Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '06 Trends: Backcountry skis, boots and bindings

For the telemark world, the 2006-07 season is the big "hurry up and wait" as everyone ponders what the 2007-08 season will bring when Black Diamond and Rottefella unveil their new goods. In the meantime, major price adjustments -- both up and down -- will shake things up considerably in skis, boots and bindings.
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The SNEWS® team of editors powered by imported dark chocolate and numerous espresso shots (not necessarily in that order), zigged and zagged around the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market floor to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out. 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, our brains were either too frozen from our early morning runs to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we started drinking espresso shots too early in the afternoon -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for backcountry skis, boots and bindings:

For the telemark world, the 2006-07 season is the big "hurry up and wait" as everyone ponders what the 2007-08 season will bring when Black Diamond and Rottefella unveil their new goods -- read our GearTrends® magazine story "Kick Up Your Heels" for more details by clicking here.

In the meantime, major price adjustments -- both up and down -- will shake things up considerably in skis, boots and bindings. And we would be remiss if we did not note that while there are some significant new product innovations and designs coming in both the telemark and AT markets, style is increasingly an important factor when it comes to buying decisions. Manufacturers and retail buyers who ignore this fact do so at their own peril. It's not just about how good it works anymore.

OK, on, then, to what caught our roving editors' eyes:

Atomic -- When it comes to which skis get rung up at the register, graphics matter -- Atomic learned this one the hard way. Just one season after the line was revamped, all seven telemark skis are getting new graphics that should have broader appeal (and about $25 higher price tags). No more lava lamp globules, the new graphics are Buddhist-inspired since most of the ski names are taken from the Himalayan mountain range (Kongur is fictional though). One new model for the telemark line that should prove popular is the Kailas, which at 120-88-109 mm fits in between the Kongur (117-84-109) and Janak (125-99-117). Also a 190 cm length has been added for the Tacora (113-80-104).

The alpine touring line not only receives clean new graphics, but new names to spiff things up. Thus, the MX-11 is now the Limit, the MX-9 is the Ambition, the MX-8 is the Climber, the MX-7 is the Outbreaker (in two color ways), and the MX-20 is the TourRace. There is also one new AT ski called the Peak (113-76-99) that will be the fattest in the line (though still fairly skinny by today's standards).

While perhaps less interesting to shops that specialize in backcountry ski gear, the Atomic/Silvretta partnership will likely appeal to alpine ski shops. The Atomic MX:412 is simply the Silvretta Performance with different cosmetics, while the MX:310 is the Silvretta X-Mountain -- prices are the same from both Atomic and Garmont USA but the latter includes the $55 brakes.

What makes this partnership interesting is that Atomic will offer three AT skis (Ambition, Climber, Outbreaker) and one telemark ski (Diran/Sipal) with the skis and MX:310 bindings already mounted. The Limit will be bundled with the MX:412. All of the package prices are $40 more than purchasing skis and bindings separately, but customers don't have to wait for mounting (and will likely want to buy ski brakes).

Black Diamond -- Since Atomic skis went up in price, it's no surprise that the BD skis are also going up from $10 to $30. However, one AT ski, the Frantic, will drop $10. Otherwise, there is no change in the seven ski line-up, so each will probably get new graphics for the 2007-08 season (to match the new boots) and, dare we hope, binding inserts.

Along with a free-pivot touring mode, the new 01 binding (3 pounds, 11 ounces) adds a bit of sex appeal, a slight performance boost, and 6 ounces over the 02. How many consumers will spend $300 for a binding that doesn't release remains to be seen; a nice crampon will run $55 extra. With three other direct competitors in pivoting telemark bindings next season, the 01 emphasizes downhill performance. The resort-oriented 02 remains at $190, while the touring-oriented 03 remains priced at $180.

Crispi -- It looks like the roll that Crispi has been on will continue next season. The company's top-of-the-line X-R telemark boot has been getting widespread critical acclaim and will be dropping $35 next season to $650. Crispi's mid-range boots are going from three buckles (CXP) to four buckles (XP4 and XP4 Lady), while dropping from $520 to$500. The lighter backcountry-oriented CXA and CXA Lady are also going down in price -- $25 to $400. And the two-buckle CXT not only drops $35 to $315, but also gets a thermo-molded liner for a substantial weight savings.

