Ah, the powder suit. That iconic one-piece ubiquitous on ski slopes during the 1980s… A neon-hued onesie that traces its roots to the early 1960s, when Italian designer Emilio Pucci unveiled his eye-popping ultra-mod stretchies. From there, it changed with the times, appropriating trends and styles as the decades moved onward.
Rightly, this is what you’re probably picturing:
With all due respect to John Denver—that’s godawful. Hence why the one-piece ski suit went from glory to gone. (Almost.)
I have a history with the powder suit. I won’t claim to be an early adopter as it was well into its heyday by the time I donned my DiTrani one-piece. But I was a late holdout. In fact, I wore my purple suit into the mid-1990s, when snowboarding had knocked skiing back onto its bindings and the baggy-pants ‘boarders were adding “cute suit” alongside “two-plank wank” and other rhyming insults of snowsports’ Cold War. Eventually, I chucked my suit for a trendier two-piece ensemble so I could continue carving without being mocked from the halfpipe.
But. It. Made. No. Sense.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link. And in popular two-piece ski apparel, that link (or lack thereof) is obvious—you’ve left a gap between your jacket and pants. No high-bibs or powder skirts can fully overcome this design flaw. If you ski deep powder with a two-piece getup, you will get snow up your shirt and down your drawers. That ends now—with Helly Hansen’s Ullr Powder Suit.
Named for the Norse god of snow, the Ullr Powder Suit is outfitted with Helly Hansen’s best technology. It’s constructed of burly three-layer HellyTech Professional waterproof breathable fabric; the top-tier of their three levels of protection. Fully seam-sealed, YKK Aquaguard zips and a DWR-treated exterior, of course, with a light stretch to aid in mogul-bashing mobility.
Their H2Flow system is particularly important in a onesie, due to the potential for stuffiness. H2Flow uses a system of vents and airspace to help regulate your temperature when you’re overheating in the deep pow or freezing on the chairlift or in the helicopter.
Rather than pit-zips, which are annoying when you add a backpack, the upper mesh-protected vents are located on the front panel. Open vents on the inner thigh and gills on the back add to the ventilation package. And Primaloft-filled pillows on the interior back-panel ensure the negative space needed for air circulation.
A gamut of features make this suit special—helmet-compatible hood; ski pass holder; goggle-wipe shammy; two thigh pockets; two torso pockets; internal storage; wrist gators with thumb-loops; and high-viz hits throughout. Of particular note is the Recco system, which uses built-in reflectors to assist in your location during an avalanche burial situation. Let’s hope we never need them.
It’s also outfitted with a “Lifepocket”—a pocket wrapped in a Primaloft-engineered gel to insulate electronics like your smartphone or action-cam, thereby extending battery life. While the Lifepocket’s location on the chest is fine for in-bounds shredding, backcountry skiers likely shouldn't have electronics in that close of proximity to an avalanche transceiver.
We discovered the Ullr Powder Suit at the 2016 Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah; a biannual unveiling of the latest and greatest in outdoor equipment and apparel. All the major players are there—yet this onesie stood out. In fact, it blew our minds, even though the sample was Neon Orange, which looks a bit like you should either be marching to the county lockup or holding a stop-sign at a construction site. However, the Graphite Blue (pictured above) with olive accents and neon hits is the most badass ski outfit—one- or two-piece—we’ve seen this season.
It fits baggy, leaving loads of room for big-mountain freeride turns and just the right amount of steez. (Steez, as the kids say, means “style with ease.” You’re welcome.) The asymmetrical zipper not only looks cool, it’s easier to pull—plus, the zip is two-way, making pee-breaks convenient for XY Chromosome skiers or Shewee users. A high-collar is a must for deep powder skiing. And this one is uber-high, but claustrophobics need not worry as it also has a zip-open mesh-vent for easy breathing. Plus, the suit is unisex—HH recommends women size-down for the right fit.
