I'm looking for a waterproof hard shell outer layer, preferably three-ply, for winter activities...skiing, hiking, snowshoeing. Somewhere between bombproof and minimalist?
Lots of good choices out there, Mike, in all sorts of price ranges.
The Rain Shadow
The Rain Shadow
If you're after a really good buy, take a look at Patagonia's Rain Shadow jacket ($179). It employs the now-popular 2.5-layer construction, in which the inner "layer" is really just a raised pattern. It still protects the middle layer while saving weight. The Rain Shadow uses Patagonia's tried-and-true H2No waterproof/breathable coating, and has nice touches such as water-resistant zippers and a fleece lining around the chin. And it's light at 12 ounces.
A little up the price ladder, there's REI's Shuksan ($299), which I like because it uses eVent fabric, which I have found to be extremely breathable as well as waterproof. It has a nice, clean design—REI's designers thought eVent worked so well they didn't include pit zips, which cuts weight and the jacket's profile. And it has nice features like embedded detectors to enhance radio signals from avalanche beacons, should (heaven forbid!) you get caught in an avalanche.
Next, Marmot's Spire Jacket. It's $375, and uses Gore Performance Shell, which is what the Gore folks now call their really-good-but-not-quite-their-best fabric. It's an excellent three-layer all-purpose mountain jacket, with pit zips, a wire-reinforced hood brim, and a zip-out powder skirt.
Or, there's Arc'Teryx's Beta AR Jacket ($450) which is hugely successful design that has been out for several years. The AR now uses Gore Pro-Shell, which is an excellent waterproof-breathable material and the top of the Gore-Tex line. The AR is both light (16 ounces) and very tough.
Westcomb is another company that uses eVent. Their Revenant combines eVent with soft shell-like Schoeller fabric for a jacket that really is designed like a jacket should be, with more breathable material under the arms and across back panels. This is a super-technical, super-tough, super-versatile piece. And super-expensive at $500.