The Crispi AT boots were new this season and have apparently sold well. Next year, they benefit from more aggressive pricing: the four-buckle Freeride goes from $595 to $570 and the three-buckle MS and LS drop from $550 to $500.

Dynafit -- The major price increases next season could put a real damper on what has been the rising star of the AT world. It will still be the ski binding of choice for weight weenies, but the Silvretta Performance is going to look a whole lot better.

Its most affordable binding, the TLT Classic, shoots up from $300 to $380. The more popular TLT Comfort increases $60 to $400, with the brake adding on another $75. The TLT Race Ti lightens wallets by an extra $50 with a retail of $675. The brand new TLT Vertical ($550 with brake) is essentially a TLT Comfort with a fancy shim and an integrated brake that finally may work properly (a weak point currently).

While the Dynafit Carbon 10.0 ski has been widely praised for its performance and lightness, the $80 increase to $680 could dampen some of that enthusiasm; the new graphics are at least, ahem, less boring. It will also be available in a twin-tip version next season, called the Mustagh Ata, with the same dimensions (118-88-110 for 178 cm) and a $700 retail price. Another new ski, the Dynafit 7.0 (116-80-106) has a more reasonable $555 tag. The Dynafit 8.0 (113-75-100) gets a $55 bump to $555, but otherwise is the same. The SR 11.0 racing ski goes up $70 to $700, but the SR 8.0 stays the same at $540.

All the AT boots get the nasty price hike too ($20 to $70), though several more receive the special toe fittings that somewhat justify the price increase. Exclusive to Dynafit, these toe pivots have a ridge that allows the boot to step into the binding much more easily (other brands with Dynafit fittings don't get this quick-step option).

Dynastar -- While Atomic was partnering with Silvretta to offer pre-mounted AT skis, Dynastar was hooking up with Naxo in a similar deal. Since Dynastar doesn't appear to care much about the outdoor market -- the company doesn't attend Winter Market or manage to make time for backcountry ski demos -- we can only assume this ski/binding package is meant primarily for alpine ski shops. The company will offer three models of the pricey Legend series (Pro, 8800 and 8000) mounted with the Naxo nx21 bindings (including brakes) that sport Dynastar graphics. The Legend 8800 (117-89-110) package will retail for $1,150, clearly catering to the upscale market. While Dynastar does make some fine AT skis, the company doesn't bother trying to sell them in the United States -- a shame really.

Fischer -- Sanity prevailed and the three sizes of the T-Stix will all be the same price next season; instead of $550, $600 and $650, all three will be $600. Otherwise the line is pretty much the same. The Inbound Crown and Outbound Crown both decrease by $10 (to $175 and $215, respectively). And the Xtralight was dropped from the line.

Fritschi -- In the AT binding realm, Fritschi has been king for a while but can't rest on its laurels. The Freeride gets a Plus upgrade while holding its $425 price; it will be laterally stiffer, has a nicer shim, and sexier styling. Similarly, the Fritschi Explore gets a sturdier heel piece at no extra cost ($370); it's less expensive and lighter mostly because no brake is included ($53 extra).

Garmont -- Better features, less money -- always a favorite with consumers. On the telemark side, the high-end four-buckle Ener-G gets new magnesium buckles (mostly cosmetic, but they have a new pin that is supposed to reduce icing problems) and drops $30 to $650. Though a women's Ener-G was available this season, it sold poorly because it looked the same as the men's version (well, duh!). Obvious solution: Change the name and colors. So it's now the Elektra and is in a fashionable, but not too girly gray and white.

A new "price-point" four-buckle telemark boot is a bit softer than the Ener-G for touring and has a conventional liner instead of the thermo-molded liner. The $600 Genesis seems like it's made for the European market since it would do well for hut tours.

The three-buckle Syner-G/Venus remains the same, but decreases $30 to $540. The two-buckle Excursion also goes down $30 to $350, but it loses the thermo-molded liner to the more conventional liner. The two-buckle Veloce, which never made much sense, is going bye-bye.

