Gear trends: Snowshoes for 2014/15

Looking for a rebound: A real winter, plus lighter and easier mechanics, stand to help snowshoe market.
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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.

This winter has brought much-welcomed snow to the snowshoe category, which has been particularly hard hit by the past two warm winters.

Sales slipped to $13.4 million last season, versus $15.1 million a season earlier, and $19.5 million the season before that. The slump has challenged manufacturers to try and expand the market and innovate with new designs. Their bets could pay off this winter and next.

Trends this year include lighter weight materials, better attachment configurations, an increased emphasis on ease of use, more running-specific options and models designed just for youngsters.

“It used to be 56-inch wood snowshoes, then smaller aluminum ones that were less than half the weight, and now we’re seeing the introduction of nylon frames and easier bindings to get in and out of,” said Joe Rauscher, owner of Joe’s Sporting Goods in the snowshoeing hotbed of Minneapolis, Minn. “A lot of customers want easier adjustability.”

As for new materials hitting the market, Crescent Moonupdates its running-specific carbon fiber Rocket snowshoe (MSRP $449) with expanded attachment configurations and is working on broadening the line with other composites.

MSR debuts a frame technology called the ExoTract deck, as well as the new HyperLink binding. Both can be found on its Revo Explore snowshoe (MSRP $199), which combines the power of perimeter steel traction walls with the durability and torsional flex of plastic. The result is a snowshoe for performance in all terrain and conditions. With a two-strap ratchet system paired with an easy-entry cradle, the new HyperLink binding is the company’s fastest, easiest and most comfortable binding ever, said MSR Alpine Director Chris Parkhurst.

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Also experimenting with material changes, Atlas Snowshoesenters the 2014 season showcasing its new Endeavor (MSRP $220), a backcountry snowshoe incorporating a hybrid technology blending a traditional aluminum foredeck with a PVC-free composite V-frame. The snowshoe also employs the company’s patented Reactiv-Trac technology for handling inconsistent terrain.

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“Trends for us include incorporating better performance with increased practicality,” said Atlas Marketing Coordinator Jeff Oster. “Companies are continuing to search for ways to tailor to the needs of different consumers and offer a more user-friendly experience for taking snowshoes on and off.”

In the fitness category, Mike Ruschman, hardgoods buyer for Minnesota’s Midwest Mountaineering, said he sees an increasing demand for running-specific snowshoes at his shop. “The most serious runners are looking for direct mount bindings — a snowshoe that attaches directly to running shoes via hardware, often bolts,” he said. He added that he’s “seeing a trend in customers willing to pay a little more for brands made in the U.S.”

Crescent Moon upgrades the binding system on its Gold 12 Running series (MSRP $249), featuring a molded foot stirrup to replace the previous foot plate and strap configuration. The new running binding is more supportive, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, which it counts on leading to increased sales in the category.

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Also looking to improve binding function is Tubbs Snowshoes, whose Flex VRT backcountry snowshoe for 2014 (MSRP $250) employs the company’s new DynamicFit binding with a Boa Closure System for evenly distributed tension around users’ feet. Boa’s micro-adjustability ensures precise maneuverability and fit and enhances comfort, while the snowshoe’s flexible tail is designed to ease stress on wearers’ joints, said Marketing Coordinator Kelsey Boyce.

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“We see a push toward developing new technologies for traction and increased maneuverability, but the largest engineering focus has been in the advancement of binding technologies,” Boyce adds. “Leading the charge is balancing the ratio of performance, comfort and ease in bindings that can be adjusted with one twist, pull or push.”

Tubbs aims to get a younger generation into the sport with its new SnowGlow (MSRP $50) snowshoe, featuring its MotionBright lighting system. Designed to motivate kids to get outside and stay active, the system features motion-activated, flashing LEDs that light up with every step, as well as a quick-lock binding and molded traction rails.

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Retooling design shape and deck material, Easton Mountain Products adds a molded version to its popular Artica Trail (MSRP $120), Hike (MSRP $150) and Backcountry (MSRP $180) models for 2014/15. The new Easton Molded series features lightweight Easton 7075 aluminum rails as well as an aggressively shaped deck co-molded onto the rails for a strong, flexible platform. It also sports a refined version of its active pivot system, which promotes a more natural stride and return energy with each step.

“The category suffered the last few seasons due to poor snow conditions,” said Easton Sales Manager Rich Packer, “but the 2014/15 season should see another surge of product innovation and upgrades.”

--Eugene Buchanan

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