Friday, January 11, 2019

Waterproof Ski and Alpine Pants: Controlled Exposure Mountain Pants in 3-Layer Goretex

I dug my custom ski bibs out of storage this weekend and took my 6-year old and 3-year old for their first ski of the year. For the 3-year old-- his first ski ever! The smile on his face as he bombed down the micro-bunny hill was priceless.

As a mom, gear matters more than ever... hanging out on the bunny hill is hard, cold work! Lots of time on my knees adjusting bindings, fixing gloves, hauling little layered bodies up to their feet... ;) Through it all I was super glad I put in the time making these bomber snow bibs, mom is a lot less grumpy when cozy and dry. 

Then I realized I never posted this! So here it is, better late than never, in case you were thinking of making your own!

January 2016

Out of the blue, my husband asked if maybe he should ask a friend to take our 5-year old skiing. 

Wait a minute, I thought. I want to take my daughter skiing! 

There was a time when skiing was a winter obsession for me, but since being pregnant and having babies, it hasn't been practical. Now that she's five... well, why not? It could be a really fun thing to do with my kids. 

Of course, gearing up to go skiing is no small task. My feet are now nearly 2 sizes larger than they were before pregnancy, so there was no way my old ski boots were going to fit.  I ski telemark, which is a small market, so renting is out of the question. I solved this problem by finding a pair of my old fave Garmont boots, used, on Ebay, 2 sizes larger than the ones I used to wear. They were about $70. I did have to eat the cost of $20 shipping from the UK. New models of comparable boots cost about $600. Crazy. 

I snuck away for a morning of skiing shortly after the boots arrived. Apparently I still remember how to ski (although I was REALLY sore the next day). 

The other revelation-- skiing in sweat pants is pretty darn miserable. 

So I was searching again for a decent pair of waterproof pants. I bought a pair of old gore-tex pants on Ebay, supposedly in my size... big mistake, they didn't even sort of fit. It became clear to me it was going to take a lot of tries to find a pair that would fit my mama physique. It also reminded me how much I HATE shopping for pants. 

When I came across the Controlled Exposure Mountain Pants pattern, I knew I would have to make my dream pants!

My skiing days have left me with very specific ideas on what makes a good ski pant. Telemark skiiers are also notoriously hard on their gear-- we spend a lot of time in a deep crouch. That means knees and insteps are always in close proximity to the edges of the skis. Telemark is also amazing in powder snow, but that light, fluffy stuff tends to work its way into every crevice, so having a high-waisted bib-style pant is a huge plus. 

My ideal pant is the Arcteryx Theta SV bib. I used to have a pair-- they were an old model when I got them, and they were always on the tight side. No way they are going to fit this mama body! I also sort of regretted the fact that they didn't have full size zips... that was probably why I got them on clearance back in the day. There is also no way I was going to buy these... they cost $549! Not to mention the fact that I'd be a M inseam, and L hip, and a XXL waist (which they don't make). 

So I dug in and committed to making my own dream pants. I purchased my fabric, the pattern, and most of the hardware and notions from Rockywoods. They sell genuine 3-layer Goretex (I used Navy) and Melco seam sealing tape. I ordered some samples of other brands of waterproof breathable laminates, but I know for a fact that 3-layer Goretex will last decades, and I'm just not sure about the durability of other brands. At $25 a yard it isn't cheap, but I will spend more on a quality coating fabric, so it isn't outrageous. The Melco seam tape is $2 a yard, which really adds up... I bought 12 yards, which was barely enough, I used every last bit. I also bought waterproof zipper tape and zipper pulls from Rockywoods for making pockets, as well as sturdy elastic (polyester webbing elastic) and low-profile adjustable buckles for the suspenders. 

I found waterproof 2-way zippers at Zpacks. A 32 inch 2-way separating waterproof zip for $9.95. I ordered two. They came promptly.

When the pattern arrived, I immediately made a muslin. I started with the Large based on my measurements, but it is a unisex pattern and I'm a comparatively short, curvy woman. I added width to the hip and narrowed and shortened the legs considerably. I reshaped the front "bib" panel to guide the straps wide around my chest. 

