SIA '03 Market Wrap: Part 2

A quick look at some of the trends and moods affecting the market as SIA SnowSports Show 2003 in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
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Snowboard attitude commentary … again
As we highlighted last week, the energy in the snowboard area, located in the heart of the Mandalay Bay show floor was filled with shock value and party atmosphere. We're not sure exactly how much actual business was being conducted outside of the more professional booths such as Burton, Ride, Rossignol, etc., but we do know that copious amounts of alcohol were being consumed at many of the other, smaller company booths. Several of our readers pointed out that Sims, one of the rowdier and somewhat raunchier examples (porn star central by most accounts), even had a band scheduled to play in its booth that postponed because -- and this is just perfect -- they were in jail for some unknown reason.

Freeski garnering youthful attention, sans snowboarding debauchery
Freeski company booths appeared to be turning to old snowboard company tactics of featuring professional riders signing autographs and upbeat music, without, thankfully, the unprofessional and downright brainless need to simply drink and be wild for attention's sake. All you had to do was spend a few moments in front of the Orage, Armada or Line booths to feel the pulse and excitement of a category that appears to be experiencing the same meteoric growth that snowboarding once enjoyed. Overall, the twin-tip phenomena is attracting youthful skiers by the droves because of the skatepark appeal and livening up more traditional skiing attitudes simply because it is a new and fun way to play in the snow.

Helmets are finally in vogue
Thanks to improved fit systems, much better ventilation options, improved weight and an enhanced cool factor due to wild graphics and designs, helmets are rapidly turning into the hot accessory item (weird to think of something that saves lives as an accessory) for both skiing and snowboarding. Most of the major hat companies are also offering helmet liners and other types of headgear accessories that are deemed to be "helmet compatible."

Will the snowboard market go "soft"?
Though the outdoor specialty market has clearly embraced the soft shell concept (however confusing it may be), the snowboard market seems to still hold this stuff at arm's length. Consider a tale of two companies: At this year's SIA show, K2 Snowboarding went big with soft shell garments, introducing the Perimeter Series. The line includes about a dozen pieces (jackets and pants) and three soft shell technologies: a laminated three-layer system, three pieces made with Epic fabric, and a stretch jacket that has a windproof layer fused to a stretch microfleece. Add to this the half dozen pieces in the K2 Versa soft shell series, and you have a significant offering. While K2 went large with soft shells, Burton didn't go at all. When we wondered why the company had placed no emphasis on soft shells, Burton spokesperson Leigh Ault told SNEWS that the company's riders simply aren't asking for the stuff. In fact, when it comes to apparel technology, Burton's emphasis at SIA was on the Type Z jacket. It's made with Spaceloft, a silicon-encapsulated material that, according to press materials, "is 10 times warmer than your typical insulation and will never break down." The stuff was used to insulate the Mars rover, and the price is astronomical as well: $549.95. Our point is, Burton considers that its consumers favor bomber protection over the breathability of a soft shell, probably because the majority aren't generating serious heat on the hill. Still, K2 seems to think there's a snowboard market for soft shells, so we'll keep a lookout to see which way this thing slides.

No, "fashion" is not a four-letter word
When wrap sunglasses stormed the market a few years ago, companies played up the idea that one pair of eyewear could, and should, take you from the hill to the streets. In fact, they almost seemed embarrassed to produce a purely fashionable product. From what we observed at this year's SIA show, fashion is no longer a dirty word, and companies have unwrapped a wall-full of high-quality, stylish products. "Lifestyle eyewear is a growing category for Smith," said Ryan Snyder, spokesperson for Smith. Sitting in the Smith booth, Snyder pointed out that new styles such as The Analyst, The Agent and The Studio are drawing lots of attention from buyers. After cruising the other booths, we'd say the biggest hit is the "aviator" look. And further out on the edge, there's buzz surrounding "Hollywood" styles, like the Lotus, Goddess and Cha-Cha from Velvet. Unlike much of Hollywood, there's substance in these shades -- 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, high optical-quality lenses and impact-resistant materials.

Ode to retro at Volant
Another ode to retro caught many newbies by surprise at the Volant booth. Powder skis with reverse sidecut (wider at the waist than at tips and tails) and reverse camber (profile like a whitewater canoe) haven't been on the market in decades. But the Spatula resurrects the idea, albeit with a dash of new technology and marketing. While this is a pricey alpine board ($900 retail), it's worth watching and is at least refreshing.

Ski Tunes
For better of for worse, it was just a matter of time until portable stereos were incorporated into ski clothing. Burton will offer a jacket that holds an Apple iPod MP3 player and has the control buttons on the outside of the shell--this is just the beginning for the electronification of outdoor clothing. Similarly, Giro introduced earphones that attach to three of their ski helmets for use with portable players. No word yet from personal injury lawyers on when the first lawsuit will be filed.

New kid on the block -- AK Skis
It's rare to see new companies jumping into a struggling market but sometimes the new kid on the block is just what specialty retailers need. Designed by industry veteran Aldo Kuonen and built in Switzerland, the new AK ski line includes one model suitable for the backcountry crowd (ProRide). Go to www.akski-usa.com

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