Thursday, August 11, 2022

Official Review: Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket and Bibs

Late-season fresh at Dutch Hill

Dressing for splitboarding is traditionally about compromise. You’re spending most of your time skinning uphill, generating a lot of heat and all the sweat that comes with it. Then when it’s time to turn around you want to keep the wind off you while getting at least as much waterproof protection as you need on a resort day. And if you’re doing New English backountry it needs to be able to shrug off branches without getting snagged or shredded. Oh and the jacket needs to be able to pack down small enough to easily fit in your backpack on the uphill. But it still needs to be warm enough in case weather, injury, or incompetence has you stuck outside for a while.

That’s a lot to ask, and yet the Outdoor Reasearch Skytour Ascentshell Jacket and Bibs manage to answer it all while looking and feeling surprisingly “normal” for high-performance technical apparel.

Well thought-out pocket placement gives you a place to quickly stash small items while keeping out of the way of a beacon harness. Not that anyone needs a beacon at Dutch Hill.

The OR Skytour AscentShell Bibs fit differently than a lot of other bibs, in that they don’t leave a lot of room for layering. At first that seems like an indication that they’re too small (or that I hadn’t lost as much of the pandemic weight as I’d hoped), but a few minutes of touring showed that Outdoor Research actually knew what they were doing. Unlike most resort-focused bibs these are designed to be worn under your midlayer, allowing you to more quickly adjust what you’re wearing depending on conditions, effort level, and personal preference. It’s a small thing, but it simplifies the transition process whether you’re suiting up for the dowhill or just adjusting your warmth on the uphill.

The bibs also feature smart pocket arrangement, especially that large stash pocket on the front. Not only is it placed to avoid conflict with a beacon harness, but it’s secured with just a small piece of velcro. That may seem like a problem at first, but it keeps this pocket free of “important” contents allowing it to be used to hold sunglasses, gloves, hats, or any of the other small items that come on and off multiple times on a tour. For more important cargo there is a secure zip pocket on the other side, featuring a suspiciously durable key clip. Outdoor Research pulls up short of calling it a beacon pocket, presumably in order to stay above the fray that comes up any time someone suggests that it’s okay to carry a beacon in your pocket. But if you were going to design a pocket specifically to carry a beacon, it would probably look a lot like the zippered chest pocket on the OR Skytour AscentShell Bibs.

Bundled up to hide from the wind near the Magic Mountain summit, but not sweaty thanks to AscentShell’s seriously impressive breathability.

The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket shows a similar level of focus on splitboard-specific design. Like the bibs it’s a trimmer fit than most outerwear, reducing bulk for wear under a pack or carrying it in your pack. But unlike the bibs it still leaves room for layering, keeping it a viable option for the coldest days and even some resort usage. And like the bibs it’s made from OR’s AscentShell material, which feels (and moves) like soft shell but protects like a hard shell. That means you get the stretch and breathability associated with non-waterproof apparel, allowing you to really extend your strides uphill while air permeability helps you control your internal climate. But you also get fully-seam sealed protection should the weather turn bad, or if you’re just trying to grab some take-out on a wintry mix night in town.

Taken together the Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket and Bibs might be some of the best-designed and best-executed touring-specific outerwear we’ve ever tested. They beat any of the GoreTex competition in comfort and packability, while still delivering the essential protection for long approaches and powdery descents.

Special thanks to Magic Mountain and DHASH for their uphill opportunities this season, and Sasha Wagner for the photo assistance.

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