Gear trends: Nordic for 2014/15

Nordic brands lighten load and price for rec users. Easier-to-use technology attracts fitness-oriented customers.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

While sights are on the U.S. Nordic team in Sochi this year, manufacturers are eyeing ways to bring high-end racing performance to the recreational sector.

Following a sales season up 6 percent in dollars to $35 million, with bindings leading the charge up 12 percent, companies are embracing the sport as a less-expensive, healthier alternative to conventional Alpine skiing in an effort to combat a shrinking 3.3-million-participant market, down 3 percent from the year before. While this year’s snowfall should help reverse that trend, so should a slew of new designs.

Trends you’ll see on the Winter Market show floor include better kick-and-glide patterns, carbon fiber coming to the rec market, weight reduction across the board and an increasing emphasis on consumer-friendly price points.

“Manufacturers are designing skis that work better in varied conditions,” said Rossignol Nordic Division Manager Ryan Green. “For racers, skis are faster and for tourers they’re easier. We’re also seeing World Cup carbon boots now available at retail — they’re precise, powerful and light, like racing a 5K in running shoes versus flats.”

Rossignol introduces its X-ium Skate and Classic skis, a SKU line fitting between its current X-ium WCS and Delta Course lines. An entirely new Nordic category for the brand, the skis are made in its Spanish factory using the same process as its WCS series, including flex/camber measurements prior to pairing. “It allows for lower pricing at retail for those who can’t commit to the highest-level price points,” Green said, adding that Rossignol also is unveiling the X10 Skate FW and X8 Skate FW women’s-specific skate boots, featuring raised heels, flared cuffs and foot fit adjustments.

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Salomon brings high performance to a rec-friendly retail level with its new RS Skate Ski(MSRP $500), which carries the same weight, geometry and base as its top-of-the-range S-Lab skis, only in a universal flex, grind and mass participant price range. In addressing the race-performance-to-the-rec-market push, it also touts its 860-gram Lab Carbon Boot (MSRP $899) with a new shell/liner system. “We’re putting serious technology in consumer-friendly price points this year,” said Nordic manager Isaac Wilson, adding that advancements in carbon fiber are leading the charge. “As part of this, we’re seeing pretty radical development in our new Carbon Lab boot, S-Lab Pole and new Carbon RS binding.”

These trends carry over to sister brand Atomic’s offerings. Atomic unveils its new Skintec technology in a lightweight, consumer-price friendly category called the Skintec Sport Classic Ski (MSRP $565). “Boot and ski technology is definitely advancing in lower price points,” said Wilson, who also oversees Atomic’s Nordic brand. “Ease-of-use and convenience are resonating with consumers who want the fun of cross-countrying without the tech barriers.” The company is charging forward with fit, as evidenced by its new Sport Pro “Live Fit” Skate boot (MSRP $250), which “reacts” to foot pressure by expanding up to 5mm during the power phase to accommodate foot spread.

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Weight is dropping in tandem with retail pricing. “We’re seeing refinement of existing designs, including lighter weight in skis, boots and poles,” said John Gallagher, owner of Canmore, Alberta’s Trail Sports, whose sales, thanks largely to abundant early snowfall, already are up over last year’s. He added that today’s Nordic consumers “are always looking for skis that are easier to ski on” and that at his store, at least, skate skis sell better than kick and glide. “We see cyclists, triathletes and runners looking to change their winter workout regime,” he said. “They still see skate skiing as something new.”

Fischer hops on this weight-reduction trend by lightening its Nordic Cruising and Sport ski lines by up to 40 grams per pair, including a new Vario Crown pattern to each line, enhancing gliding without reducing grip. For boots, its adds an Xcelerator sole to its CarbonLite (MSRP $339)and RC7 Classic (MSRP $239) cross-country boots; a new backcountry sole to its Offtrack BC-3 (MSRP $139) and BC-5(MSRP $179)boots; and an easier-to-enter re-design for the Comfort and Comfort My Style (MSRPs $129) boots in its Sport line. “For us, it’s all about comfort, weight savings and ease-of-use this year,” said Nordic Division Vice President Peter Ashley.

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Multi-purpose use is another cornerstone of this year’s designs. “We’re seeing demand for better, more versatile touring products,” said Alpina Sports Marketing Manager William McSherry. “In particular, boots with stiffer, higher, hinged cuffs for greater lateral stability, but that also allow for smooth and easy kick and glide.” Alpina answers this with its new T30 men’s and Eve women’s boots, designed with a smooth flex pattern and rigidity for control. Its new poplar-core Control 64 E ski (64/52/60 mm) also fits the bill, with its partial metal edge for track use and enhanced camber and glide configurations for better propulsion.

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Poles are one aspect of the Nordic where focus remains on the high end. Komperdell proves this with its new Superlight 74 (MSRP $300), its lightest pole ever at 50 grams. It’s made from customized, high-grade carbon fiber that employs a special winding process for stiffness, and comes with a cork-grip and seamless ergonomic race-strap.

Your customers can invest in all the newest Nordic innovations they want, but the one product that will truly make them faster and more efficient is wax. After three years of testing, Swix Sport USA has that angle covered with its new Cera NovaX wax line. “We posed the question to our chemists and race wax technicians of how to make it better,” said Swix CEO Steve Poulin. In addition to new formulations, Swix underwent a full repackaging and design effort to create more skier-friendly storage options and a clarified temperature line-up.

--Eugene Buchanan

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