The moving and shaking that the snowshoe category has been experiencing over the past few seasons appears to have settled. What remains is a field of nine or 10 companies -- mostly veterans of the market -- that have solid footings and loyal consumer bases.
Most companies reported to SNEWSÂ® that 2004 was a successful year, though we got the feeling that they are coasting a bit this year rather than being aggressive. There weren't many grand product line introductions at this year's Winter Market, and no company seemed to be swinging for the fence, as MSR did last year with the Lightning, which created quite a buzz. For the most part, snowshoe companies held steady with their designs, and we didn't find ourselves tangled up in a dozen new binding systems.
As was the case last year, snowshoe manufacturers are focusing much of their attention on women and families. Companies appear to now finally realize that women hold the considerable spending power, and they make most of the buying decisions for families.
Here, then, are a few of the products that stood out to our team at Winter Market:
Tubbs has introduced the Floral Altitude, a snowshoe with women's-specific technical features and a deck with sublimated floral patterns. It's sure to look good on the wall at retail stores, and the styling clearly identifies the product as something made specifically for women. Beyond product, Tubbs has dedicated itself to serving women through its Romp to Stomp Out Breast Cancer series of events. Money raised through a series of snowshoe races, walks and demos goes to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (check it out at www.tubbsromptostomp.com). Tubbs is also lending retailers a helping hand in directing customers to snowshoeing destinations. It has launched a "Where Have You Explored?" campaign on www.tubs-trailnet.com. The campaign includes point-of-sale and direct-mail programs that encourage snowshoers to share their trail experiences.
Atlas Snow-Shoe Company has devoted significant effort this past year to its Women's Workshops. From November 2004 to January 2005, 50 workshops were held at REI stores in 10 states. Atlas Director of Marketing Karen Righthand said that women are really responding to the workshops, and she's seen some participants walk away at the end of the event with an armload of gear for the whole family -- even when they've never been snowshoeing before. Righthand has noticed something else interesting about the program: In general, only 20 percent of shoes sold to women are at the $249 price point, but at the workshops, 63 percent of shoes sold to women are at the $249 price point. When provided the proper education and training, women are not reluctant to invest heavily in product.
Beyond the workshops, Atlas also updates its 36 Series of shoes. It shaved a pound off the weight and added a spring-loaded pivot system to improve performance.
For Crescent Moon, the company feels it has found a real winner in its new SPL binding, which features a stirrup-like strap so the wearer can quickly adjust the binding with one pull. Not only is the system simple and intuitive, but Crescent Moon's Jake Thamm said, "The binding has been on the market since August, and we have not had one warranty issue." Thamm also noted that the binding is made completely of hydrophobic materials, so it won't degrade or stretch due to moisture.
Redfeather President Allan Kettlehut reports that the company saw sales grow 28 percent in 2004. The company saw its Trek shoe ($149 to $159) gain in popularity, so for 2005 it added another mid-priced shoe, the Explore ($149 to $169). This shoe includes a pivot rod hinge (usually included on higher-priced shoes) to improve traction. This year, Redfeather also beefed-up its crampons throughout the product lines. Also interesting is the fact that the company has delineated its product lines by crampon style and by color. (The Alpine series is blue; Race is yellow; Trek is green.) It's nice to see Redfeather making adjustments that will help retailers explain and sell its products. Retailers should keep an eye out for a new POP display that is designed to explain the V-Tail design in Redfeather shoes. As for consumers, Redfeather hopes they will also appreciate that each of the company's bindings can be fitted to any shoe in the line. Not a bad idea since "customization" is the big buzzword in product design these days.
A couple more detailsâ€¦
GV Snowshoes caught our attention with its new Snow Pocket technology on shoes such as the new Extreme. Basically, a portion of the frame behind the heel is raised to create a pocket that traps air between the snow and the decking. This is supposed to improve flotation, and we'll get back to you after we've done some tests to offer our opinion on its effectiveness.
MSR introduced a new 30-inch version of the Lightning (without the Televator) to serve folks who carry heavy loads in deeper powder. These snowshoes are still extremely light at 3 pounds, 14 ounces.