Sweat Equity

How The North Face’s New Game-Changing Fabric Took Shape in Highland Bowl

FutureLight is being touted as the ultimate waterproof-breathable tech for outdoorsy folk.

By Cindy Hirschfeld December 4, 2019 Published in the Holiday 2019–2020 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Highland Bowl

Highland Bowl is known for many things—some of Colorado’s steepest ski runs, the lung-busting hike up its ridge, the breathtaking view of the Maroon Bells from the peak. Playing a key role in the development of an innovative fabric technology was not one of them—until now.

Two years in the making, The North Face’s FutureLight waterproof-breathable membrane debuted with a lot of fanfare this fall in ski jackets, gloves, and even tents. Most membranes, like Gore-Tex, are composed of a thin sheet of film that lets sweat vapor escape but keeps out snow and rain. FutureLight, however, consists of a polymer sprayed through thousands of tiny nozzles, which creates a more porous—yet still waterproof—product. The upshot? It keeps you drier and more comfortable than other membranes (we’ve tested it).

Highland Bowl enters the story in January 2018, when skier and guide Nate Rowland and North Face exec Scott Mellin, both locals, started testing the first prototypes. One day they knocked out an impressive six Bowl laps, switching among half a dozen unspecified garments that the brand’s design team had created using FutureLight and other membranes. Whereas the weather may have sent your average skier scurrying to the lodge, the duo found ideal testing conditions. 

“It was raining at the base and dumping snow at the top,” recalls Rowland, who’s on TNF’s athlete team. “Our goal was to see if we could get water to penetrate the fabric, then go into a freezing environment and see how the pieces reacted. We put the gear through the wringer. It stayed crappy all day.”

The North Face Brigandine jacket is made with FutureLight.

Highland Bowl, in particular, offered a perfect scenario for comparing breathability among garments: “It’s one thing to sit on a ski lift, but when you’re hiking pretty aerobic Bowl laps and your body temperature is changing a lot, that’s where you really see some of the benefits,” says Rowland.

Mellin and Rowland ended up being suitably impressed by FutureLight’s performance that day, and The North Face undertook a massive effort to bring the product to consumers. Now we can all hike and ski the Bowl without overheating, whether it’s six laps or one. 

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