What type of jacket would you suggest as an all-season shell for somewhere like North Carolina? I would like to buy one that could be used in the winter as a shell for skiing but that is not too hot to wear in a summer downpour. Art Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Particularly given the other extremeskiing. It's not so much that any good shell can't block the wind and keep you dry, it's just that you might want a little more abrasion resistance for those (albeit, rare!) instances when you execute a graceful cartwheel down the slope.
That said, Patagonia's Storm Jacket ($275; www.patagonia.com) is as close to an all-purpose garment as one can find. It uses Patagonia's proprietary H2NO coating, which I've always found to be extremely good, and has a cut and fit that layers well yet isn't too baggy for standalone use. Pit zips and a removable hood help you modulate the internal temperature, or in the summer let out steam. It's also above-average on the toughness scale, so should give you good service for many years.
A jacket I've been wearing some this winter and like very much is the REI Taku ($199; ww.rei.com). It's also got a cut and design that seems suited to just about everything (maybe a little trimmer than the Storm). I've worn it skiing and wouldn't hesitate to take it on a summer trip as well. The great thing about the Taku is that REI designers thought very hard about how to use the latest in fabric technology, so the shoulders, hood, and cuffs are made with a very tough nylon material, while the torso has softer stretch fabric for improved range of motion. Cavernous pit zips help ventilate things and it uses REI's Elements waterproof-breathable coating to perform like a lung.
Of course, there's also GORGTGood Ol' Reliable Gore-Tex. Although pricier, I like Arc'teryx's Theta SL Jacket ($375; www.arcteryx.com). It combines light Gore Paclite around the torso with tougher Gore XCR on high-impact areas, and combines it all in a trimly cut but comfortable piece that suits all the but coldest (i.e., where you need molto-layering) uses.
Check out Outside Online's Jackets Buying Guide, including the 2005 Gear of the Year REI Taku.