OR Winter Market Trends Report: Snowshoes

The SNEWS® team of six editors spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2004 scouting out the trade show scene. With that in mind, here's our take on snowshoe products, trends and developments.
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The SNEWS® team of six editors spent the entire four days of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2004 scouting out the trade show scene. Each week, since the show ended, we've been publishing our take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations that caught our eyes. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, we either did not see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on snowshoe products, trends and developments:

With retailers trimming inventory, it makes sense that snowshoe manufacturers introduced a moderate amount of new product at SIA and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market this year.

For example, Tubbs typically has two or three product stories to spin, but the company focused this season on one line, its new Elevation shoes. These products illustrate how bindings continue to become more simplified and efficient. Using two plastic flaps that fold around the foot to keep it secure, the Elevation binding has fewer pieces while relieving pressure points. The Elevation line is also significant in that it includes large-sized shoes for women.

When we visited Redfeather, the company reported that its Hike series ($99-$129) continues to be the biggest moneymaker. Playing off this success, Redfeather introduced this year a new Hike Gift Set, which combines shoes, poles and a carry bag. The sets retail from $139 to $169.

At the Atlas booth, product design was only a brief topic of conversation. (Look for incremental improvements in the Arch-Flex binding to lighten it and remove pressure points. Plus, Atlas has introduced three-piece aluminum poles retailing for $69.) Talk quickly turned to the success of the Women's Snowshoe Workshops. Most significantly, REI stepped up its involvement in the program this year, hosting more than 20 workshops at stores across the country. According to Atlas, a Jan. 13 event in Reno, Nev., attracted about 100 women. Workshops have also been hosted by Galyan's. Interestingly, the Atlas folks tell us that the REI workshops tended to be more successful than the Galyan's events, and we suspect that this could have something to do with the enthusiasm and support of store employees. We're going to look into this further -- perhaps the market shouldn't judge all large chains equally.

The other big news is that Atlas, now a part of the K2 empire, will move its production to China (read our Jan. 14 story at www.snewsnet.com/cgi-bin/snews/01418.html). While this will bring the usual efficiencies and cost reductions, company officials say they also expect quality control to improve, noting that they'd recently faced definite issues.

If there was a big splash in the snowshoe market at this year's OR Winter Market, it was MSR's Lightning Ascent shoe ($249.95). Radically different than the Denali shoes, the Lightning Ascent is made of aircraft-grade aluminum and steel. Its serrated frame promises to bite into the snow and provide much more traction than the Denali products, which can sometimes have a sledding effect. The shoes are also extremely light -- weighing between 50 and 58.5 ounces. Plus, MSR worked with a gait specialist to create two models, a 22 and 25, specifically for women.

Bolstered by K2, we certainly expect the Tubbs/Atlas juggernaut to continue its market domination. But Crescent Moon President Jake Thamm was smiling anyway at this year's OR Winter Market. With his sales up 15 percent and net profits up more than 20 percent, he's confident that, despite extreme competition, there will always be a place in the outdoor market for a smaller, independent high-end brand. Thamm told SNEWS® that the buzz was especially positive this year. "There was a higher quality of interaction, and genuine intent to do business and look forward," Thamm said.

For a small, high-end brand to survive, quality is a must, and Thamm says that this year he's gotten great response on the improved Crescent Moon Foot Glove binding. "We think the binding is really where we want it to be," he said.

"From this show, I got independent confirmation from retailers that the binding really works well," noting he's especially impressed at how it accommodates a wide range of foot sizes. "At the Backcountry Base Camp, two people sat side-by-side trying on shoes -- a woman with extremely small feet and a man with a size 18. To see them both fit well into that binding -- that was just a great moment," said Thamm.

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