Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '09: Notable winter, travel and après ski footwear products and trends

At this year's Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, the familiar question "What have you see that's new and cool?" was often met with a ho-hum "Not much." But the SNEWS® crew covering winter footwear found an avalanche of new and notable stuff as new players have jumped into the casual market with both feet and brands have beefed up stylish shoes with components that actually keep you warm and dry. We found bits of news in the après ski and travel shoe markets, plus, we're passing along random footwear notes that you should keep tucked somewhere in your brain.
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At this year's Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, the familiar question "What have you see that's new and cool?" was often met with a ho-hum "Not much." But the SNEWS® crew covering winter footwear found an avalanche of new and notable stuff as new players have jumped into the casual market with both feet and brands have beefed up stylish shoes with components that actually keep you warm and dry. We found bits of news in the après ski and travel shoe markets, plus, we're passing along random footwear notes that you should keep tucked somewhere in your brain.



Guts and glitter

The phrase "fashion meets function" has no doubt gotten a little worn in the industry, but the concept is really at the heart of what's happening with winter boots. A great example is Lowa's AL-S 451 Covara boot (MSRP $180 -- pictured to right) that not only incorporates the injected PU Monowrap Lowa first introduced to light hikers, but also a corduroy upper available in a "Bordeaux" color. The corduroy makes the shoe pop, and when your color is named after a wine (or region of France), you're talkin' real style. www.lowaboots.com

Hi-Tec is now applying its Ion-Mask treatment to new casual winter shoes. (The Ion-Mask process coats objects in an invisible polymer to repel water, oil and dirt.) First used on hiking boots, you'll now find this techie stuff in the St. Moritz Luxe 200i (MSRP $115), an insulated suede leather boot with cute details like a faux fur collar and toggle lace pull. The company's catalog says the St. Moritz "aspires to be the cutest insulated boot for even the most challenging of terrain." www.hi-tec.com

Kamik is not only expanding its offering of snazzy winter boots, but also using a new blown EVA that gives the footwear a lightweight armor that won't freeze or crack in frigid temperatures. A standout in the line of Synergylite boots is the Hillcrest (MSRP $80), which is waterproof, rated to minus 40 F and has a removable liner. As far as looks go, it should appeal to a wide audience thanks to stitching highlights on the suede upper that are cool but not overly crazy, and a faux fur collar. www.kamik.com

Keen took a big step, introducing its first high boot, the Berne (MSRP $150). It looks good -- definitely fashion forward, with the trademark Keen toe paired way down. And here's something cool -- it developed a high sock for the boot, the Claire Knee-High Lite (MSRP $18) and invested lots of energy into constructing the thing so it will actually stay up without strangling a person's leg. www.keenfootwear.com

Khombu says the outdoor casual category is huge for the company and it's now offering slip-ons, such as the Staffa (MSRP $65) and Sierre (MSRP $65), with textures of boiled wool and suede leather. www.khombu.com

Ulu has seriously improved the performance of its casual winter shoes, adding Event membranes, bio-centric insoles and other technical features. The company is also sticking with natural materials on the uppers to give the footwear a more sophisticated appearance. Older consumers should like the 8-inch Stowe boot (MSRP $160), which has a clean upper of full grain and suede leathers, plus a shearling liner. (Yes, the shearling look is only getting more popular.) Younger people will steer toward the 9-inch Talkeetna (MSRP $199) -- its water-resistant suede upper (backed by an Event membrane) has lots of eye-catching textures like thin webbing laces that run through leather loops. www.uluboot.com

Fresh off its high from selling lots of Uma boots, Salomon has rolled out a new high boot, the Cocoon (MSRP $140 - pictured to right). The upper is primarily soft shell material with a quilted appearance, plus a strip of split suede leather above the sole. It should be toasty thanks to a lining of fleece and 200-gram Thinsulate. Another thing we noticed -- Salomon's soft shell shoes are all in the casual category rather than performance collections. Which might say something about the direction of soft shell footwear. www.salomonsports.com

Après ski

There's plenty of attention being paid to comfy shoes that you can slip on after a long day on the slopes. We liked the Garnet-Après shoe (MSRP $109) from J-41. It's a nice-looking nubuck slip-on with faux shearling and sporty webbing highlights on the upper. www.j-41.com

Merrell has positioned its new Ostalgia shoes as a blend of resort style and performance. The Sorina (MSRP $140) is a tall, pull-on leather boot that has faux fur to draw the eye and a Polartec lining for true warmth. Plus, the foot rides on a framework of triple-density EVA. www.merrell.com

Terrasoles has updated all of the shoes in its winter collection with outsoles designed to grip well on ice and snow. This fall, the company introduced five new styles, including the women's Summit (MSRP $65), which is a boot version of the popular Avalanche and Snowmass models. Lined with synthetic shearling, it appears to be plenty warm, and a well-shaped removable insole that promises good cushioning. The shoes are visually appealing as well, with uppers sporting a variety of textures and materials, from suede and leather to fleece to corduroy. www.terrasoles.com

Tech talk

For gear heads that like "inside baseball" talk concerning footwear, we found a few new construction methods that could make a real difference. For its Outbound shoes (MSRP $130-$210), Merrell has used a new construction method in which it melts polyurethane and attaches it directly to the midsole, which does a couple of things. First, it allows PU to flow around the shank, so you have cushioning above and below the shank for a softer ride. This construction method also does not require Gore-Tex bootie material to be placed underfoot, and less material means a lower retail price -- about $5 less. www.merrell.com

Treksta made its debut at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, touting the Ice Lock technology used on the soles of its athletic shoes, such as the Kobra (MSRP $159), an all-season trail runner. Basically, Ice Lock consists of filaments aligned vertically in the rubber compound of the sole. When the sole makes contact with the ground, the tips of the filaments grip the ground surface. We tried the shoes out, walking on an ice block that Treksta had in its booth, and the technology really works. What's wild is you can't really feel the filaments if you run your hand over the outsole; it just feels slightly rough. www.trekstausa.com

