Searching for steady snow: Slow Nordic sales look to rebound with a dash of alpine touring and control advancements

Nordic manufacturers are enhanced stability and control in their gear lineups for Winter Market, hoping to recover from last season’s tough sales numbers. SNEWS recaps the new products in this category.
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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.

Nordic manufacturers enhanced stability and control in their gear lineups for Winter Market, hoping to recover from last season’s tough sales numbers.

“Nordic skiing, even more so than alpine, is very natural-snow dependent,” said Atomic/Salomon Nordic Category Manager Isaac Wilson. “So last year was tough. But core Nordic skiers are always looking beyond cosmetics for fundamental improvements that enhance the experience.”

According to Leisure Trends, winter 2011/12 sales of cross country equipment fell 30 percent in units and 27 percent in dollars year-over-year, marking the category’s worst performance in a long time.

That hasn’t stopped companies from gliding forward with new products for both classic and skate skiing. And the good news is, the category could well experience a surge due to pent-up demand. It all spells ample activity on this year’s show floor.

On the most basic level, we’re seeing efforts toward enhanced stability and control. Salomon tackles itwith the SNS Pilot Equipe Racing Skate Binding (MSRP $120), which comes with two rigid link axes for control, stability and power. It features a wedge mounted between the ski and binding to create a 5mm lift to improve acceleration and edge control. Also new is the SNS Propulse RC (MSRP $115), a lightweight, step-in, close to the ski racing binding with 1-axe technology, full length glide ridge and flex of 85.

On the boot side, Salomon’s racing-oriented S-Lab Skate Pro Boot (MSRP $500) features a full carbon frame, including a carbon cuff; the company’s 3D Energyzer technology, allowing for a more relaxed lower leg and foot, less tip drag and quicker ski return; and patented Dissociated Quicklace, where one lace wraps the upper and another the forefoot. For classic, Salomon’s S-Lab Classic Boot (MSRP $399) features a carbon chassis; a pivot point set 17mm behind the toe for power transmission (with buttressing wings to stiffen the sole); and an adjustable heel strap with spoiler for equal pressure distribution

For skis, Salomon offers the S-Lab Skate SG (MSRP $649, photo below), a lightweight carbon-laminate ski with increased torsional rigidity and racing sidecut. It comes with an ultralight Nomex honeycomb core and thin wood sidewalls, as well as a G5 Zeolit universal base for wax absorption and retention. For classic, it showcases the S-Lab Classic Warm Ski (MSRP $649), a Nomex core offering with a new thickness curve for improved acceleration and classic parallel race sidecut for tracking.

With the Winter Olympics just around the corner in Sochi, Russia, and Wisconsin’s Birkebeiner Race celebrating its 40th anniversary, Madshus is bullish on the high-performance market. “We’re seeing demand for pinnacle products, especially in the racing category,” said Madshus Marketing Manager Connor Folley. “There’s growing demand for top-end materials and production techniques.” That’s the genesis, he said, of the company’s new RED line (Race Engineered Development), in which the goal is to create the highest-performance Nordic gear possible.

In boots, Madshus debuts the new Super Nano skate boot (MSRP $750), featuring a 3D-molded, one-piece integrated carbon base for power transfer. Skiers can adjust the alignment of the binding bar and heel block for a custom fit. The company invested heavily in ski research and development this season, debuting a new line of Madshus RED Carbon Classic and Skate skis. The new Redline skate ski (MSRP $750), weighing just 950 grams per pair, is a softer-tipped, carbon skate ski with CAD-designed ski geometry optimizing pressure points for better grip, balance and glide. It comes with a PR 100X core and Triaxial Carbon construction, the same stuff they build helicopter rotors with, as well as a new transparent base for enhanced glide in wet and dirty snow. On the Classic front, Madshus introduces the REDLine Carbon Classic Cold and Plus skis (MSRP $750), built with a new base, CAD profile and geometry for optimized pressure points and better balance, grip and glide. Both weigh 900 grams per ski at 190 cm.

Retailers are noticing movement in touring skis with slight alpine components. “Light touring skis with metal edges are moving well,” said Dave Wallace, manager of the Steamboat Springs Nordic Center in Colorado. “They’re for older Nordic skiers who want a little more control, or alpine skiers converting over and want that security and stability.” The skis are narrow enough to fit in groomed tracks, but come with a full-length metal edge for control. While continuing to address the high-performance skate and classic market segments, Rossignol hops on this trend with its partial-metal-edged Evo Tour ski (MSRP $235), as well as its X5 OT boot (MSRP $145), the latter of which features Thinsulate lining, Cordura lace covers and external cuff gaiters on the boot.

Despite slow category sales, companies keep investing in the niche. For Atomic, the year has been about infrastructure development. After investing more than $35 million to overhaul its European factories, resulting in 60 percent less travel time from raw materials to ski completion, itdebuts an all-new Soft Track Skate ski (MSRP $599), employing a Desolite foam sidewall, Nomex core and new thickness curve to make it lighter than its previous 12 ST. A softer, squared-off tip enhances release off the snow when touring. “We’ve made a massive commitment to make sure winter sticks around and the beautiful environment where our products are made stay that way,” Wilson said. 

--Eugene Buchanan

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