As the First Ascent collection hits its 10th year, Eddie Bauer works to stay at the forefront of innovation.
The helicopter blades buzzed just a few feet above our heads, and we wasted no energy trying to talk. It was too loud to hear anything but the roar of the engine.
We gave a thumbs-up to our pilot, signaling the door was shut and we were in a safe position. Seconds later he lifted off, and with a flash of snow, the world around us went silent. Standing on a ridgeline in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia, I couldn’t help myself but let out a loud “Yeeeoooowww!”
This was our second day of a heli-ski trip in British Columbia, testing Eddie Bauer’s unreleased Freshline Jacket and Bibs. A few days earlier, we flew into Revelstoke and met up with our guides at Eagle Pass Heliski to go over protocols, weather, snowpack, and locations.
Using a helicopter to access new terrain enabled us to ski more than a dozen laps each day, some close to 5,000 feet. This allowed our small group to test the products in a variety of conditions — and have fun doing it.
In short: Eddie Bauer’s new Freshline Jacket and Bibs, coming to market fall 2019, are the best ski outerwear the brand has ever built — and awfully close to the best I’ve ever tested. After 100,000 vertical feet of turns, I walked away very impressed.
The jacket has a comfortable hood, body-mapped design, ample pockets, and burly materials that kept me dry even in wet, low-elevation tree skiing. Eddie Bauer designed the bibs to improve movement and offer hip-to-cuff zips for access and venting. And the brand uses the same tough eVent Expedition fabrics.
Designed to work best in tandem, this combo offers a great balance between necessary features and simplicity.
The First Ascent Collection: An Emphasis on Guide Testing
Approaching its 10th year, the First Ascent collection has earned its reputation as having some of the best products on the market. As the premium line for Eddie Bauer, the R&D that goes into each product in this collection is substantial. I also learned from the design team that it takes much longer to build, too.
While Eagle Pass Heliski is a relatively new outfit with only a dozen or so guides, it invested heavily in the development of new Eddie Bauer products, including the Freshline jacket and bibs. In fact, it’s one of the key partners Eddie Bauer works with to develop new products. Our lead guide for the trip, Scott Newsome, worked directly with Charlie Berg, the product line manager at Eddie Bauer, on features for the jacket.
Admittedly, I was pretty skeptical of the “guide tested” angle going into the trip. Sure, it sounds awfully nice, but because many brands tout similar ideas, it has lost most of its value to me. Too often this has become a marketing ploy rather an actual investment. That’s not to say it’s an outright lie; most brands do send prototypes into the field to get feedback. But from my experience, the difference this makes is mostly negligible.
Eddie Bauer, however, remains an exception to that rule. It takes time to incorporate feedback in multiple rounds of prototypes and works to solve the unique needs of its guide partners. As I detail below, sometimes that means funky additions to your standard set of ski gear.
Eddie Bauer Freshline Jacket Review
With its last major upgrade in 2017, Freshline was due for some improvements. The biggest step forward is in the materials and how they are strategically used. This jacket still relies on eVent materials, but the application is more refined than past iterations. Eddie Bauer used eVent Expedition where more waterproofing is needed, such as the shoulders and hood.
In other places like the underarms and chest, where you can get away with a light and more breathable membrane, the brand opted for eVent Alpine. This varied material application is what the Eddie Bauer product team calls body-mapped eVent design. Overall, I was pretty happy with how well it managed moisture, inside and out.
The jacket has a large hood that I found quite comfortable despite having a single front zipper. I often wear my jackets fully zipped and found the front collar to be unobtrusive and roomy, even with my mangy beard.
The pockets are great, especially with details like a phone pocket, key loop, and mesh stash for goggles with an included wipe. Cordlocks are easy to use, although I didn’t adjust them much; the jacket fits well with a base layer and puffy under it.
The Freshline jacket has a standard box cut that’s great for touring and expeditions. But it won’t earn any fashion points in the terrain park. Over 2 days of testing, the Freshline checked all of my boxes. And although I wouldn’t consider it revolutionary, I do think it’s one of the best jackets I’ve skied with. I’m excited to test it for another season and see how it holds up long-term, which will be the true differentiator.
Freshline Bibs: The Multitool of Ski Pants
Like its jacket counterpart, the Freshline Bibs also saw some big improvements this year. They are also body-mapped, with the front of the legs using eVent Expedition and back of the legs using eVent Alpine. It helps the bibs breathe a bit better while touring or skiing in warmer conditions.
When I put on the bibs, the first thing I noticed was that the upper portion doesn’t detach. While I was never a fan of the removable upper half, I do have some friends that rely on it often. That said, the three zippers give you a ton of options for opening them up to vent, so it’s not a huge concern for temperature control.
On the flipside, this year’s bibs sport full-length zippers on both sides, from hips all the way to the bottom. This is a great feature for venting on long climbs and makes it easier to take knee braces and boots on and off. I’m often surprised how rare a full zip is and was glad to see Eddie Bauer incorporate it into this design.
The Freshline Bibs also have built-in, removable kneepads. While I found this incredibly helpful heli-skiing, I would probably appreciate it less if I was just resort skiing. My best guess is that the average consumer won’t care much for these, but I suppose Eddie Bauer decided to put a priority on guide feedback and thus included kneepads.
The new bibs have tethers for beacons in the leg pockets, which I prefer over stashing it at my waist. Overall, these bibs are versatile and great for nearly all kinds of skiing.
Eddie Bauer First Ascent Freshline Ski Kit
Eddie Bauer Freshline Jacket specs
- Protective, helmet-size hood
- High-volume chest pockets
- Internal mesh phone pocket
- Internal mesh stash pocket for drying goggles, plus goggle wipe
- Cohesive embedded cordlocks at hem and hood
- Stretch over-glove thumb loops at cuffs
- MSRP: $549
Eddie Bauer Freshline Bibs specs
- Articulated fit for mobility without added bulk
- Breathable, stretchy upper bib with dual pockets
- Internal mesh phone pocket
- Dual thigh pockets with internal mesh pockets and loops for avalanche beacon
- Hip-to-cuff zips for venting
- Removable foam kneepads
- MSRP: $449
Conclusion: Worth Your Investment
If you’re able to bite the bullet of the combined $1,000 price tag, the value packed into this jacket and pair of bibs is worth it. The Freshline Jacket and Bibs, coming to market fall 2019, are meticulously designed and built to last. They are great for a wide range of conditions because they vent well and are quite waterproof.