Every once in a while, you encounter a piece of clothing or equipment that you know--as soon as you use it--is an instant classic. It soon becomes a part of you: out on the mountain, on the road, at dinner, on the couch watching a game. While packing for trips, this item is the first thing that goes in. Like most skiers, I have several such pieces in my closet. There's the dirty, stained, and ripped Marmot down vest that I've had for over 20 years and keep finding excuses to wear. An Arc'teryx softshell has a busted zipper but is still hanging around. I mean, I might get around to fixing it, right? Out in the garage, I have the original Black Diamond Verdicts and G3 Reverends--old friends that remind me of my younger, fitter, former-tele-skiing self.
I'm pretty sure that the Outdoor Research Ascendant will be the next in line. Technical attributes aside, of which there are many, this jacket is cozy and comfortable in just about any situation. OR positions the Ascendant as an insulated layer, and that it is, fitting perfectly beneath a hard shell on the coldest days. But in the last few months, it hasn’t been that cold and I've used it many times as a highly breathable outer layer. It's perfect on early morning runs in the mountains, while Nordic skiing in light snowfall, as a do-everything on an airplane, and especially on cold skin tracks. (FYI, the hoody version is money.)
As a stand-alone piece, the Ascendant has an ideal combination of highly breathable insulation paired with an air-permeable outer shell. So it's warm when it needs to be, but doesn't suffocate you when you're running or skinning. Using Polartec's latest active insulation--called Alpha Direct--an innovative knit construction means you don't need an interior liner. This equates to fewer layers--i.e. less bulk and more freedom of movement. And the fleece-like material is ultra comfy against the skin--I often wear the Ascendant over a T-shirt because it feels so good.
The Pertex outer shell is soft, air-permeable, packable, and weatherproof. Its excellent loft traps warmth like a puffy, but vents heat during times of high-energy output.
Wearing the Ascendant during ski tours on Teton Pass, which combine blustery ridges, yo-yoing skin tracks, and deep, cold ravines, I don't know if I've ever used a more comfortable, all-purpose jacket.
The one drawback is that the fleece interior is not a good match for skin glue. I made the mistake of putting my skins inside my jacket (which I often do for quick laps), and when I pulled them out at the bottom of the run, the edges of my skins were covered with a bunch of Cookie Monster blue fuzz. Fair enough, I won’t do that again.
But I will keep wearing the Ascendant until it damn near wears out.