Layer For Shoulder Season Like A Pro

News flash: It's not winter anymore! But it's obviously not tank top and Chaco weather yet either—at least not all the time. It's that weird moment in between seasons when anything can happen, and it's difficult to know how a to dress and what to pack for a day in the mountains. We hit up professional mountain guide Margaret Wheeler to fill us in on how she layers for shoulder season.

What does the changing of seasons mean for you—how does it affect your work and play?

Normally the change from winter into spring brings with it several transitions in my guiding work. Most years I start the spring touring season in the Pacific Northwest and finish it in the Alps. As the season changes, the stability often improves and daylight hours lengthen ,,, and objectives shift to bigger tours and longer days. Spring guiding is a time of multi-day trips, first in tents in the Cascades or the coast range, then later in huts in the Alps and the Dolomites. 

But—this year is a unique year in my world, and the arc of my guiding and family life is taking a different course. With the birth of our second daughter just after Thanksgiving, we're spending this spring in a new climate, the mountains of Idaho, instead of our seasonal migration to the Alps. My focus for guiding will be long day trips and the occasional overnight in the Sawtooths. And my focus for springtime play will be finding new ways to get myself and my family out in the mountains with our new addition. So far, this has included a blend of both touring and nordic skiing. One day our mission might be a mellow ski tour (meadow skipping!) with a toddler chattering away from the backpack and a baby sleeping on my chest. Another day will find me skate skiing with a chariot (with either the same chatty toddler or the sleeping baby…we haven’t yet tried both in there at the same time). This year is looking to be a long spring touring season and I'm psyched to make the most of it. It’s almost time for the Idaho edition of ‘Oh, the places you’ll pump!’ and I can’t wait.    

As the seasons are changing, how does your kit change?

For the spring ski touring season I need layers that:
• Function across a broader range of temperatures
• Track with the overall warmer temps of spring, especially during the peak warming of spring days
• Dry quickly—stuff is just more likely to get wet in the spring, either from sweat or the environment or both
• Do all that AND are light and compact for longer trips and longer days

What tips would you give to people who are struggling to pack and dress for the mountains when the weather is warming?

My two main pieces of advice: 
• Shift toward lightweight, quick-drying gear for when you're moving. Things will get wet or sweaty or both in the spring season—it's often unavoidable. Including gloves! 
• Bring one piece of clothing for your upper body that is warm (if you're in a dry/cold environment) or can handle rain (if you're in temperate/wet). In good weather (mild and/or dry conditions) these extra layers may just travel around in your pack, so pick light/technical ones. But if you get caught out in spring storms or swinging temperatures, then you will have the layers you need to be out in the mountains during the shoulder season.
• Choose ski touring pants that can handle a wide range of temperatures, meaning that they breathe well and can be vented, but that also have some coating to shed any liquid water that may come falling out of the sky. 


What are your three favorite "shoulder season" items from OR?
• The Whirlwind Hoody goes on and stays on in my spring touring season, for work or play. It blocks the wind, it keeps me cool on the uphill, and it dries quickly if it gets wet.  
• The Offchute Pants (These alternate with the Skyward Pants, depending on how much moisture is in the forecast!). They're comfy with or without a base layer, vented and quick drying. 
• The Sonata Ultra Hooded Down Jacket is light and warm, just the right balance for the spring temperature fluctuations.
• And if it’s a wet forecast, the Clairvoyant Jacket. In fact, unless it’s a completely DRY forecast, this one always comes along. It’s light enough to do that!


Photos by Amy Martin.