SIA and OR Winter Market '05 Trends -- Telemark/AT skis

Next season, there are at lot of exciting products coming to the backcountry market. However, the growth of alpine touring may finally run into a wall as major price increases take hold -- the retail price of an AT boot/binding package will go up by around $150. Also of note is that a new fleet of women's telemark skis will hit retail shops next season. Ski companies are walking their talk in the women's ski category, with options for all levels and styles. It appears, for whatever reason, ski companies have finally reached the correct conclusion that women's skis suit women better than "unisex" skis, not all women ski the same, and hardcore Betty's will want a quiver of tele boards for different conditions.
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Next season, there are at lot of exciting products coming to the backcountry market. However, the growth of alpine touring may finally run into a wall as major price increases take hold -- the retail price of an AT boot/binding package will go up by around $150.

Also of note is that a new fleet of women's telemark skis will hit retail shops next season. Ski companies are walking their talk in the women's ski category, with options for all levels and styles. It appears, for whatever reason, ski companies have finally reached the correct conclusion that women's skis suit women better than "unisex" skis, not all women ski the same, and hardcore Betty's will want a quiver of tele boards for different conditions.

Fatter and fatter continues to be the name of the game in the heavy-duty telemark world. While the trend toward 100 mm waists and beyond continues, there is still strong demand for narrower 70 mm skis that carve better on firm snow.

Atomic -- The entire telemark line gets revamped next year with new graphics, new names and updated construction. A magnesium cap lightens up the skis but the dimensions and flex remain the same. "Named after the largest ski-able peaks in the world," according to the workbook, these are for "Adventure skiers, Telemark fans and Renaissance fanatics." The bizarre photo accompanying this section further illustrates the warped Austrian view of telemark skiing -- whatever this guy is doing has nothing to do with the way the sport is practiced in North America.

The old Tele Daddy is now the Janak (a 7,090-meter peak in Nepal); a 99 mm waist semi-fattie (alpine powder boards are now hitting 130 mm underfoot). The TM-X becomes the Kongur (a 7,719 meter peak in China), a model we tested and confirmed its fine performance. The TM-22 morphs to the Diran (a 7,273-meter peak in Pakistan). And the women's Femme Fatale becomes the Saipal (a 7,040-meter peak in Nepal), which goes down to 150 cm and 140 cm for really light people.

New in the line is the Tacora (a 5,980-meter volcano in Chile), which has 80 mm underfoot and fills in the line between its 72 mm Diran/Saipal and 84 mm Kongur. The Kontega (misspelling of Kantega, a 6,779-meter peak in Nepal), is a 78 mm waist twin tip designed for terrain parks and half pipes.

For its alpine touring ski line, what Atomic calls "Mountaincross," the MX:15 is the new wide model with an 80 mm waist (the other five models are 72 mm or under) that should prove popular.

Black Diamond -- Given its experience with the legal system, it is hard not to find more than a bit of humor in the fact that BD now has a big new stick called the Verdict, with a serious 95 mm underfoot. This was one of the standouts at the Brighton demo -- obviously great on the soft but still did OK on the firm.

The popular Crossbow (88 mm waist) gets some minor tweaks and new graphics; it got mixed reviews. The larger telechicks get the new Lyric (163 and 173 cm) -- essentially it's a female Havoc that's lighter, and softer in tail with the same dual-torsion technology. Our tester during Outdoor Retailer's Backcountry Basecamp reported that the "Lyric is a high performance twin tip ski for strong tele babes, fatter and more forgiving than the Mystic."

The Frantic replaces the Nunyo at the same price as its traditional AT ski with a 72 mm waist. The core is now foam/wood instead of just foam, the tip is now 2 mm narrower, and the tail a tad stiffer

New graphics for the Havoc, but otherwise it's still the fun mid-fat (88 mm) twin tip in the line.

Dynafit -- It will set skiers back $600 but the new Freeride 10.0, in either a 178 cm with 84 mm waist or a 187 cm with 86 mm waist, will have them smiling. At only 2,780 grams per pair, with carbon-fiber and poplar wood core, these twin tips feature the new Dynafit Speed Skin Tip, a notch designed to accept its special climbing skin tip connector (appears to be an efficient system). The scaled-down Freeride 8.0 (75 mm waist in 155 cm, 165 cm and 175 cm) is $100 less but otherwise similar.

Even more exotic is the SR11.0, a full blown racing ski with 62 mm waist and just two sizes (150 cm and 160 cm) that will retail for $630…and probably get packaged with the $625 titanium race binding and $500 race boot. The SR 8.0 is a tad more conventional with a 67 mm waist in 150 cm, 160 cm and 170 cm and a retail of $540.

