Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.
Surprise, surprise: The big buzz at the Winter Market All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Mountain Resort was around the call of the backcountry. In addition to clicking into new alpine touring bindings, carving turns on the latest lightweight but stable skis and striding out in streamlined snowshoes from the 50-some exhibitors, attendees could hone their avalanche beacon search skills, go on a backcountry tour and educate themselves on the newest safety gear.
“These are allowing people to test out some of the gear for the burgeoning backcountry,” said Tyson Bradley, lead guide with Utah Mountain Adventures, which offered three backcountry tours yesterday for skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers. Each two-and-half-hour tour into the Willow Creek and Magic Tree backcountry adjacent to Solitude included digging snow pits so participants could try out evaluation tools like snow crystal cards and slope meters. Sixty-five people had signed up in advance for the tours as of early Tuesday morning.
The resort-run guiding company Backtracks was leading four lift-accessed backcountry tours from the resort. “We’ll be exposing people to the backcountry and working on some basic beacons skills,” said Cabel Merrill, Solitude’s assistant snow safety director and manager of the Backtracks program. As for the surge of interest in off-piste skiing and riding, he said that heading out Solitude’s four access gates has become noticeably more popular in the past four to five years. “A lot more people have ski tickets here just so they can use our backcountry access,” Merrill said.
One of the biggest trends in skiing and riding is the blurring of the lines between previously distinct disciplines — resort, out-of-bounds and more remote backcountry skiing. It’s leading to more gear that does it all. Said Kim Miller, CEO of Scarpa North America, “We have to rise to the occasion. It’s taking more collaboration between brands.” While eyeing the steady stream of people coming in and out of the Scarpa tent to try the company’s new line of freeride boots, he added, “The demo is absolutely busier than in the last few years. The energy is pretty high right now. Boots and bindings are still a hot topic of innovation.”
With all of the equipment improvements that allow skiers and riders to travel more easily and more efficiently in the backcountry, safety education now moves into the spotlight. “I’m psyched that people are not just buying ski gear but also safety gear,” said Kirk Haskell of KNS Reps, which handles sales in the Rockies region for Scarpa, Ortovox and Deuter. “In the past, there hadn’t been that focus on the safety side.”
At his H2O Outdoor Gear booth, pro skier and leading avalanche educator Dean Cummings gave a mini-presentation of his Steep Life protocols for safer backcountry travel. “Terrain management is becoming the forefront of avalanche awareness,” he said. Cummings had also just finished setting the time to beat at the Avalaunch Transceiver Park/Beacon Search Area adjacent to the demo tents. He noted that he had to reset his transceiver twice that morning because of electronic interference, an important lesson. “People need to know that you can never get confident just because you have a transceiver. You need to rely on visuals and terrain management,” he emphasized.
And pro rider Jeremy Jones, founder of Jones Snowboards, pointed out his company’s new 30-liter R.A.S. pack, which accommodates Snowpulse airbags, calling it “the last line of defense. I hope to inspire people to get into the backcountry,” he said, “but with that comes a responsibility to educate them. The reality is, no one’s above the law in the mountains. One bad call can erase a lifetime of good ones.”
Retailers test new gear at demo
The overarching themes in new gear at the All Mountain Demo on Wednesday were versatility and efficiency. As innovations spiral into product, we’re seeing lighter skis, boots and snowshoes, better construction and gear that can do it all.
The most backcountry-specific skis yet from Voile, the V8s (MSRP $625), debut with tapered tails and short turn radii. But their major selling point is their weight — just 7.5 pounds for both skis.
Salomon introduces the Quest line of skis (MSRPs from $449), an all-mountain collection. It includes four men’s skis (from 90 to 115 in the waist) and three women’s models (ranging from 90 to 105). “These are pretty quick edge to edge for their width,” Jason Cole, of Cole Sports in Park City, said after taking them for a spin up at Solitude.
You may have seen Blizzard’s Cochise ski, as it’s garnered a lot of media attention. Enter the 108-mm underfoot Scout (MSRP $749), a version that’s a pound less than its predecessor. To cut weight, Blizzard traded metal for thicker wood and more fiberglass.
G3 makes a foray into 100 percent carbon fiber skis with the backcountry-specific ZenOxide C3s (MSRP $849), at 5.8 pounds per pair in the 167 — shucking 1.25 pounds from the previous version.
With 11 new skis in its line, Black Diamond switches up construction thanks to a new factory in China. A redesigned machine uses “pre-preg” construction to apply fiberglass uniformly.
NOW, a snowboard-binding brand that works closely with Jones Snowboards , has a new take on snowboard bindings. The Drive bindings (MSRP $299) attach the baseplate to two king pins on either side of the foot for added response and power transfer.
K2 has solved the issue of using AT ski boots as alpine boots without swapping out pods. The hybrid freeride Pinnacle 100 and 130 boots (MSRP $599/$699) have a sole without any obstructive friction. “These are high performance — amazing on the downhill for something with a walk feature,” said Mike Smith of Tahoe’s Alpine Sports after a test run.
Are you a ripping female skier with narrow feet? The Tecnica Cochise 105 W boots (MSRP $549) are the narrowest freeride AT boots on the market.
From ski boots to cycling shoes, Boa dials are everywhere. Louis Garneau’s new line of snowshoes does away with ratchets, and introduces one of the first snowshoes with Boa-only closures. From the Courses (MSRP $250), race-specific shoes, to the backcountry-specific Yetis (MSRP $249), they’re 80 percent lighter than other snowshoes on the market.
--Ali Carr Troxell