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Steep Tech fever has hit the streets in New York. In subways, schoolyards, and record shops, young New Yorkers—kids who probably have never even seen a chairlift—are rocking The North Face Steep Tech jackets like it’s a 1992 tramline.
Every time I see one, a smile creeps onto my face. When I was growing up in the early ’90s, Steep Tech was the holy grail of skiwear. With its double zippers, canary-yellow and gray palette, Kevlar patches, lumbar support, and integrated chamois sunglasses pocket, it was basically a flight suit for snow. The line was developed by Scot Schmidt, the all-American king of extreme skiing, a man who could melt every crotch in the West simply by jumping off a cornice and crossing his tips. Not just anyone could wear Steep Tech. You had to kick ass. Plus it was expensive. I never even got near one.
New York’s been paying props to Schmidt’s iconic swag for some time now. In Wu-Tang’s “Method Man” video from the mid-1990s, two members of the Clan flaunt their original Steep Tech jackets. The North Face has successfully expanded into the same market that’s transformed niche sportswear companies like Timberland, Fila, and Helly Hansen into power- houses of street fashion. Steep Tech, which The North Face still produces, is sold at hip-hop apparel shops like Dr. Jay’s, and there are even YouTube videos dedicated to the clothing line (with comments like “that jacket is live”).
But don’t ask The North Face to acknowledge this. The company is hesitant to associate Steep Tech with anything, shall we say, “urban,” and declined to comment for this story. It’s a page out of the Cristal champagne playbook—a high-end product reluctant to acknowledge its own street cred.
This isn’t what Steep Tech’s all about. Whether you’re dropping into a French couloir or stepping onto the subway, Steep Tech was never meant to be the ultimate in functionality. It was a fashion statement, an over-the-top orgy of Gore-Tex with one purpose: looking as badass as possible.