Booming sales for AT boots: Lackluster snow has yet to slow backcountry equipment sales

AT boots were up as much as 40 percent in dollars sold last winter season despite lackluster snow and snowsports sales. Check out the recap of the new products in the category that debuted at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. 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 paltry snowfall throughout much of the country last season led to lackluster sales in snowsports, one category rose above the rest like rockered fat skis in powder.

Alpine Touring (AT) boots, those with a walk/ski mode, were up as much as 40 percent in dollars sold. Additionally, according to SIA’s most recent Market Intelligence Report, sales have jumped from $2 million to $11.5 million in just two years.

This growth is giving rise to a slew of new SKUs in the category as manufacturers — including traditional alpine companies — hop on the backcountry bandwagon. Design trends you’ll see on the show floor this year include compatibility with traditional alpine, AT and tech-fit bindings, wider ranges of tour mode motion, weight savings and performance comparable to their alpine brethren.

“People are looking for top-tier performance in the backcountry,” said Scarpa North America CEO Kim Miller. “They want race-level alpine performance as well as the light weight and range of cuff motion of a backcountry boot.”

Scarpa’s answer is a line of four new, overlap-construction, four-buckle freeride boots (two men’s, two women’s), designed with input from freeskier Chris Davenport. The Freedom and 1,800-gram Freedom SL boots (MSRPs $599-$769) come with a new ski-walk mechanism with a flex index of 110 on the former and 120 on the latter. They feature a lower boot molded around a carbon-fiber frame and interchangeable DIN and tech soles that bolt through the carbon fiber frame with metal-on-metal hardware, improving power transfer and strength. Selling point: The women’s boot will go down to a size of 21.5, which is rarely seen and offers a nice performance boot for kids as well.

Elsewhere in the category, the boot and binding connection is another hotspot of design. “With swappable sole boots, the biggest loss of power transmission is the interface between the boot and the binding,” said Black Diamond Ski Category Director Thomas Laakso. He touts the company’s new Mx Direct Connect technology, available in the Factor Mx 130 (MSRP $769), which increases lateral stiffness by 70 percent over previous models. In development for more than three years, the boot also offers 40 degrees of fore-aft motion through the cuff in walk mode and 30 percent lower-profile buckles than previous Factor boots.

While enhanced downhill performance remains at a premium, so does weight savings for the ascents. La Sportiva addresses this with two new four-buckle AT boots (MSRP $599): the men’s Spectre (1,445 grams) and women’s Sparkle (1,245 grams). Both are tech and touring binding compatible and are constructed from carbon-reinforced Grilamid for stiffness to a 120-flex. Both also offer 60-degree range of motion for touring, three adjustable forward lean angles (10, 14 and 18 degrees), and come with a unique fold-away lock-open design for touring with patented Pegasus buckles that lay flat on the boot even when not locked down. “We’re confident they’ll be the lightest four-buckle boot on the market,” said spokesman Cory Lowe.

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Backcountry boots no longer are simply the domain of touring-oriented companies. A case in point is K2, which this yearunveils an eight-model boot collection — the company’s first — consisting of the flagship all-mountain SpYne 90, 110 and 130 (MSRPs $500/$625/$800) and women’s SpYre 80, 100 and 110 (MSRPs $500/$625/$750). All employ rivet-free construction with an integrated cuff and shell for smooth energy transfer and flex, a co-injected Y-shape at the back for enhanced strength, and liners with a moldable, asymmetric tongue. The three-buckle, freeride Pinnacle line (MSRPs $750/$850) lets skiers synchronize the release of the wedge and interlock for free-flexing hiking while liners are notched for optimal mobility. Tech fittings embedded in the shell accommodate different bindings without the need to change outsoles. “They’re really turning heads so far,” said K2’s Mike Hattrup.

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Another company getting into the backcountry boot game is Scott USA, with large thanks to its acquistion of Garmont North America earlier this year. The names, now with Scott branding and updates, will sound familiar, such as the Delirium (MSRP $800) and women’s Asylum (MSRP $750), which come with four buckles, interchangeable soles and tour modes offering 60 degrees of motion. On the more touring/mountaineering-oriented side come the Cosmos (1,450 grams, MSRP $750) and women’s Celeste (MSRP $750), adding Shock Damper Shell inserts into the design.

“In year one, we're utilizing a lot of what we acquired from Garmont,” Scott U.S. Manager Adam Greene said, but moving forward, Scott will make its own investmets.

Rossignol is another traditional alpine brand courting skiers who want to climb for their turns. “We’re trying to address the needs of backcountry users without becoming a touring-oriented brand,” said Communications Manager Nick Castagnoli. Its all-mountain All Track line (MSRP N/A) fuses on-trail performance and freeride versatility in 100mm and 102mm lasts, with a new shell design and liner, hike mode and interchangeable rockered soles (sold separately). Tecnica updates shells and soles in its Cochise Free Mountain collection (MSRPs $525-$850), including the Cochise Pro 130, 120, 110 and 90, and women’s specific 105W and 90W. It also adds to the line the new Cochise Pro Light (MSRP $900), its most tour-friendly offering with a lightweight Triax shell, metal-to-metal connected Mobility Cuff for walk mode, Power Lock Buckle and interchangeable DIN and Tech-compatible soles.

Salomon revamps its AT boot line with the Quest Max BC 120 (MSRP $789), featuring Twin Frame technology, an oversized pivot, new hike and ride technology and four-screw Contagrip TUV-certified interchangeable sole pads for conversion from DIN compatibility to rockered walking. The Max BC also employs new geometry for its metal insert that’s melded into the plastic sole — 10 times stronger than similar steel componentry — and a thermomoldable liner that’s 25 percent lighter than its alpine counterpart.

–Eugene Buchanan

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