For AT skiers, the Garmont Adrenalin set a new standard in performance last season -- it is the only boot that comes with an AT and an alpine sole -- so naturally, the thing to do is kick it up a notch. The new Endorphin ($700) will have an even stiffer cuff for a more progressive flex, a power strap around the outside of the cuff, new tongue design and the magnesium buckle upgrade. It also features the new AT norm sole that has no lugs in the area of the anti-friction device on bindings. It also has the standard changes this spring to improve release performance, but will take a few years to reach all boots.

The Adrenalin remains the same (aluminum buckles, power strap in between cuff, current AT sole), but drops $40 to $630. In between, is the new Xena ($660), which shares some of the features of both (stiffer cuff, aluminum buckles) but is built for women -- this is one of the only true high-end AT boots built exclusively for the ladies. All three feature a new thermo-molded liner with a lace-up cuff; the lace helps with touring but isn't required.

The Dynafit compatible four-buckle Mega-Ride also gets the new liner, magnesium buckles and a $40 decrease to $630. Both the four-buckle G-Ride and She-Ride remain the same except for the $40 decrease to $530. A new four-buckle Hi-Ride is similar, but has the standard liner to save $50 for a retail of $480. Both Dynafit compatible three-buckle boots the Dynamite and Mega-lite drop $30 (to $540 and $620, respectively), while the latter gets the magnesium buckles.

G3 -- After one and a half seasons, this line of skis has quickly risen to cult status. Next season, there will be three additional models to round out the quiver and prices largely hold. The jack-of-all-trades Baron (116-81-104) will get a sister, the Aviatrix; both will cost $600. The Baron also gets a lighter-weight brother, the Ace, which soars up to $700 but is supposed to be 16 ounces lighter. Expanding on the asymmetric Ticket (120-81-109, $675) is the new Rapid Transit (128-92-116, $725) that SNEWS® found to be more forgiving and fun. Thankfully, the graphics of the Reverend (126-93-114, $685) have been toned down and a new top sheet shouldn't show scratches as easily.

Delayed for two seasons, the Targa Ascent binding ($290, crampon $70) has finally reached production. Essentially, a Targa T/9 ($185) with a free-pivot touring mode and built-in wedge, this will compete directly with the new BD 01, Rottefella Cobra Free and 7tm Tour. The Ascent (3 pounds, 3 ounces) has a solid, clean look and a very cool heel elevator. It's offered with a choice of springs, but the stiffer World Cup makes the most sense (no need to go softer with a tour mode).

Karhu -- Following this season's turmoil associated with the switch to production in China, everyone is looking forward to reliable delivery next fall. Much of the line is unchanged, including most prices. Both the Kodiak and Jak got the new graphics that were desperately needed so they should do much better in shops. The old school Grizzly and Alice are gone from the line; 75 mm waist tele skis are just too skinny. The backcountry ski most likely to get attention next season is the new BC 100 (134-100-125, $600), which is the big brother of the popular Jak BC (124-90-113, $540).

What is arguably the prettiest (and most expensive at $750) tele ski on the market, the 110-mm waist PFD, gets a longer length (182 cm). For the snow park kids, the Agent has gone fatter (from 110-80-103 to 118-86-177) without increasing price ($440). Even waxless touring skis are getting wider these days. The Mountain (88-68-74) is going to become the 10th Mountain (99-68-84) for easier turning at the same price ($300). And the new Guide (109-78-95, $350) should be a fun ski for playing in the hills.

K2 -- What a concept! An entire ski line of 14 models without a single price change for next season. However, the World Piste gets a hair wider (from 119-78-105 to 122-80-107) and new graphics to make it more modern. While the Dawn Patrol has essentially the same dimensions, it has a more aggressive sidecut and powerful construction so telebetties can rip (the current Dawn has been called too weak). All three women's skis get new graphics since the flower thing was getting old. Similarly, the Hippy Stinx gets new graphics that shouldn't turn off as many people. And as an acknowledgement to where kids play these days, the Small World has been replaced by the 1/4 Pipe ($220, a twin tip for grommets).

The AT skis also get tweaked next season. The Mt. Baker (124-88-11) gets two layers of aluminum and a new sidecut to turn it into a serious mountain shredder. The Shuksan (119-78-105) remains mostly the same but has a new tip shape and graphics.

