Our man on the scene, Clyde Soles, poked, prodded, dug, cajoled and scratched out the following report detailing product news and developments from the most recent Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
Metolius -- In an effort to stand out from the crowded climbing harness market, the new Metolius line has emphasized safety to the extreme. The concept is that climbers do make mistakes, no matter how well trained or experienced, so their harness should be as idiot-proof as possible. The Safe Tech harnesses are reinforced to the max yet only a couple ounces heavier than their predecessors, which already were among the most comfortable around. While these may not capture the price-point consumers, they should attract serious climbers in the sport for the long haul.
In the "why-did-it-take-so-long" category is the new PAS (Personal Anchor System) that will retail for $30 with a biner. This is a full-strength system that is far superior to the daisy chains climbers have used for years to attach themselves to the rock. The decision to include a locking carabiner is debatable, since it ups the price $10, but it's such a slick setup that many climbers will go for it anyhow (hard to have too many lockers).
Petzl -- The biggest stir, of course, was the new line of headlights which may allow Petzl to recapture some of the market it once owned. The new Myo series should captivate the serious users and the Tikka Plus will reach out to the gear heads.
The new Charlet Moser Aztar ice tools could prove to be one of the best values on the market since it includes a nice leash in the $175 package. As predicted, the Charlet Moser crampon line will be revamped with three new binding systems. Even better, the company has announced it will be packaging the crampons with new, patented, ultralight anti-balling plates -- available for shipping in the fall season. SNEWS was not able to view these since they are not ready for prime time, but they do sound promising.
Slackers -- Wall climbers have long been known as slackers, but slacklining is a growing pastime. What started in the mid-1970s as balance training on parking lot chains has grown into a recreational activity with serious addicts. To support their needs, a new company called Slackline Brothers has introduced kits that greatly simplify the rigging. While the $195 retail tag may seem daunting, it's in the same price range as bouldering pads and appeals to the same mentality. www.slackline.com
Icebugs -- There hasn't been anything radically new in the trail running world in a couple of years. Lots of nice tweaks but no real innovations, until now. The new Icebug shoes from Sweden (distributed in the United States by Garmont) feature retractable studs that provide grip on snow and ice. When pavement is encountered, the carbide-tipped steel pushes up into the rubber cleat for a smooth ride. Those of us who run in snow/mud country will be all over the trail shoes, but there is also a line of nice snow boots for casual strolls.
Grivel -- This fall, Grivel will join Camp in including anti-balling plates on its crampons; a major safety advantage that all other companies should emulate. The new versions of the popular Rambo and Rambocomp crampons will include both mono and dual points (different designs for better performance) and can be adjusted for boots with or without rocker.
The Air Tech Evolution ice axe takes a classic design and updates it with a subtle bend, nicer grip, and a better spike. Plus, the model with a leash includes an attached spike guard. The coolest new leashless tool for next season appears to be the Wing Racing, which has a unique C-shaped grip for a multitude of hand positions.
Sterling -- As the rope price wars continue, Sterling announced a sales contest that runs from March 1 to August 31. The grand prize for the employee who earns the most points is a three-day guided climbing trip anywhere in North America (up to $2,500 value). Ten runner-ups (one in each territory) will each earn a rope. And the store with the greatest percentage increase will garner a rope for each staff member who sold a rope. Read the fine print but this appears to be a good incentive program for shops that turn a lot of ropes.
Sterling is also sponsoring a women's rock climbing weekend to be held in the Salt Lake City area this June. Events such as this, Sheclimbs Gatherings and Chicks with Picks, which bring more women into the sport, are good for everyone and a wise long-term investment.
Skinnier and Longer -- While price and color are the main determinants in the bread-and-butter 10.2 mm to 10.5 mm rope markets, much of the buzz is about the latest skinny ropes. The newest entry is Bluewater's 9.3 mm Dominator, which is the lightest single rope to date and scarcely fatter than half ropes of yore yet it holds six falls. Other skinny singles include the PMI 9.4 Elite, the Mammut 9.5 Infinity, and the Sterling 9.6 Nitro.
The overwhelming consensus is that 50-meter ropes are a dead issue -- "can't even give them away" was one comment. By far, the most popular length is 60 meters and there are increasing numbers of 70-meter ropes being sold. This trend is due to the length needed for lowering off of sport climbs and also the more common practice of linking pitches together on traditional routes.