Fischer -- As much as Fischer has been a dominant force in track skiing and Nordic touring, it has floundered in the telemark market. If it wasn't for Japan, Norway and the United States, the Austrians would likely give up on the category altogether. Next season Fischer will have the most confusing offering yet: one ski with the same graphics, in three sizes, with three different dimensions, and three different prices.

The T-Stix is an alpine twin tip ski with telemark graphics intended for the young terrain park crowd and all-mountain skiers. The T-Stix 88 (124-88-112 mm) will sell for $550. The T-Stix 92 (127-92-115 mm) will be $600. And the T-Stix 96 (131-96-119 mm) will go for $650. It's particularly confusing at demos since they look alike and will take a lot of explaining by salespeople on the floor. But we tested the T-Stix 92 and found it a very capable ski on both soft and hard snow.

For those with narrower tastes, Fischer also tossed in the Riu 80 (112-80-104 mm), a twin tip directly from the Maori Freeride alpine line without even a graphic change.

Fischer's AT ski is now the in the S-Bound line. Called the Xtralight, it has conventional dimensions (106-69-92 mm), sizing (169, 179, 189 cm), and pricing $475. Cross marketing this to people in light plastic boots, such as Garmont Excursion, should help popularity.

G3 -- Though it made a soft launch earlier in the year, Winter Market was the first major trade show for the new ski line. There's no doubt that G3 is off to a strong start with a selection of four solid, well-designed skis. The question remains whether consumers will go for near-boutique prices next season after roughly $50 increases: $600 for the Baron (81 mm) and women's Siren (88 mm), $675 for the Reverend (93 mm) and Ticket (81 mm). It will take bona fide specialty stores to sell these, but we suspect they will do well with them. The Siren did garner some buzz from our female testers. Several women at the demo reported they couldn't find their groove on the 157 length Siren and that it felt "too short," but women who skied the longer length loved the ride which was snappy and responsive.

Icelantic -- Pre-show banter held that with the return of many Nordic ski companies to Winter Market, there were less good reasons for an outdoor retailer to attend SIA this year. However, those that opted to avoid added travel and the joy of Las Vegas missed a very good new company. Icelantic AT Boards produces one model, the Scout, in one size (143 cm). Although short mountaineering skis are nothing new, this one breaks new ground.

What makes this short twin tip ski unique is that it has the same surface area of a 180 cm shaped ski. The Scout is 140 mm at the tip, 105 mm at the waist, 130 mm at the tail, and has an effective edge of only 113 cm. This $500 ski has a poplar wood core, with carbon fiber and sandwich construction, and a very cool graphic top sheet. It can be mounted with AT or telemark bindings and used with climbing skins.

K2 Telemark -- With a total of 10 telemark and four alpine touring skis in the line, there is no doubt who is the dominant player in the market. The aggressive pricing -- 10 models under $500 with none over $600 -- and strong margins mean K2 should have plenty of demand.

Despite dismissive grumblings from competitors who simply can't admit K2 was right, the telemark binding inserts have been a huge hit with consumers. This simple mounting system will be even better next season with the addition of a second set of inserts 2 cm forward to increase mounting options.

Next season brings a new telemark fattie, the Anti Piste (98 mm underfoot) which did surprisingly well on the firm snow at Brighton and was a delight in the soft.

Though it has the same name, the new incarnation of the Work Stinx (88 mm) is an entirely different ski than the current model. The addition of an aluminum sandwich stiffens it up lengthwise and torsionally. And the ski will have more sidecut in the front half (16 m radius) than in the rear (14 m radius) to initiate turns easily while releasing the tail in crud. This was one of our favorite skis at the demos!

The ever-popular World Piste (78 mm) remains unchanged except for the doubling of inserts; same for the Hippy Stinx (95 mm twin tip), Piste Pipe (80 mm twin tip), and Small World (kids ski, no inserts). And the Super Stinx (70 mm) gets the tip makeover the rest of the line already received -- this was one of the go-to skis at the Copper Mountain demo, a narrow carver that was a refreshing change from all the fat boards on the groomers.

The women's Dawn Patrol (89 mm), based on the old Work Stinx, remains unchanged other than more inserts. The She's Piste, the original women's tele ski, retains the same flex but gets 5 mm wider at the tip and 2 mm more at the waist for better float, plus of course slimming graphics.

The former InStinx gets radically reworked to become the Schi Devil, still 78 mm underfoot but with a 5 mm wider tip and the addition of an aluminum sandwich. This will be the new ripping ski for hard-charging gals.