Movement -- These Swiss skis were at the Backcountry Basecamp Demo but not at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market -- we can only assume there was no room, because if there was, and the company didn't show, shame on it. Although the company shares the same factory with G3, Movement and G3 use different molds and constructions. Thus, Movement has to carve out some market share from scratch, which takes advertising and commitment. We'll see how much of either it is willing to muster up in the year to come.

Naxo -- The main competitor to Fritschi for the hard-charging AT crowd, Naxo bindings get two new models and a major upgrade on another for next season. The original nx01 has an upgraded toe piece to reduce vibration, is 12 ounces lighter, has a lower DIN (10 vs. 12), and was reduced by $50 to become the nx02 ($350 with brake). The burly nx21 remains the same but decreases by $75 to $400 (with brake) -- it still has the highest DIN rating of any AT binding (13) and a lock-out to prevent the "auto tele mode" issue of Fritschi. A slightly smaller and lighter version for women has the same design but a DIN of 10 will be called the Prinzzess (groan!, $390). Filling the void between the nx02 and nx21 will be the new nx11 ($375), which has a DIN 12 and is a tad lighter than the burly model.

Rossignol -- In bird land, most of the line remains the same since it was fresh this season. The three men's and two women's skis will be joined by the J-Bird, a new kids' telemark ski that costs more ($270) and isn't a twin tip.

Among the most venerable names for an AT ski, the Haute Route, returns next season. This new incarnation (103-75-92, $525) is built for minimal weight. Another new AT ski, the AltiBird (120-83-110, $520), is more for the skiers that like to rip.

Rottefella -- As Black Daimond and G3 roll out pricey new free pivot bindings, the Norwegians respond with the Free Touring adaptor ($80). This replaces the shim on current Cobra R8 and R6 bindings ($180) to give them a walk mode when a lever is raised. Stores can stock the Cobra Free for a retail of $250; a crampon will run $50. A key difference from the other pivoting telemark bindings is the Free will bottom out at about 45 degree of lift (the others go to 90 degrees unimpeded). This is supposed to allow easy touring and still allow some tip pressure on short downhills (rolling terrain). Given that current Cobra owners can cheaply upgrade and it's the least expensive option, this will be a real contender next season for those who don't care about release in avalanche country.

Scarpa -- As of April 15, the transition from Black Diamond to Scarpa NA will be officially complete. For the most part, it's been a smooth turnover. However, the mid-February closeout of the Tornado (which only reached the United States in December) on www.steepandcheap.com for 51 percent off retail may have been unpleasant for some retailers. Although distribution has changed, the prices have not. The very popular three-buckle T2X remains the same and will still cost $560 next season. For the first time, a T2R will be available with standard liners and external size markings for rental fleets (wholesale is $60 less than the T2X) -- an excellent idea. The two-buckle T3 does decrease by $60 to $400, but will come with a standard liner instead of the thermo-molded liner. Making a reappearance is the even lighter T4 ($300, preseason orders only).

The big news for the telemark line is the long overdue upgrade of the T1 and T-Race, both of which finally get a fourth buckle and dual-density plastic. The T1 goes up by $50 to $650, but will be a much burlier boot and a stylish black with red buckles. The T-Race increases by $45 to $670 and will allow resort skiers to make a statement with the white shells and red accents. Plus, the fixed lean mechanism should solve any durability issues for huckers.

The top-end Tornado remains the same except for a $30 increase to $650. Like the Garmont Adrenalin, the Tornado has replaceable outsoles, but there is only one style instead of two. The outsole meets the new AT norm, but it is flat to fit in alpine bindings; the lack of rocker will make walking a bit clunky compared to the Garmonts.

What was once the next model down in the line, the Denali TT, remains the same except for a whopping $70 decrease to $530. The Dynafit-compatible Matrix also remains the same but drops $20. And there is no change to the F1 at all.

The new Dynafit-compatible Spirit 3 ($640) has a dual-density Pebax shell and thermo-molded liners to give performance and low weight. The new Spirit ($490) is very similar, but uses dual-density polyurethane, a standard liner and loses the Dynafit fittings. The Spirit replaces the price-point Avant.

