Protective snow gear is usually bulky and awkward. Think Robo Cop. Or Transformers. Which is fine for pro riders and anyone seriously pushing park and pipe limits.
But for most snowboarders and skiers it’s overkill.
Enter Drífa, the World’s first snow clothing with slip in/slip out protective pads. You simply slot the lightweight but effective pads into the custom slots in the hips and tail of the pants, and the elbows of the jackets.
We were highly impressed by them when we met Drífa CEO James Horstman last year. Hooking up with him at Sydney’s popular OffPiste indoor snow simulator venue we were able to try out their comfort and ease of use.
But nothing beats a decent road test. Two weeks of off the grid powder chasing in Japan (stay tuned for details on that) gave us the opportunity to give Drífa protective snow gear a serious workout.
Drífa’s top line Andean Range of jackets and pants feature 20k/20k waterproofing and breathability.
I lost of count of how many dumping snow days I skied them in, from Gunma to Shiga Kogen to Iwate in northern Honshu.
I never got wet, even when snow was settling fast on the slow old double and single chairlifts.
I never got too cold either. We were testing Le Bént bamboo and merino blend thermals as our base layer (sooooo good!) too, usually with just a light mid-layer and the Drífa shell style jacket over the top.
Nor too hot. Which is a common problem with bulkier and poorly vented gear. Drífa’s Andean jacket and pants feature big seam sealed zip vents to open up when you’re hiking or back inside. The zips are tough and easy to operate too. This is quality protective snow gear that can take the hard yards.
Big seam sealed pockets in sensible places are another great feature – ever noticed how a lot of snow wear sacrifices functionality on the alter of fashion fads – like tiny pockets that are basically useless in search of a clean profile. Drífa’s protective snow gear looks good and is very functional.
We left Australia with much of the country cooking in 45° heat, yet I wore the jacket over a t-shirt once inside the airport air conditioning as we left Sydney. Passports, iphones and sunglasses slot easily into the pockets.
Fitting passports in the inside breast pocket is really good – you know exactly where they are and, if you are traveling to less honest places than Japan, know they are secure there as you travel around.
If it gets too hot anywhere – like on overheated shinkansen trains – the Andean jacket it rolls up to a small size anyway.
The longer the trip went on the more I liked the gear. Lugging ski and snowboard stuff is the big downside of snow travel, so anything that multi-tasks is a huge bonus. Like just having jacket for indoors and outdoors.
We usually have crazy busy schedules in Japan. A typical day involves a 6am start to head out for a shoot when they fire up the lift or sled us up ahead of the paying guests.
That’s followed by some hiking when the resort opens and people get on the hill. Then lunch and meetings.
Then we’ll travel to a different resort for more skiing and shooting.
Then maybe an onsen in the middle of nowhere or some other random off-snow activity.
Then it’s straight to evening meetings and dinner, often without time to change or check into the room at the new location.
So it’s not all beer and skittles in this job! Except (of course) it is. Evenings in J-land invariably involve a lot of beer. Pure Japanese beer that won’t give you a hangover. No complaints.
But you get the picture – it’s all go. And as a result I basically lived in the Drífa protective snow gear pants and jacket for most of the whole 2 weeks.
I never bothered to remove the protective pads once. It only takes seconds to pop them in our out, and you get a handy waterproof bag to keep them in. But you don’t notice they’re in there at all most of the time.
The tail pad can be handy for comfort too, like when rocking along in the old 1968 4WD bus from Hachimantai Resort to the Matsukawa Onsen. The elbow pads saved me banging into small doorways a couple of times too.
More importantly, while I never go near park or pipe, I do get sucked in like a bowl of soba noodles by tree runs. The more trees you charge the more knocks along the way, and the thigh and elbow pads earnt their keep a few times.
Luckily as a skier I don’t have the boarder’s perennial problem of smacking in on my ass a lot – which was one one of the driver’s of Drífa CEO James Horstman’s original idea. As an improving snowboarder himself he was getting lots on knocks.
Having spent over a decade working on protective gear for footballers, especially rugby players, he knew all about protective sport gear.
So when he switched to making protective snow gear for skiers and boarders he knew the materials and designs that work.
I only had one problem with the gear all trip: as usual, the more I ski the thinner I get, and the pop fastener adjusters on the sides of the pants don’t hold as well as velcro tabs would. No matter, I need a belt anyway – especially after 2 weeks of this sort of snow!
Maybe best of all, the Drífa protection snow gear doesn’t cost anymore than similar quality jackets and pants.
We’ll give them an 10/10 SnowAction Roadworthy Certificate.