Based on the popular AK Launcher alpine ski, the new Mt. Baker (89 mm) is the first wide ski made specifically for alpine touring (lighter than alpine but stiffer than tele); it's likely to be popular. The Shuksan (78 mm) simply gets new graphics, keeping with the totem pole theme.

Replacing the 8611 Summit are two new AT skis, the Chogori (a native name for K2) and Sahale (a small peak in Washington). Both are 70 mm underfoot, but the Chogori has a 112 mm tip and is built for economy (at $360 retail the least expensive ski on the market), while the Sahale has a 102 mm tip and is built for lightweight touring.

Also noteworthy, K2 Telemark announced a tough new pricing policy that strictly enforces minimum advertised pricing not only of the skis themselves but any combination of binding packages or any other tie-in discounts. According to the letter, K2 intends to strictly enforce the policy by not shipping to any store that discounts before Feb. 15, 2006.

Karhu -- The ski that put Karhu back on the telemark map, the Jak, now has a split personality with three completely different versions. The standard Jak has moved into the Bear series and changed entirely: different construction featuring a partial aluminum cap, much skinnier waist (now 90 mm in all sizes instead of 97 mm for the 180 cm and 190 cm), standard tail, a better size run (165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm and 186 cm), and the grizzly graphic. The lighter weight Jak BC also gets the new dimensions and sizing plus some rather bland graphics for a conservative backcountry crowd.

By contrast, the Jak Team Edition is a bit fatter (134-100-125 mm), a bit stiffer, has gone back to full twin tip, and has a graphic of a soldier firing a bazooka. For a true boutique ski, Karhu introduces the limited edition PFD (139-110-137 mm), a 172 cm twin tip with a soft flex, beautiful cherry-wood top deck and stunning base graphics; at $750, these won't exactly be flying off the racks.

While Jil was the lone woman's ski in the line this year, she gets a makeover and two sisters next year -- all with very cool, retro graphics. The new Jil has more sidecut (124-90-113, same as Jak) and more sensible sizes (158 cm, 165 cm and 172 cm instead of 160 cm, 170 cm and 180 cm). Likely to be the most popular model is Betty (117-80-115 mm), which promises to be a good all-mountain performer. Even more svelte is Alice (112-75-101 mm) who likes to cruise groomers with her hair down. At Winter Market, Karhu told SNEWS® that it is considering further tweaks to the Jil based on retailer feedback at the Backcountry Basecamp.

Karhu also did a major graphics overhaul of the backcountry ski line by changing the Dorado to the Mountain, the Pyxis to the XCD GT, and the Pegasus to the Pinnacle. Certainly invoking the name of their most famous ski ever, the XCD GT, is a smart move and the other names are more logical as well.

Interestingly, Karhu offers a one-year warranty on all its skis but covers them for two years if purchased with the 7TM releasable bindings. This policy may entice some customers but may well annoy some others.

Rossignol -- The rooster is back and he has an attitude: that's the clear message from the new Rossi telemark line. Since the popular Scratch and B alpine skis were getting worked over, it made sense to revise the telemark program. While these use modern alpine technology, the new graphics are right out of 1980.

Replacing the T4, the new Sick Bird (98 mm, formerly 94 mm) is a Scratch BC, a twin tip fatty, with bold telemark graphics. Right out of the new B3 mold comes the T3 replacement, the Powder Bird (now 83 mm instead of 76 mm). And the Dirty Bird uses the new B2 mold to replace the old T2/T1 with a 78 mm waist instead of a mere 70 mm.

For the first time, Rossi enters the women's tele market with the B3-inspired Rip Chick (83 mm) and the B2-inspired Hip Chick (78 mm). We talked to several retailers who were excited about the two new women's teles from Rossignol. We skied the Rip Chick, and found it has the classic Rossignol damp feel. The logo difference is noticeable as well as the rooster on the base of the men's skis is replaced with a cute chick on the women's.

Voile -- The fat and light Carbon Surf gets a new size (183 cm) to fill in the existing line (158 cm, 168cm, 178 cm and 188 cm); the first two are 83 mm underfoot and the bigger three are 87 mm at the waist. For the seriously demented powder skier comes the new 178 cm Insane with a whopping 109 mm underfoot and voodoo graphics.

Significantly, all of the Voile skis will now come with binding inserts for the four-hole telemark norm. These can still be drilled for alpine touring bindings but tele skiers get all the benefits of inserts.

Volkl -- If you didn't know to ask, there'd be no way of knowing at SIA that Volkl produces two models of telemark skis. Neither the Snow Wolf (76 mm) nor T Rock (87 mm) change for next season -- probably because they do such a great job anti-marketing and the $650 price tags. Its alpine touring ski, Mountain (70 mm), is also unchanged and a tad less expensive ($575).

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