The SNEWS® trade show reporting team, which was 15 editors strong thanks to the addition of our Backpacker magazine comrades, scampered around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out or you cry, "Uncle." No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned -- we do know you love your company's product, really. However, we're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned we either didn't think your product stood out sufficiently or we started drinking alcoholic beverages too early in the afternoon to see straight and missed you as a result -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for snowshoes:
"Night and day." That's how Kathy Murphy, general manager for Tubbs, compared this year's sales of snowshoes to last year's. "This winter we had great snow in each and every market, and we had record-breaking sales," said Murphy. She added that snowshoe participation increased as well, with the annual Winter Trails event in Estes Park, Colo., drawing at least 1,000 people.
While stellar snow was the big story for snowshoe companies at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market this year, the category saw another interesting twist. Easton, which has long supplied aluminum tubing to snowshoe manufacturers, introduced its own line of shoes. The Artica line includes three models -- Trail, Hike and Backcountry (MSRP $159-$260) -- each of which is available in three sizes. Plus, there are shoes designed specifically for women.
Easton is introducing a pretty sophisticated shoe to the market, and there's a technology story to differentiate the brand. The Artica shoes have two-piece frames that articulate as your foot rolls for a more natural stride and to ensure good contact with the snow. Also interesting is the pivot point at the ball of the foot, which has independent arms to give the forefoot a wider range of motion. It seems that the next evolution in snowshoes will be to make them less rigid and more flexible, and we're curious to see how this affects performance. In any case, it's good to see fresh concepts in the category. www.eastonsnowshoes.com
One change we're seeing with snowshoes is that manufacturers are updating deck graphics more frequently. The folks at Atlas said that it's becoming more and more important to offer fresh graphics, and the company is changing its patterns about every two years now. As for new product, Atlas introduced the 8 series and Elektra 8 series to attract beginners. These retail between $129 and $139, are made for general walking and have a fairly simple binding that you tighten by pulling a single loop strap. As is becoming the norm with new snowshoe lines, the 8 series includes models made specifically for women. Another product line worth checking out is the new Elektra Youth series (MSRP $79). Made for kids, ages 8 to 12, they look like adult shoes, so older kids will feel like they have a real piece of gear, as opposed to a toy. www.atlassnowshoe.com
TSL Snowshoes is also focused on creating more interesting graphics. To update its patterns, TSL (based in Williston, Vt.) actually hired a local artist who had years of experience designing alpine skis. "The graphics give the snowshoes a more modern, younger feel without offending our core customer, which is 35+ years old," said Ted McGuinness, president and general manager of TSL. Another interestig note: for the 2008/2009 season, all of the decking materials on TSL's aluminum snowshoes will be made from 100 percent reclaimed materials. www.tslsport.com
Other random happenings
Crescent Moon has gone into full production on its frames made with welded magnesium. As has become custom, Crescent Moon is pushing the envelope with weight, and a pair of Magnesium 9 snowshoes (MSRP $260) weighs just 2 pounds, 15 ounces. The company has also stiffened its Single-Pull-Loop binding so that it stands more open, which makes it easier to slip a foot in. www.crescentmoonsnowshoes.com
Faber showed us a good-looking shoe, the Mountain Master (MSRP $279-$299), which has a completely curved frame for a clean and sleek appearance. As we're seeing with more shoes, Faber increased the amount of flex at the pivot point to improve dexterity. Also the Mountain Master has Faber's signature cambered frame to increase flotation. www.fabersnowshoes.com
GV Snowshoes will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2009. This winter, the brand made some notable modifications, such as expanding the Mountain Trail collection to include a women's shoe with an asymmetrical frame. The Active Mountain snowshoe (MSRP $195) also has an asymmetrical binding to keep the foot centered. Plus, the frame is narrow to accommodate a woman's stride. www.gvsnowshoes.com
Kahtoola expanded its Flightsystem snowshoe line to include the Flightdeck TS (MSRP $269), which has a Two Step traction system. The Two Step not only serves as the snowshoe binding and crampon, but it can be removed from the snowshoe deck and used for walking or hiking on icy terrain. The Two Step is secured to the foot with ratchet straps, and it has steel cleats at the forefoot and midfoot. When it's time to re-attach the binding to the snowshoe, it simply clicks into the deck. www.kahtoola.com
Redfeather launched the La Crosse snowshoe, which is its first V-tail model to include a full-pivot hinge. Basically, consumers liked the larger frame shoes with the pivot rod and asked for this design in a V-tail. Built to provide plenty of traction, the shoe also has Redfeather's beefiest stainless-steel crampon and rear crampons for descents. The La Crosse can be outfitted with the Pilot II binding (MSRP $270-$290) or the lightweight Ultra binding ($260-$280). We also want to give kudos to Redfeather's funny promotional brochure titled, "Exploring the Mysteries of the Arctic Quadrangle." The pamphlet delves into the mysteries of a mythic snowshoeing destination where you might spot the curious Arctic Parrot or Rammit (a rabbit with large, curled horns.) Glad to see the folks at Redfeather keeping things fun. www.redfeather.com
Tubbs has recognized a bubble of interest in its Trail Walking line, so it has expanded this with two new collections of lower-priced shoes, the Xplore series (MSRP $119) and the Frontier series (MSRP $139). Made for general walking on beginner terrain, these have a binding that accommodates a wide range of footwear, plus a rounded tail and substantial crampon to make a person feel secure and stable. www.tubbssnowshoes.com