Gore-Tex has gone all soft on the wintersports market. But that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. The company that’s known for some of the most reliable waterproof-breathable fabrics in the winter and outdoor markets has launched a new, softer, warmer Gore-Tex three-layer product it’s simply calling Soft Shell.

Gore launched the new Soft Shell fabric at a press event in Whistler last weekend, and the conditions were perfect for testing the waterproof-breathable fabric. With a mix of snow and rain across the slopes, the fabric definitely proved itself.

The event kicked off on Friday night with a presentation from the Gore-Tex staff introducing the product and showing off some of the new pieces.

According to Gore-Tex Product Specialist John Reaney, the new product isn’t exactly what the traditional outdoor industry would call a softshell fabric. But through industry and consumer research, the company found that shops and customers don’t really know what a softshell is or what the word stands for, and that the new Gore-Tex product falls within the boundaries of snowboarders’ perceptions.

“We found that if we asked ten different retailers what a softshell is, you’d get at least seven different definitions,” Reaney says. “With this, we’ll help define what it really is.”

Gore’s new Soft Shell is a further development of Gore’s Soft Tech that was introduced last year. Soft Tech was a three-layer Gore-Tex product with a softer, flannel-like interior, but a rough, more traditional outer shell. Gore’s Soft Shell is even softer to the touch than the Soft Tech and has a warmer feel to it on both the interior and exterior of the garment. It also has a stretchiness not found in the Soft Tech. The Soft Shell project was initiated in December 2000 and is making its debut in snowboard product lines at SIA Vegas this year.

“This is the first fabric in a long time that Gore-Tex has engineered for snowboarding and skiing,” says Reaney. “Gore XCR was developed more for the outdoor, climbing, and mountaineering markets. For Soft Shell, the bull’s-eye for the product was snowboarding and skiing. This really shows that Gore is refocusing on the these markets, and for this specific product, Gore’s really targeting the aggressive freerider.”

But Reaney stresses that despite Soft Shell’s softer and stretchier properties, it still has the same waterproof and breathable qualities as Gore-Tex’s current three-layer fabrics.

Reaney notes several snowboard and ski brands have embraced the product right from the start. “We’re pretty excited about the companies that are involved,” he adds. Those include Arc’teryx, Marmot, North Face, Oakley, Rossignol, Salomon, Section, and Sessions, as well as Quiksilver and Rip Curl in their European lines.

Gore-Tex is planning on supporting the new Soft Shell with sponsorship of a number of events including the U.S. Open, Salomon’s Oasis tour, and other promotions at Whistler and Crested Butte.

Day two of the Gore-Tex launch included a Fresh Tracks breakfast on Whistler Mountain. Whistler’s Communications Manager Christopher Nicolson greeted our group over breakfast and thanked us for coming to visit.

Then Whistler-sponsored pro snowboarder Shin Campos took a small group of snowboarding journalists around the mountain and found plenty of powder stashes, steep chutes, and small cliffs to fling ourselves off of. For an early season big-mountain session, it rocked.

After a quick apres ski stop and a nice hot tub session at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, the group headed over to the Bearfoot Bistro and learned the secret art of sabering a champagne glass.

All in all, the Gore-Tex staff out did itself with a great product launch at one of the best resorts in the world. Look for the Gore-Tex Soft Shell fabric in stores next fall.