The Bottom Line Get what you can afford but there are some niceties in the top-of-the-line ski jackets
There is a world of difference I have noticed over a cheap brand outdoor ski jacket to the one provided by say some top-of-the-line manufacturer like North Face and its all in the details
The first thing that stands out is the cuff area around the waist and wrist. A good ski jacket should have an elasticized fitting for all these areas that produces a good fit to prevent the cold and snow from seeping in. An ideal one would provide a small internal skirt that will prevent snow from riding up on a nasty fall. The wrist area on the ideal jacket will provide adjustable velcro closures to help if one wants to shove their glove inside the jacket and lessen that tingling feeling from loss of blood circulation.
Zippers on name brand jackets should be oversized and the tab should be big enough that a gloved hand can easily manipulate the zipper without having to bare your hands to the cold. Some of the better jackets include a stiff flap on the inside to prevent the zipper from catching on any loose clothing and as a means of keeping out the cold. For extra protection another flap overlapping the zipper secured by pushtabs or velcro should seal in the warmth.
Plenty of pockets not just two external pockets around the waist. That way if you find, for example, you want to get at that trail map you can have it alone in one pocket and not worry about getting things like your energy bar or pocket radio all wet with snow. I happen to carry things like a pair of lining gloves, ski lock, beef jerky, and sometimes a pocket camera. With some of the North Face jackets there comes a small piece of chamois that does wonders for cleaning away water from goggles or glasses after taking a face plant.
A good ski jacket should have an internal lining to wick away moisture from your body. That will reduce the amount of moisture trapped against your body. I like having internal netting in my jackets so I can stuff my gloves into them when I’m heading to the cafeteria for lunch.
The final accessory comes in handy during that surprise snowfall namely a hood. I prefer one that has adjustments to allow me to tighten it around the head and face if the wind is kicking up.
Finally, for those who are fair weather skiers having vents comes in handy when you start out early in the morning and work up a sweat usually you can get by without shedding some clothes by opening up side vents or arm vents to let out some hot air.