I’m looking for a pair of wind-resistant pants to layer under a shell for skiing, wear on light hikes in late summer and fall, and wear around the house in the winter. Am I asking too much?
It's been a cool summer where I live in the Pacific Northwest, so I’m reluctant to think about skiing. But no, you're not asking too much.
The material you want is softshell. Softshell gives you wind-resistance and light insulation for fall hikes and enough warmth to layer under shell pants for skiing or snowboarding.
REI’s Mistral pants ($90) are decent softshells at a good price. REI uses a four-way stretch material that is both water- and wind-resistant, and they come with leg zippers that make putting them on and taking them off easy.
Patagonia’s Alpine Guide pants ($149) are the next step up. They’re made from a stretch-woven polyester fabric that’s naturally wind- and water-resistant and offers some light insulation. It’s also a tough, hard-to-break material. The Alpine Guide pants have multiple pockets and a zippered cuff that helps keep snow out of your boots. (Mountain Hardwear’s Sarpa Pants ($159) are similarly spec-ed out for just a bit more money.)
My favorites, though, are the Arc’Teryx Gamma MX pant ($185). They’re made with Polartec Powershield, which I've found to be about the ideal softshell material—it's breathable but warm, wind- and water-resistant, and durable. The Gamma MX pants are great on cool-weather hikes and climbs, and could even be used skiing as standalone pants, or, depnding on the weather, layered over light tights or underneath a shell. You've got lots of options.