Gear Trends: Backcountry skiing is the new 'all-mountain' category

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As skiers shift priorities, brands come along.

Beyond The Core

For several years, backcountry skiing (along with the sales of its related products) has been the fastest-growing segments within the ski industry. And participants are no longer the stereotypical backcountry aficionados seeking solitude and freshies away from the masses. They’re intermediates dabbling in the backcountry; resort skiers who simply prefer a boot with walk mode; consumers with touring bindings but no climbing skins; and uphill skiers whose sole purpose is to climb as fast as possible.

Backcountry skiing’s growth has spurred a new pillar of gear. It’s the new “all-mountain” category, and brands are getting ready for the niche gear segment to get more mainstream attention.

Julian Gasiewski of White Pine Touring in Park City, Utah—a retail shop that runs avalanche courses through AIARE—agrees that the number of all-mountain skiers is on the rise, and notes that his best-selling ski boots aren’t pure alpine/tour, but ones that can handle both the resort and the skin track.
Skiing for Fitness

We all know that skiing uphill is a killer workout. “The trend is twofold,” says Marshal Olson, global sales director of DPS. “There’s lightweight gear that’s pretty legit inbounds, and there’s fitness skiing—a fast and light alternative to Nordic that’s great for vacationers and skiers who want to tour, but not expose themselves to avalanches.”

Salewa has a name for this category of skiers that wants to go uphill at resorts: Speed Fit. “It’s a huge initiative for us,” says Marketing Manager Jamie Starr. “Speed Fit is accessible to more people: beginners, fitness freaks, road cyclists, ultrarunners, etc. It’s all about growing our sport and industry.” A trend that was once taboo for resort management, the growth of uphill skiing has pushed many resorts to adopt policies about it.

Big Brands Shed Weight

Traditionally, alpine-touring products were manufactured by niche companies, leaving the big brands to focus on the mainstream aspects of the sport. Not true anymore. Big ski brands are going on a diet. One example: Salomon launches the S/LAB X-Alp system, a ski and boot combo focused on lightweight performance, as well as the company’s first backcountry tech binding.

“The bigger brands going into the AT market is healthy for the sport and the industry,” says David Marchi of Crow’s Feet Commons in Bend, Oregon. “It’s pushing innovation, but, more importantly for the retailer, it gives customers more options.” Marchi explains that historically, touring gear was imported from Europe, and had to be brought in by a distributor that took a cut of the sale.

Photo courtesy of Salomon

Photo courtesy of Salomon

Salomon’s MTN Pin ($625 with brake) is the company’s first foray into the tech binding world. The MTN heel pins can be swapped for three different retention values. The wider (expert) pins allow the binding to be stiffer to prevent pre-release issues.

Photo courtesy of DPS

Photo courtesy of DPS

DPS is adding the progressively rockered Lotus 124 shape to its touring line. The Lotus 124 Tour1 ($1,099) weighs 1570g and is a powder surfing board for dedicated backcountry rippers.

Photo courtesy of Scarpa

Photo courtesy of Scarpa

The Scarpa Maestrale RS ($795) is reinvigorated with a new carbon-infused Grilamid shell that makes it 142g lighter and five flex points stiffer. The boot closure system employs a Z-shaped cable that reduces weight while improving fit.

Photo courtesy of Arc'teryx

Photo courtesy of Arc'teryx

Arc’teryx expands its popular Procline line this year with the Procline Women’s Support ($1,000). Like the men’s version, it’s a combo ski and mountaineering boot for women who want something superlight (1120g) for backcountry powder and chute skiing.

Photo courtesy of Black Crows

Photo courtesy of Black Crows

A relative newcomer to the U.S. ski market, Black Crows is shaking things up with a full reverse-camber ski with a metal laminate inside, a unique blend of designs. The Daemon ($750) is a 99mm-waisted all-mountain ski, designed to float in soft snow and carve on groomers.

Photo courtesy of Scott

Photo courtesy of Scott

Scott’s new S1 Collection has a fresh take on the ski/walk mechanism. The S1 Pro ($1,000) is a carbon and Grilamid shell with a memory foam leather liner. It weighs 1350g and relies on the Power Bridge Tongue—a touring feature on the front of the boot that increases performance and power without sacrificing touring mobility.

 Photo courtesy of Salomon

Photo courtesy of Salomon

Salomon’s new superlight (950g) S/LAB X-Alp Ski ($850) has a karuba wood core with basalt and fiberglass laminates (tech taken from Nordic skis), which provide reliable and stable performance on the descent.

 Photo courtesy of Black Diamond

Photo courtesy of Black Diamond

Black Diamond’s new Route collection is positioned between its Helio ultralight skis and the burlier Boundary line. The Route 105 ($650; 1786g), which is rockered in the tip and semi-rockered in the tail, is damp and responsive with enough muscle for lift skiing—at a competitive price.

Photo courtesy of Dynafit

Photo courtesy of Dynafit

Dynafit’s Speed Fit binding ($449) is a beefed-up (310g) version of its Speed Superlite, with a 10 DIN and removable brakes for skiers who ski-tour for fitness at their local resorts.

Photo courtesy of Fritschie

Photo courtesy of Fritchsi

The Fritchsi Tecton 12 ($650) is a touring binding with frontal lateral releases in both ski and walk modes, which means better safety for skiing and in the event of an avalanche. The binding has a pin-tech toe with a static heel locking lever for added security.

 Photo courtesy of Dynafit

Photo courtesy of Dynafit

Also aimed at fitness skiers, Dynafit’s SpeedFit boot ($599) is an evolution of the TLT6 at a lower price point with reflective features to promote safety on the hill during
low-light hours.

This article was originally published on p. 20 of the Demo Day issue of Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2017.

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