The women's Dynafit-compatible Magic ($570) has a new cuff that allows easier walking than the current model and it's $10 cheaper. The new women's Venus ($470) replaces the Avant Lady; it has a standard liner and no Dynafit fittings.

ScottyBob -- A no-show at Outdoor Retailer, but present at SIA, this brand started as telemark-exclusive skis hand-made in Colorado. While custom skis are still available, the skis offered to retailers are now made in China. Next season, the company will offer an alpine ski that has the same distinctive funky asymmetric tail and sidecut. It seems the main selling point after all is the wood top sheets, though ScottyBobs have a loyal following.

7tm -- As was predicted, the original 7tm All Mountain binding has been discontinued. That leaves the 7tm Power ($270) and 7tm Tour ($320) as the only DIN-certified telemark release bindings next season. Compared to the other pivoting tele bindings, the Tour will offer the least downhill control but is supposed to come off if caught in an avalanche.

Silvretta -- With the major Dynafit price increases next season, the Silvretta Performance ($400 with brake), formerly called the Pure, is likely to capture much of the light AT binding market (racers will still fork out, of course). The Freeride decreases by $10 to $410 (with brake) but will have a hard time competing with the Fritschi and Naxo for the testosterone market. The X-Mountain also decreases $10, making it $370 with brake, but it seems more destined for rentals -- most skiers are likely to spend the extra $30 to save nearly a full pound. The Silvretta 500 decreases by $30 to $320 (plus $55 for the brake) and remains the only AT binding designed to work with plastic mountaineering boots. At $185 for the now completely obsolete Telemark Adaptor, Silvretta will have inventory for many years to come.

Ski Trab -- The company was at the Backcountry Basecamp Demo but not at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market -- perhaps another case of no room at the Inn? This is a niche brand of high-end AT skis that targets the racing market. With the widest ski only 78 mm at the waist, and most of the models even narrower, these are popular in Europe but may be a tough sell in this country.

22 Designs -- Making its first appearance at Winter Market, the makers of the Hammerhead binding ($210) are showing the company is serious about the future. The only change for its popular telemark binding will be in color (black instead of blue). The company is now offering a K2 insert adaptor ($65) to take advantage of the best mounting system on the market. 22 Designs is also making and distributing the Telebulldog step-in 3-pin binding ($185). This totally unique telemark binding has a built-in ski brake, but is not releasable (yet). These guys bring back some of the youthful enthusiasm that has been missing from the telemark world in recent years -- keep your eyes on 'em.

Voilé -- Next season, Voilé skis will become real contenders instead of boutique skis due to much better graphics and serious price cuts. That it is the only brand besides K2 to include binding inserts is icing on the cake. The already popular Carbon Surf (87 mm waist, depending on size) will be stiffer and decreases by $65 to $470. Even more dramatically, the Insane, which was truly hideous this year, will have great graphics and decrease by $170 to $525 next season. It will also be stiffer and come in three sizes (101 mm waist for the 171 cm) instead of one.

Voilé also introduces the Universal Ski Crampon ($60) that appears well designed. This is more like the old Sk'Alp in that it is fixed to the ski and does not rise with the heel like most other ski crampons -- there are pros and cons to both so it's a matter of preference. A new Dual Climbing Heel ($30) uses a slot instead of fixed holes, so it can be positioned for best position on skis with inserts or pre-drilled holes. The Hardwire 3-Pin CRB ($175 with brake) remains the only contender to 7tm for a releasable telemark binding. Though an older design, this has improved vastly in the past two seasons and releases at more angles than the 7tm. The VP-II plate binding worked well but was discontinued due to poor sales -- it lacked sex appeal.

Völkl -- Yet another brand that was at the Backcountry Basecamp demo but not in attendance at Outdoor Retailer -- of course, Volkl is a fixture at SIA. Frankly, with only three models of backcountry skis, Völkl isn't much of a factor in this category. Even less so next season as the Snow Wolf (113-76-100) and T-Rock (119-87-111) increase by $100 to $650 and $700, respectively. A new model, the AC-T (116-74-102), will also cost $700 and is billed as an all-mountain telemark-specific ski with a special laminate of spring steel.

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