Normally, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But for the slew of publications handing out “Best in Show” awards to Outdoor Retailer’s top new products, that might be the only way to get a handle on the bleeding edge of the industry.
Compared to more testing-intensive awards like BACKPACKER’s Editors’ Choice Awards, best-in-show awards give readers an early take on the latest and greatest, typically before publications and writers have even had the chance to put products to the test.
“These have to be taken with a grain of salt because you’re judging it on paper,” said Rick Stella, Associate Editor at Digital Trends, who bestows its awards to the most intriguing products, rather than the most proven ones. “We’re giving awards to the products we want to test.”
“People want to know what’s coming down the pipe,” said Gear Junkie Editor Stephen Regenold. Interest in the latest and greatest, plus a sense of the direction the industry is taking, makes the awards one of the website’s most popular articles twice each year.
Without time to fully test and validate each product, Regenold says his writers are on the hunt for innovation. “What we’re really awarding is the design, the creativity, the courage to do something different in our industry and that continual push of trying to move the needle,” he said.
While writers for publications like Gear Junkie and Digital Trends scour the floor, meeting with hundreds of brands and making an effort to recognize even smaller products, a handful of obvious big winners hoard the cardboard signs marking the best of the show.
1. Salomon/Atomic Shift MNC 13 Binding
Salomon and Atomic brought the best of the touring and alpine worlds into this binding. A lightweight, pin-binding touring mode and a burly, full alpine-style downhill mode made it an easy choice for editors to hype. Jackets and softgoods are always changing and evolving, and hardgoods like bindings are slower to revolutionize, said Regenold, which makes the big changes really interesting. “This is a new take on the binding and a really interesting demonstration of the evolution of that category.”
A quick lever shift in the toe half folds the open pin arms down to frame the toe of an MNC-compatible alpine boot, boosting power transition on the downhill when combined with the alpine-style heel. Plus, an aluminum, carbon, and plastic construction keeps it lightweight while free-heeling uphill.
“As a company built on innovating across mountain sports categories for 71 years, these accolades validate our approach and provide us an important opportunity to recognize our product teams,” said Jenny Taylor, Salomon North America’s brand director. “Our sales and marketing teams utilize these assets in our sell-in presentations, trade marketing programs, and field marketing activations, as well as digital advertising.”
2. 686 Reservoir Jacket
Simultaneous innovation in both the jacket and hydration categories goes a long way toward getting noticed for awards. The Reservoir jacket features a water bladder built into the jacket’s snow skirt and a tube that runs up to a valve appearing at your chin. With the weight distributed cleanly around the hips, it brings easy access to hydration for resort skiers who don’t want to carry a pack. “I can have hydration there when I need it as, opposed to having to go into the lodge,” said Stella.
A DWR treatment and waterproof membrane, as well as 80 grams of synthetic insulation, keep the jacket as warm and dry as a resort shell needs to be.
For small brands especially, picking up a few awards can go a long way. “It helps other people know what we already know about our jacket,” said 686 Marketing Manager Ryan Conway. “It’s a lot of validation.”
3. DPS Phantom
Wax no more. Just slap this polymer onto your ski bases (and heed the requisite six-hour dry time), and your sticks will slide like new for a lifetime. “It offers the potential to eliminate one of the environmentally detrimental effects of skiing while simplifying the way you make your skis fast on the snow,” said Gear Junkie Managing Editor Sean McCoy.
According to DPS, you’ll always have the right amount of glide, too—the Phantoms work on all types and temperatures of snow. Plus, you won’t mess it up with your glue-on skins, which have a tendency to pull out traditional wax.
4. Spy Ace EC Goggles
Too bright or too dark for your goggles? If you have the Ace ECs, all you’ll need to do is press a button on a small battery pack attached to the strap and you can toggle through three different tints: clear, medium, and dark.
According to Stella, Digital Trends caters slightly more to the less-hardcore outdoor consumer, but the Ace ECs are innovation for everyone: “New people don’t have to worry about the conditions and what lens to have for their goggles. And then for experienced people, it’s just increased efficiency.”
5. Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket
How do you innovate on Gore-Tex? Make it four times stretchier. The Hemispheres line is the first to bring the technology to North America, combining full waterproofing with mobility and comfort. The Gore-Tex C-Knit Technology sits in a three-layer, 70-denier nylon shell with elastane hood and back panels, breaking new ground in waterproof/breathables.
This article originally appeared on Day 3 of The Daily at Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show winter 2018.