I didn't see why the back panel had that unsupported rise in the middle, so I just flattened it out. 

After I was satisfied with the muslin, I cut my real fabric. As this was a waterproof fabric and I didn't want to add holes, I didn't use pins. In some cases I used binder clips to hold things in place, but mostly I ended up just lining things up as I sewed. 

I sealed seams with the seam tape as I went. After sewing a seam, I trimmed the seam allowances and stitched them down, then applied tape on the inside to cover then seam allowances (Heather from Closet Case patterns demonstrates this in her tute for sewing a waterproof Kelly Anorak). I set my iron at the lowest setting that would melt the tape (which was pretty hot, it was the bottom of the steam settings), with no steam. I used the edge or tip of the iron, so that the iron wouldn't be resting on the fabric I wasn't sealing. I'd typically seal one edge of the tape first, then go back and flatten it over the seam. Around curves the tape seemed to stretch, so I didn't end up clipping curves. The 3-layer melco tape that I was using didn't appear to stick to the iron, so it was not nearly as messy as I thought it was going to be, and I didn't use any kind of press cloth or silicone sleeve-- the iron was in direct contact with the tape. Adhesion was not always perfect, I often had to go back and give it more heat, and there are places where I'm not sure that I obtained an entirely watertight seal...if they become problematic, I'll have to go back later and try to reheat the adhesive or add new pieces of tape. 
My fabric didn't show signs of distress when heat was applied, but I still tried to minimize contact with the iron in case the heat did damage the membrane in ways that were not immediately. Mostly I finger pressed seams until sealing them, and if I did have to press, I used a press-cloth. 

I added LOTS of pockets. One can never have too many pockets when skiing. Having a place for all of your small items is useful, it prevents rummaging through big pockets with bulky gloves, which leads to dropped things. The pockets are basic exposed zipper welt pockets, using watertight zippers. For some zippers I got fancy and made little zipper-sheds with a piece of folded waterproof fabric sewed into the zipper-pull end of the closed zipper. On the inside, I seam sealed the pocket opening with tape. The pocket bags are made from lightweight rip-cord nylon that I had from another project. 

I love the articulated and reinforced knees on this pattern, and the reinforced patches on the inside of the calves (to protect from ski edges). I used a gray-green waterproof breathable Cordora fabric (no longer available).

I added an internal snow gaiter... I'm pretty sure this was not part of the pattern, but it was pretty easy to improvise based on other ski pants I've owned. The side of the gaiter closes with velcro, and there is elastic and snaps at the bottom to form a tight seal around my boots. I used a non-breathable coated ripstop nylon to make the gaiters... the camo print was on super sale at Rockywoods!

The antique brass snaps came from Ebay... I just bought a big bag of them so that I could go to town. 

The best feature of these pants is the drop seat... it is so awesome not to have to take off all layers to 

Having taken these out skiing numerous times, I can report they are warm and dry. There was one ski day when I was raining and I did get a bit of leakage through one seam in particular that I thought might be problematic, so I have to reseal that one. But overall I'm really happy with them, by far the best ski pants I have ever owned. 


  1. I love these! Thanks so much for bringing this pattern to my attention - I'm in the same boat with my old ski pants :D

  2. This is very interesting, thanks for posting. One of my daughters is currently struggling to get ski pants to fit - quite a big difference between hip and waist and she can't get most over her hips. I think she is still growing and we ski in a week or so, so I won't be making any yet but i am bookmarking this for future reference!

    1. Yes, it seems like ski wear is definitely an area that isn't very inclusive of the range of women's bodies! But all sorts of women ski and play in the outdoors, not just the slender ones!

  3. Oh and the drop seat is genius!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this post! I was hoping to make some ski pants this year, but at this point it looks like it is going to be next year. I had my eye on this pattern based on a recommendation from a coworker's wife, but I wasn't able to see the finished garment and the information listed on the rainshed's website leaves something to be desired. It was so helpful to see the finished item! I was a little leery about using a pattern drafted for men, but it looks like with one muslin, you made it work. Very nice job, i will be returning when it comes time to make my pants next year!