TESTED: Sickbird Suit in Japan
The Sickbird Suit was made for deep pow days. It’s designed to let you get as pitted as possible without worry of snow seeping in between pant and jacket and those flakes becoming foes rather than friends. This past December, the snow in Colorado had yet to provide locals with any type of serious time in the white room. So, we tapped our social media and online editor, Nicole Birkhold, to bring along our new and improved Sickbird Suits for herself and her family on their trip to Japan.
The northern island of Hokkaido is quite possibly the snowiest place on earth and this year has been no exception. With one of the snowiest starts to the season on record — a whopping 594 cms in November and December alone — it’s no wonder pro skiers and friends alike have been clogging your Instagram feed with white-out shots from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Our Sickbird Suit is made for places like this and days like the ones Nicole and her family had in Niseko — one of the largest resorts on the island. The new Sickbird Suit is made from Polartec Neoshell fabric designed to provide our highest level of durability and protection while maintaining critical breathability. Nicole’s report on the suits from Japan is below:
Kon’nichiwa from Japan! This place is unbelievable. I’ve been here once before, two years ago with three girlfriends from Aspen. We had some all-time days on that trip to be sure. But there’s nothing like arriving in Niseko to a full-blown white out. Ski trips are always a crap shoot when you have to plan around school and work schedules so far in advance. You can only sit back and hope it turns on for the 4-8 day window you need it to. And turn on it did.
We were tracking the snow report for a month leading up to our post-Christmas departure and things were looking good. Super high levels of consistent precipitation to kick off the winter had us optimistic, but you just never know. In preparation for the faucet staying in the on position, we headed out to the Strafe showroom at Aspen Highlands to pick up three Sickbird Suits: One for me, my husband, and our 14-year-old son.
I had never tried a Sickbird Suit before. To be honest, the idea of a one-piece has never been for me. I’ve been pretty true to the Scarlett bib and Meadow jacket combination this year. As a female, the lack of articulation in most onesies can be off-putting and it was hard not to associate a one-piece with the weekend-wally gape brigade. When trying on the suit in the store, I was pleasantly surprised by the cut. The women’s specific kit drapes in all the right places and the technical aspect of the new Polartec NeoShell prevents any Wally-like effect.
So, I was happier than anticipated with the look, but how would it perform on-mountain? I didn’t need long to find out. Storm skiing is one of those special occurrences that make you smile like a school kid at recess. The term “free refills” has never been more used than on day one of skiing in Japan this year. The resorts that make up Niseko United are Grand Hirafu, Hanazono, Niseko Village, and Annupuri. They all come to essentially the same top of the mountain and then the bases disperse to where it might take twenty minutes to drive between bases and only a few to ski. We were staying at the Niseko Village base. It was a full-blown snowstorm from the airport to our hotel.
When we drove into our hotel at midnight, it was absolutely hammering. The following day was looking like it was shaping up. We woke up, donned our Sickbird Suits for day one of testing and continued to the mountain. My limited knowledge of the resort from my previous trip told me to get up high to where all four of those resorts meet. The elevation rise of the entire resort is 940 m (3,084 ft) starting at 260 m and going up to 1200 m. From the top of the highest lift, you can hike to the peak which sits at 1,308 m.
For day one, we took a couple top to bottoms from the gondola before the upper lifts opened. It was good. With 20+ cms having fallen since the lifts closed the day before, it was on. But when the upper lifts opened… see ya. It was unreal. I have skied a lot of pow in my life, but I’m not sure I’ve ever choked on snow quite as often as I did that day. And the Sickbird Suit? Performed without complaint. Honestly, I know I would have had snow in places I would not have wanted it had I been in a pant and jacket. The snow was so deep it was coming in from the collar… so there’s no doubt the mid-section would have had some infiltration.
Lunch on the mountain was necessary as it was still snowing and heading down to the bottom was out of the question. Too much time would be missed on the upper lifts. Because the Sickbird Suit is unlined, the sleeves tie easily at the waist if you need to walk around and don’t want to leave the top on or have it dragging around. Back on the mountain, especially after lunch, warmth can be a factor in the suit. But if you layer properly, you’ll be fine.
Take that into consideration when trying the suit on, however. The extra-small was pretty comfortable when I was trying the options on in the showroom. I even brought it to the check-out counter before I realized I might want to try it on with an insulator or some layers on underneath. I popped the women’s Incubator layer on and decided I was more comfortable in the small. Just keep that in mind when ordering or deciding on what size.
It kept snowing in the afternoon and we had to call it a day around 3:00 PM to save something for the coming days. It snowed another 20+ cm for us on day two and the sun even popped out a few times. We happened to be in the right place at the right time this day… We had just settled in on the one-seater chairlift heading to the top when the gates between Niseko Village and Annupuri were opened for the FIRST TIME ALL SEASON. It. Was. Deep. We were maybe the first ten people through and the sun was just popping out and it was ridiculously deep and these are the Days. We. Live. For.
Now, in my excitement of our good fortune, I got a little giddy. And getting a little giddy on my skis isn’t always a great combination… ask my friends. I fell in a gully and got hooked on a snow-covered tree… twice. It’s safe to say I was BURIED in snow a couple times this day. Not only buried, but upside down, skewed, and all other means of out of position completely within the snow depths. This is where the Sickbird Suit really shines. I would have had a jacket bunched up to my neck or pants pulled in uncomfortable ways in any other outfit. The Sickbird Suit kept me dry and with one less thing to curse about as I was trying to dig my way out of three feet of snow. I’m only five feet tall, so this is a mission.
All considered, it was an all-time day and we weren’t even mad when the upper lifts shut down due to wind (which is common here) around 2:00 PM. Not for nothing, when you’re on the gondola at 8:30 AM and skiing deep snow, you’re pretty cashed in the early afternoon anyway.
Day three donned bright and blue and we decided hiking to the tippy top was in order. We were greatly rewarded with views of what felt like the entire island. We could see Toya Lake, Uchiura Bay, the Sea of Japan and of course Mt. Yotei. Three sixty degree views as far as the eye could see of one of the most beautiful places in the world. The skiing wasn’t too shabby either. Skiing down into the Hanazono area is wide open and steeper at the top. It then funnels to great tree skiing, and finally dumps you on a cat track you have to walk out of back to the resort. The lap is long, and worth every bit of the 108 meters it takes to hike to the peak from the top of the lift accessed terrain.
Oh, and the Sickbird Suit? When your husband and son get in a wrestling match on the side of the cat track in two feet of snow, you just laugh because you know you won’t have to hang up wet long underwear in the already too small Japanese hotel room after.