SIA and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '05 Trends: Ski accessories

The SNEWS® team of editors sucked down countless espressos, beer and muffins over the course of both SIA and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations. Here's our take on trends and new products for ski accessories, including beacons, packs, skins, pole grips and more.
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The SNEWS® team of editors sucked down countless espressos, beer and muffins over the course of both SIA and Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to ensure we could bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that have been running each week since Jan. 31. No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. We're only covering product that stood out to us, so if you're not mentioned, we were either too hyped up on caffeine to see you, we didn't think your product stood out sufficiently, or we were just plain clueless -- you pick one. With that in mind, here's our take on trends and new products for ski accessories, including beacons, packs, skins, pole grips and more:

Arva -- Now distributed by Life-Link, the new Arva ADvanced ($350) uses a 16-bit processor to help speed up searches for avalanche victims. This beacon has two antennae in an X configuration (like the BCA Tracker) that give 40-meter range in digital mode and 60-meter range in analog mode (easily switchable like the Barryvox). Features include a multi-burial system and a simple harness that can only be worn by turning the beacon on. With strong features and a well-entrenched distributor, the ADvanced is likely to become a serious contender.

Backcountry Access -- The company that pioneered the hidden drinking tube that zips into a shoulder strap to prevent freezing has put a new twist on winter hydration. Although reservoirs are popular, they have two significant drawbacks: to fill them requires emptying the pack and there's no easy way to determine how much fluid is left. Both of these problems are solved on the new Stash Alp40 pack ($165, optional snowboard kit $15). This is a lighter (by 11 ounces) replacement of its top-loading climbing pack with a rear pocket for a shovel blade and a side pocket for the handle and avalanche probe. Rather than a reservoir, the pack comes with drinking hose attached to a Nalgene lid (bottle not included). A side access zipper makes it simple to fill the bottle and check how much fluid remains.

CAMP -- The Campack X3 ski mountaineering pack was shown last summer but didn't garner much attention. Now that the season is upon us, this unique pack is creating a buzz with Randonnée racers and serious skiers. At first glance, this is yet another lightweight 30-liter, top-loading daypack with a straightforward suspension system and a few niceties. What sets it apart is the trick carrying system for skis that doesn't require removing the pack. The tails of the tele or AT skis slip through a loop on the hip belt and a special hook on an elastic strap grabs the upper edge of the skis. It's very fast to stow and remove skis, but you'll be standing around while others drop their regular packs in the snow and deal with buckles. Included with the pack is a nicely produced DVD with a nine-minute movie that shows how the pack works as well as some good skiing.

CAT Ski -- Certainly the most unique "skis" at Winter Market were tucked away in a corner of the ballroom. The Classic All Terrain (CAT) ski ($400) is claimed to be the best simulation of classic Nordic skiing that you can get without snow. This is a far cry from the roller skis that dedicated racers have trained on for ages. It would take too long to explain how this works -- suffice to say, it uses wheels, bungee cord, a sliding platform for the binding, and a ski that decambers when you kick. Skiers can workout on pavement, dirt roads and grass, and it also claims to improve technique -- none of which roller skis can do. Stay tuned for a review.

Dynafit Clothing -- Sure, we expect to see super-trick AT skis, boots and bindings from Dynafit -- it's been at it for decades. But what took us by surprise was a new line of clothing and a helmet intended for Randonnée racing and ski mountaineering. This isn't a hastily produced me-too clothing line but a fully dialed selection of lightweight gear designed in Italy. It's what a company like Pearl Izumi might produce if it got into skiing. The color palette is extensive as long as you like black, but the styling and detailing appeared superb. The huge gotcha, though, is the price. Not many people are going to pay $490 for a PacLite jacket no matter how sweet. A racing vest for $180 and jacket for $225 relegate these mostly to pro deals. The new Race helmet ($175) with built-in visor is certified for skiing and cycling (in Europe), has great ventilation, and sells for only slightly more than other high-end helmets.

Flylow Gear -- Billing itself as "the first tele-specific clothing company," this new brand is starting with two products: a soft shell jacket and indestructible pants. The aptly named Black Coat ($200) is made of three-ply stretch fleece fabric with pit zippers and a huge hood designed to fit over a ski helmet. It's particularly proud that the jacket has standard toothed zippers instead of the new breed of waterproof zippers that are more expensive and less rugged.