The MSRP of $1,100 is daunting, but reels back within reason when you consider that HH jackets and pants using the same technology run between $500 and $700 apiece. But you can do a lot in a jacket. You can only ski (or board) in the Ullr. So, let’s ski.
- Temperature: -1 degrees Celsius
- Wind: Up to 20 km/h
- Snow: 50 centimetres of fresh and snowing
- Visibility: Just past the tips of my skis
If there was ever a day to review a powder suit, this was it. More than half-a-metre of fresh snow had hit Vancouver’s North Shore mountains in the previous 24 hours. With the temperature a hair below freezing, it was also damp, and the wind picked up throughout the day.
As part of Helly Hansen’s top-tier skiwear, I expected a lot from this suit. And the waterproofing, windproofing and weather-sealing performed admirably. What I didn’t expect, or rather what I had forgotten about, was the level of comfort a powder suit provides. Loose and cozy, it feels like you’re skiing in an old pair of PJ's. (In a good way.)
A once-piece reigns supreme in such snowy, wet and windy conditions. Northeast gusts howled against the chairlift but found no nooks or crannies to permeate my armour. Water and snow beaded and rolled off the fresh DWR; my previous experience with HellyTech Professional suggests a long-life of weatherproofness.
In haste, I had set my DIN two-steps too low that morning. Early-season legs combined with West Coast cement conspired to steal one of my Elans mid-turn on an under-the-chairlift black diamond. Faceplant. Yes, even after a yard sale, this onesie kept me dry and warm. A lot of this is owing to the Ullr’s helmet-compatible hood and high collar. Cinched up, and even with the vent open, it’s a veritable phalanx—after all, the neck-hole is a powder suit’s only weakpoint.
Conditions made the venting unnecessary, but I was still able to work up some heat traversing and skiing pow. The airspace pockets seemed to be doing their job—sweat dispersed quickly. In warmer conditions, the leg and torso vents would be welcome.
This is a review. Not a love-in. Let’s talk qualms.
Versatility is not exactly the operative word. While the Ullr rules for on-slope comfort, it does a 180 during lunchtime or après use. You’re either fully suited or fully stripped. While I smirked at the two-piece suckers on the hill, I soon envied those who could casually toss their jackets off and relax in the lodge. If après fun is just as important as the on-slope action, remember to either wear suitable pants underneath or bring a change of clothes. You can't party in a powder suit. Or at least you shouldn't.
The Lifepocket requires a rethink. Beyond the location, which I address above, it’s simply too small. I own an iPhone 7 and it snugly, but barely, fits within. Plus-model owners or those with Samsung phablets may find little use for this pocket. The Lifepocket is also hyped as a stash for an action cam, but I slid a GoPro inside and the unit protruded uncomfortably from my chest like a tumour. Thankfully, the thigh-pockets are ample, but my GoPro's battery died midday—likely because it was exposed to the chill.
And I felt lightly triggered when an Aussie lift-attendant uttered, in a tone that bordered on sarcasm, “That’s quite the suit!” Maybe not everyone thinks it’s as rad as I do. But I’m 39 now, not 15. I require protection from the elements and comfort. What I do not require is validation.
But my love of the Ullr Powder Suit goes beyond functionality and transcends minor qualms or the opinions of Aussie snowboarders.
This suit makes me want to ski more. Because it’s fun to be warm and cozy. It’s fun to wear something single-purpose and exciting. I felt ready for action—like I’d suited-up to attack the slopes come hell or high water. (On the coast, the latter is a real concern.)
I’m no longer a late-holdout. I’m an early re-adopter. Mark my words: the powder suit is back. Let’s keep it around this time, OK?
- Yeah: Extreme weather protection, incredible comfort, looks fantastic
- Meh: Single-purpose, Lifepocket needs a rethink
- Verdict: STOKED
- Cost: $1,100
- Get It: hellyhansen.com