The North Face Free Thinker, Foil Thermal, and Sedition II jackets are so cool looking that it almost doesn't matter how well they perform in the cold. But they do. Ah, they do.
I will admit that when I started to do these ski technology reviews, I figured it would be hard to distinguish between the different manufacturers. A coat is a coat, right? Wrong. That's like saying Macs and PCs are the same because both use processors and hard drives. It's very easy to pick out a North Face jacket from other brands, and it has nothing to do with the logo.
We evaluated several jackets from the North Face: Free Thinker, Foil Thermal (women's), Sedition II, and Wavy Triclimate (women's). The four jackets are very different from each other, and highly distinguished from anything else we tried.
Take the North Face Free Thinker jacket, for example, which was my favorite of the bunch.
Made from Gore-Tex Pro Shell Enduro 3L, the Free Thinker jacket blocks the wind while still allowing the jacket to breathe. I found the jacket super-warm without feeling close/claustrophobic. You simply won't get cold in this jacket.
But if all a jacket did was keep you warm, you might as well wear a blanket on the slopes. The North Face Free Thinker jacket, like a Mac, has many clever touches that made it my favorite jacket to ski in. For one thing, it had two huge front pockets which rested on top of an internal powder skirt. Big deal? Indeed. I carried a video camera in my pockets for a few of my ski days and literally couldn't feel the weight. Try putting a few pounds in your coat and not noticing.
While the sleeves have zippers to allow you to cool down by unzipping them, I actually ran the cord through the zipper from my video camera to my helmet cam/lens.
The North Face Free Thinker jacket had the most pocket space of any of the brands and jackets we evaluated. It has rotated core vents that help you to push out heat so you don't drown in the sweaty exultation of a great powder run. The powder skirt was also the best we tried, fitting snugly without suffocating and keeping out the two-foot Little Cloud powder at Snowbird.
I loved this jacket. Of all the North Face jackets we tried, it's the one that I'd buy first.
In terms of coolness factor for those of you in Silicon Valley or warmer climes, however, the North Face Sedition II or Foil Thermal win hands down. The Sedition II is a soft shell while the Foil Thermal is actually a layer a woman would wear under a hard or soft shell. But it is such a cool jacket that a woman could wear it around and people might think she was Trinity from The Matrix. (That's a good thing, right? :-)
On the North Face Foil Thermal, one of our women reviewers couldn't get over the flexible sleeves coupled with the warm vest-like baffled-down torso. She stayed warm but didn't feel like a marshmallow (which is often what you get with insulated jackets).
The Wavy Triclimate is something that could be worn in all seasons of the year (except summer). One reviewer didn't like the fact that the liner doesn't zip into the shell (as some triclimate jackets do), but the upside is that this design leaves more room for movement. She never complained about cold, though, and took it up to Brighton on one day when the thermometer dipped below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
As for the Sedition II, it's soft on the skin like a soft shell should be but no one reported getting wet (which is my one complaint with soft shells, generally). Made from Gore-Tex® Soft Shell stretch 3L with micro-check fleece backer, this one didn't keep the wind out as well but it was the more flexible of the two men's jackets.
If it sounds like I'm gushing, I suppose I am. I asked The North Face to send its best, most technologically advanced jackets. I can't speak for the rest of its extensive line but I'd buy any one of these that we tried.
Though some of the other reviewers might disagree, I'd put the North Face Free Thinker over the Arc'Teryx Sidewinder. It kept me warmer, was more versatile (Pockets, etc.), and was more comfortable. I, personally, wouldn't buy the Arc'Teryx (though, again, at least one of the other reviewers would disagree). This North Face gear is what I'd recommend of the two for this year's ski season.