After a few flights, a couple hours in the car, a short jaunt in a helicopter and a ride in a steamy snowcat, we found ourselves overlooking British Columbia’s Selkirk Mountains, surrounded by untracked powder without a lodge or any mark of human intervention in sight.
Weather in the region can change quickly: what starts as a sunny morning can turn into a whiteout blizzard by afternoon, grounding flights and reducing visibility to just a few meters. Still, the untouched wilderness and accompanying bounty of fresh snow makes the area around Baldface Lodge Valhalla-on-Earth for skiers and snowboarders. When in such climes, the trustiness of one’s gear is paramount. Hence, this terrain serves as essential testing ground for LA-based Aether Apparel‘s latest line-up of men’s and women’s outerwear.
Aether founders Jonah Smith and Palmer West started their company with a clear but aspirational goal: to make outdoor apparel that is fit for the toughest conditions and highest performance use, but that holds up aesthetically from the mountain to the city and everywhere in between. With no detail overlooked (West is happy to discuss the merits and demerits of every zipper on the market), the duo continues to refine their outwear to compete with industry heavy-hitters. Actively testing their gear themselves (Smith and West are expert snowboarders and skiers respectively), they know better than anyone that getting to the mountains isn’t easy and nobody wants to be wet and cold once it’s time to ride.
“Research and development goes hand in hand with design,” West explains. “Form can be created in a design room, function has to be tested in the elements we design it for.” Baldface is the ideal location for Aether to push its outerwear to the limit, thanks to the extreme conditions. “You can always trust that there will be tons of snow at Baldface, tree skiing to test durability of our fabrics, and high winds and frigid temperatures push the boundaries of our gear,” says West. “If you are comfortable and protected there, you will be good anywhere.”
We dropped into Baldface’s legendary pillow lines (with the Magnum Opus from Line Skis) kitted out in the Crest Down jacket ($725) and Apex snow pants ($375). Where most down jackets feel incapable of taking a beating, the Crest is designed for it. Tree branch whips, ski edges and (just a few) tumbles through Baldface’s finer snowfields were no match for the breathable three-layer Japanese nylon waterproof outer. While the 800-fill goose down insulation is intended for the coldest days of the year, the jacket vents surprisingly well—making it a great choice for mid-winter sessions at high altitudes for body temperature changes as much as the conditions. West sums it up bluntly, “If you are still cold in this jacket, you should see a doctor immediately.”
Fit is a chief concern with all of Aether’s garments, and the Apex snow pants strike a harmonious balance between form and function. Keeping us dry through wet conditions, what’s most striking about the seam-sealed Apex is the unique material. What appears to be a heavy cotton canvas is a carefully sourced, waterproof three-layer oxford material. Stylish? Sure, but more importantly; durable enough to withstand ski edges and beads off water (and beer) with ease.
Taking gear out into the wild is the only way to truly know if those desk iterations are worth their salt. But when Aether’s founders (and most gear-testers) find their product is lacking a technical feature, any integration needs to be done carefully. “Our customer expects the highest level of technicality, be it insulation, fabrics, or fabrication, without the loud exterior bells and whistles that make a jacket out of place in a city environment,” West says. “When a functional addition is required, we go back to the drawing boards to make sure we don’t lose our Aether aesthetic as the garment is fortified with more technical qualities.”
Backed by a lifetime guarantee, Aether’s line of men’s and women’s outerwear is available online and in Aether stores in NYC, LA and SF. Keep an eye out for our full rundown of Aether’s favorite gear-testing location Baldface Lodge, later this month.
Images by Hans Aschim