Best. Shell. Period.
Looking for a Gore-Tex hardshell? Look no further. This is my first season with the Alpha SV and it has not failed to impress (immensely so). Everything about this jacket is first rate - the construction makes all other shells (TNF, in particular) look like cheap crap. The design of the Alpha makes sense - from how the hood will fit comfortably over a helmet while still allowing for great range of motion, to how the pockets and zippers are all easily operable with gloves on. The stitching on the Alpha SV is excellent and upon visual inspection, vastly superior (higher stitch count and more precise placement) to any other brand shell I have owned.
Believe me, I too choked up a bit of food when I first looked at a shell with a $500 price tag. I got it at a bit of a discount, but it has been worth every penny, and then some. I have a nearly brand new TNF Ama Dablam shell and I don't know if I can ever bring myself to wear it again. Maybe if I had to go roll around in the mud and didn't want to get the Alpha SV dirty...