After three years and many days on the alpine, my previous Gore-Tex pants and jacket began to wear out. The final straw was a late fall hike in wet snow and rain on Snoqualmie Pass. After a few hours my Gore-Tex was completely soaked through — the old shell had reached the end of it’s illustrious life of keeping me dry. Thus, I was on the hunt for a new getup. We had a few choices for test gear, this time around I decided to try out the Black Diamond Front Point bibs and Sharp End jacket.
I find bibs ideal for long days in inclement weather. For mid-winter ski touring in the PNWet, they are almost mandatory. I’ve used quite a few pairs over the years, and have a fairly specific set of requirements. Priority numero uno is keeping my legs dry. They have to be as waterproof as possible, with full waterproof laminate up to well above waist level, and powder gaiters for the boots. Unfortunately most ski bibs tend to be heavy, so weight is also a primary concern. Anything more than light(ish) Gore-Tex, suspenders, and a few pockets usually bumps it into heavy territory. With those out of the way, fit is of course next on the list, they’ve got to fit me, and not be too baggy or too tight and constricting. Pockets and other features are nice, but when it comes to other features, I believe less is more. There are few pants out there that satisfy this requirement, and the BD Front Points are one of them.
For jackets, I normally tend to go with the burliest shell jacket I can find, in order to keep out weather and stand up the perils of bushwhacking and sharp ski edges. However, this time around I went for the Sharp End shell, a lighter jacket in BD’s line that still features Gore-Tex Pro Shell throughout. BD also offers the Front Point shell, that matches with the bib pants, as it’s burliest shell, although it’s about 150 grams heavier. The major difference between the shells is fabric weight, the Sharp End has 80D fabric, while the Front Point has 40D fabric.
I got the medium size of the bibs, and they fit well for backcountry skiing. They are a much more trim fit than other ski bibs out there, and just barely manage to fit over my ski boots. As far as features, they are fairly simple (a plus), they’ve got “rainbow style” side zips that stretch all the way from the hem of the pant and meet up right above the but. Pockets: either thigh, a zipper pocket on the right, and a quick-access velcro pocket on the left. They’ve also got a small pocket on the left breast that nicely fits a beacon. Front Point bibs use a fairly burly 70D Gore-Tex, but still come in at 742 grams (Measured on a postal scale, a bit heavier than BD’s catalogue weight).
The Sharp End Jacket also has minimal features. It’s got four pockets, two breast pockets and two side pockets. Other than that it’s got standard draw cord adjustments on the hood and hem. BD uses the Cohesive adjustment hardware, which is basically a cord lock that’s laminated into the fabric of the jacket. Although I’m not quite convinced that it is much better functionally, the embedded cord-locks look slick — I can certainly appreciate them from a design standpoint. The Cohesive system ostensibly makes one-handed adjustments easier as well. The Sharp End takes advantage of the minimal features and lighter 40D Gore-Tex to come in at a weight of 458 grams. (This is a bit heavier than the BD’s listed weight; it is what I found on our postal scale).
I’ve been using the bibs and jacket since mid-January. With our unusually sunny season this year in the PNW, I’ve experienced far fewer stormy ski days than normal. However, I’ve still gotten a few wet days to test out the shells, as well as lots of snowy test days in Japan. The bibs also journeyed to Alaska this year, where they got all the inclement weather testing you could ever want: 20+ days of shoveling out our tent in the worst storm I’ve ever experienced will do that.
Throughout all my testing, the jacket and bibs have proved to work quite well. It’s great having a jacket that packs down as small as the Sharp End does. The pants have worked well, and kept me nice and dry in some quite bad weather. The pockets on the jacket are positioned well,and are easy to get into while wearing a pack or harness. Also, the pants have 2 side pockets, one with a velcro top-flap, which is great for stuffing a hat or gloves on the skin track. The other pockets close with zippers, which allow them to be more secure and keep out blowing snow better.
Of course, I do have a few gripes about the clothes. The bibs are a fairly tight fit, especially for a ski pant. While the cuff does fit over my ski boots, it’s a tight fit. Also, the powder gaiter at the bottom of the pant is only a few inches in tall, as opposed to those in other pants, which are often 6 inches or more. With a normal pair of pants, i leave the powder gaiter fastened around the top of my boot, and simply slide the cuff up to access my boot buckles at the top and bottom of a run. With the short powder gaiter, i have to slide the powder gaiter up and down as well as the boot cuff. A fairly minor inconvenience, but something that i often notice. Another issue: the suspender straps on the pants are attached with big aluminum buckles. These go along with BD’s clothing aesthetic of using aluminum zipper pulls and other hardware. However, they buckles are big and bulky, and can end up sitting right on top of your shoulders, depending on how they are adjusted. A simple plastic buckle would have worked much better, and been more comfortable.
I have fewer gripes about the jacket. It’s lightweight, with minimal features, which I love. I like the Cohesive system for the most part, however I find that the one on the rear of the hood is difficult to operate with gloves on. In my view, a standard cord lock would actually be easier.
Of course, fit is the most important aspect when choosing clothing for any sort of mountain sports. It’s always recommended to physically try on clothing before buying. However, to give you an idea, the medium fit me quite well, and I am 5’ 10’’ (178cm), and 150 lbs (68kg); fairly skinny. The pants fit well, but just barely long enough, and a trim fit. If i was a bit bigger, or wanted a baggier fit, I’d get the next size up.
Overall, I’ve been quite satisfied with Black Diamond’s Gore-Tex offerings for ski mountaineering. The attention to detail is excellent, what you would expect from high-end technical apparel. With quite a bit of wear, it’s all holding up well.