Rob's Blog Archive

April 28, 2013

Old and New










In my old age, I’ve made a discovery:  soft-shell fabrics.  They’re lightweight, breathe well, wear like iron, and are often relatively inexpensive.  Of course the fact that they stretch a little works for me as well. 

So, just after I put my skis up, I started scanning the net for softshell parkas.  I settled on a North Face Parka that, after having won every award out there, is evidently being pulled off the market.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that I got a parka that would normally be at the very high end of the softshell price range $278, for half that. 

Musashi wrote that there is timing in everything.  The weekend after the parka arrived started with a cool rain, this changed to snow, then it turned cold.  I wouldn’t have to wait to test my new piece of gear. The rejoinder to Musashi is luck don’t hurt none neither. 

The rain started Friday night and varied from light to moderate.  The snow started early Sunday morning and ended a little after dark.  We went from clear ground to about 10” of moderately dense snow.

Much to my surprise, the storm dumped enough snow to ski on.   But with the ground already warm, I had at most a day to get a tour in.  Monday afternoon, I headed off to the trailhead for the Marshall Lake Loop. 

Being mid-April, the restrictions on the trails I had skied all winter had been removed.  They had reverted to being roads and I could legally drive my truck a bit higher than my normal starting point.  That was the good news.  The bad news was I wasn’t the only person doing this---at least one other truck went quite a bit further than where I parked mine. 

Between its tracks, snowmobile tracks, the warm ground, and a sunny day, I bridged bits of snow on the lower trail by carefully walking across mud with my skis still on. 

A little more than half way out, the mud disappeared.  The last 0.8 miles included 300’ vertical, all snow. 

The day had been warm but, by the time I turned around and headed back, it had dropped well below freezing.  The snow was consistent, but it was still rutted pretty badly and hard as I skied down. 

After reaching the section where the snow became intermittent, I could no longer ski continuously, but that just meant I was doing something more like a wilderness trip than a groomed trail---I was okay with that.  I could look across at the Swan Range and watch the sunset---I never tire of that view. 

The nights that followed the storm got cold---down to 6 F the first night and 10 F the second.  The snow and cold brought back the winter, even if only for a couple of days.  As always, I enjoyed the cold. 

The brief return of winter also gave me a chance to try the new parka with my foam clothing, the test that concerned me most.  There seems to be a magic in polyurethane foam insulation, the insulation that I prefer for extreme cold weather.  The foam requires a very breathable fabric in a parka for this magic to occur, otherwise the foam reverts to being “ordinary” insulation.  The question was would the North Face parka let the foam insulation work?

The reality was that I had been quite careful in choosing the parka.  All of the options I considered had the highest breathability in their classes.  What made the North Face parka special was its fabric, Polartec Power Shield Pro.  The fact that adds for it boasted about it being 99% windproof as opposed to 100%, told me it might well do the trick. 

And it did.  An extended walk Sunday night with the temperature in the single digits and yardtime with my gang while it hovered near 10 F told me that the new parka mated well with my foam. 

So often, old and new are linked.  It is just after Rick has watched the love of his life leave that he turns and says, “Louie, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  Grasping at the last real winter storm and testing a brand new parka again linked old and new.  I rarely name gear, but there have been exceptions.  These now include a parka named Louie. 

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