Not only is Treksta using the grip technology (which hails from Japan), but Baffin also features it in the Cascade series of winter footwear. www.baffin.com. You'll also find the grippy stuff in The North Face's Snow Sneaker (MSRP $110), which is a really intriguing product. In addition to the grip technology in the sole, the shoe sports a nice silhouette. It's low-slung, but not chunky like a skate shoe, and bridges the gap between older and younger consumers. Even though it's filled with Primaloft Eco insulation, it doesn't look like a winter shoe. And it's built for true performance, including a waterproof membrane, lots of protection at the toe area and a gaiter-compatible D-ring. www.thenorthface.com

Travel shoes

Ex Officio
brought athletic shoe technologies to its Caravan travel shoe (MSRP $150), including strobel construction, a sipped sole and triple-density footbed. The shoe has a mild-mannered look, intended for a mature traveler, but doesn't say "old fogy." www.exofficio.com

GoLite Footwear has expanded its outdoor collection to include a line of travel shoes, which have a toned-down version of GoLite's original sole. The Paw Pad 2 sole has lugs that protrude outward less than those of the original sole, and the new sole is different in that it's designed to offer good traction rather than absorb shock and act as a spring. Men's styles include the semi-casual Street Lite (MSRP $110) and Discover Lite (MSRP $110). The women's collection includes two Mary Jane styles, the Travel Lite (MSRP $100) and Sport Lite (MSRP $100), plus a winter slip-on Chelsea boot, the Winter Lite (MSRP $120). www.golite.com/footwear/

Terrasoles may be known for its winter footwear, but the women's Tamarack -- a travel shoe suited for warmer temps -- is worth a look. It's a slip-on (good for negotiating security lines) that has a breathable upper and, like all Terrasoles models, a good outsole built for traction. www.terrasoles.com

Odds and ends….

Patagonia
's footwear collection continues to impress, and several successful styles introduced in spring, such as the women's Bly, are now being offered with Gore-Tex. (A good sign that it has a solid foothold in the market.) A standout shoe this fall is the Katalla (MSRP $150), an around-town shoe with a full-grain and suede leather upper that has an eye-catching patchwork pattern. www.patagonia.com

Saucony's Pro Grid Razor (MSRP $135) is a winter running shoe that looks something like a cross between a trail runner and a whitewater bootie. Based on the Xodus running chassis, it has a built-in gaiter that should make it a good choice for snowshoeing. www.saucony.com

Teva has a strong history of catering to younger consumers, and the line of new B-1 multisport shoes (MSRP $90-$100) carries on that tradition. It has the silhouette of a skate shoe and incorporates serious technical features, like a nylon shank and external TPU heel counter. There are several iterations of the B-1, but you might first direct your attention to the B-1 Britania, which really caught our eye.

Teva's other product news is that it's offering a new collection of hiking shoes, also intended to draw younger consumers. The Riva collection for women (MSRP $125-$150) and Dalea collection for men (MSRP $120-$140) includes low-cut and mid-cut light hikers that appear to be built solid, with sturdy leather and leather/fabric uppers, shanks and dual-density EVA midsoles. Waterproof models are made with Event. www.teva.com

Here's an equation for you: Performance + Green = Millennials. At least that's the latest math according to the folks at Timberland. They're focusing on the millennial demographic (roughly people under 30) with its widely expanding Earthkeepers collection. Launched in 2007, it now includes 40 styles -- 6-inch boots, oxfords, chelseas, you name it -- that are stylish and lightweight. The footwear also includes eco initiatives such as Green Rubber and Delink (the latter being a process that converts rubber tires to an almost-virgin state). The Earthkeepers 6-inch boot (MSRP $170) has a Green Rubber outsole that's made with 42-percent recycled rubber. www.timberland.com

Vasque added a lighter trail runner to its Blur collection with the new Blur SL (Super Light) GTX (MSRP $120). Available in men's and women's sizes, it looks bomber, and a men's size 9 weighs 12.6 ounces. www.vasque.com

Vibram's Five Fingers product now includes two new products for men and two for women. The Performa for women (MSRP $110) and Moc for men (MSRP $110) are designed for fitness use in health clubs and yoga studios. The men's KSO Trek has a heavier, more "winterized" silhouette and is available in a leather version (MSRP $125) and a shearling model (MSRP $140). The women's Cortina boot (MSRP $290) is fully lined with shearling. Footwear pictured to the right. www.vibram.com



The wildest stuff we saw

Z7 Footwear
, a brand that targets the emerging wellness market, offers shoes that incorporate the concept of controlled instability. When you walk in these shoes, you must use all 26 bones in the foot and various leg muscles (ever heard of your peroneus longus?) to maintain balance. A convex plate in the midsole gives a rounded shape to the heel and forefoot, so it feels as if you're walking on uneven cobblestones. The line includes several styles appropriate for the office, and the idea is that people who can't always make it to the gym can still get a workout strolling around the office building. We have a feeling this is something people will either love or absolutely hate. Can't wait to try 'em. www.z7footwear.com

Columbia gets the "wow" award for its new BugaThermo boot (MSRP $250), which has a heating element that allows three temperature settings. Running on internal, rechargeable batteries, the heat is concentrated in the front portion of the boot and lasts up to eight hours on the low setting and up to four hours on the high setting. Bonus features: a good-looking upper of nubuck and split suede leather, Omni-Tech waterproof/breathable membrane, and 200-gram Thinsulate insulation rated to minus 25 F. www.columbia.com

--Marcus Woolf & Judy Leand

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