the White”?
All jokes aside, the Frazier gets the job done, in both high-octane and low-pressure scenarios. From climbing peaks in British Columbia to chilling beachside in Colombia, we’ve taken the Frazier all over the world, and we’ve yet to have a single complaint about their performance. The Blue Happy Lens with the Spectra Mirror provided glare-reduction both beachside and on the brightest of backcountry tours, and multiple testers agreed that Spy’s promises of crisp and vivid optics are met in spades.
Not as sleek as some more aggressively-shaped sunglasses, the Frazier definitely seems like more of a style piece than a performance pair, but it’s really capable of anything. The nose and temple grips supply enough friction to keep the shades in place (even when you’re dripping sweat), and if you need more security, you can pop off the rubber temple grips and secure Croakies to the frame itself via small holes at the end of the arms.
Best For: Ski touring and driving
The Water Bottle: Stanley Classic Vacuum Water Bottle 36oz
Dehydration at altitude is a constant threat—best to battle it with a 36-ounce tank of a water bottle. Thanks to the 18/8 stainless steel double-wall vacuum, water stays icy up to 48 hours, and cool up to 13. And, heaven forbid, should you lose your water bottle in the trunk of your car and 48 hours turns into 48 days, the two-stage lid unscrews completely for easy cleaning.
Available in matte black, stainless steel, and Stanley’s heritage hammertone green, the classic Stanley styling is unmistakable. But more important than the styling is Stanley’s commitment to quality: this burly beast has been dropped, banged, abused, forgotten, smashed, landed on, and frozen solid. Nothing has managed to leave much more than a small ding in the metal body—and at that point, a little battle scar is appreciated.
The best part about lugging around this behemoth of hydration? You’ll end up drinking way more than you usually do—and that’s a good thing.
Best For: Everyday use, making sure you’re drinking enough water at altitud