The Cactus Pants ($265) are easily the burliest ski pants in the industry. Built by a small company in New Zealand (Cactus Climbing) using 12-ounce coated canvas, the pants have articulated knees, webbing cinch closure at the cuff and jean styling. Whether they are actually better for telemark skiing than countless other options, we can't say. But they'll never need duct tape to patch holes.

G3 -- Adhesives have been the bane of climbing skin manufacturers and skiers since we abandoned straps. It seems that one year (or batch), they get it right, and then the next, they just don't stick, or stick too well, or pull off in patches. Like the others, G3 has had its share of problems but it is pretty confident it's nailed the solution. To wit: the G3 folks were handing out condoms at the show with a label that reads, "What goes up, must stay on."

Grivel -- The new Condor self-arrest ski pole grip may be the best on the market. The dual-density molded grip has a large platform on top and an enclosed knuckle guard (rather like the old Ramer that Life-Link now offers but more modern). When skiing on steep, icy slopes where the consequences of a fall are severe, a hot-forged steel pick folds out to act like an ice axe (a pair of self-arrest grips is used). On mellow terrain, the pick is safely stowed in the knuckle guard. Rather than get into the complexity of making adjustable ski poles, Grivel is offering the Condor grip alone ($57), with an aluminum upper shaft ($62) or with a carbon-fiber upper shaft ($92). The skier either provides his own pole or the lower section of a twist-lock style.

Indigo -- The Snow Logic shovel -- the only plastic shovel that rivals aluminum blades -- will now be available with a D-grip as well as its existing T-grip. The D is a better option for mitten wearers and it allows the handle to be strapped securely if carried separate from the pack.

Indigo will no longer be the U.S. distributor for the Linken telemark binding, the only step-in currently on the market. So far, Linken, a Norwegian company, has not announced a new distributor. However, Indigo will continue to distribute the Sinisalo cross-country gloves from Finland, arguably among the nicest on the market.

Ortovox -- The talk of the show, at least for the ski world, was the new S1 avalanche beacon. Assuming that it delivers on the promises (only a mock-up was available), this could well be the next big thing in beacon technology…albeit with an estimated price to match ($500+). In transmit mode, this will be like all other beacons though we don't know how it will be carried yet.

In the event of an avalanche with buried victims, the S1 opens like a Star Trek tricorder to reveal an LCD screen. Using just a single antenna, the S1 scans for up to five beacons in a 60-meter radius. It then identifies them on the screen with an approximate distance and direction from the searcher. When the rescuer is directly over a victim, the S1 tells how deep he is buried. If there are additional victims, the S1 allows each found beacon to be turned "off" without digging it out; thus speeding searches for the others. Additional features include light sensors that adjust screen brightness automatically, electronic compass, clinometer and thermometer. An infrared interface will allow linking with a computer to update software and exchange information acquired in the field.

Until working samples are thoroughly field tested, it's too early to hail this as the next great thing. While the technology is promising, the price is equally daunting (all other digital beacons are in the $300 to $350 range), so the S1 may fall into the same category as ABS packs -- great idea but too expensive for consumers. Of course, Ortovox will still offer the X1, M2 and F1 beacons so it covers all the price points with the largest selection of any manufacturer.

Shoeboard -- Any skier who has ever gone snowshoeing in the mountains knows of the sport's biggest problem in the eyes of those who crave turns -- there ain't no glide in da shoes. Oh sure, the hike up in the wood is nice. But plodding downhill instead of schussing isn't high on the list of things a skier seeks when in the pursuit of fun. A solution may be at hand with the introduction of the new Shoeboard.

As the name implies, this is a snowshoe made from molded plastic with a pivoting binding that accepts most any type of shoes or boots. When it's time to go down, the rear crampon snaps off and the outriggers fold in to become the running surface for twintip skis. The prototype looked a bit rough (durability is a concern and it seemed a bit heavy), but the concept is excellent -- snowshoeing could actually be fun next season!

Swix / Ulvang -- Swix has determined that it needs to become more than just poles and wax accessories, and its first real role-out of the company's line of Nordic ski clothing, under both the Ulvang (named after Nordic skiing sensation Vegard Ulvang) and Swix brand names, looked exceptionally good.

Tools4Boards -- Serious skiers quickly learn that tuning and waxing their own skis is both cost and time efficient. But this usually requires a bench rig that takes up a lot of space in the garage. Or a "portable" rig that is a nuisance to setup. Now there is a new option called the Terminator Tuning Stand ($210 to $250).

The heart of the system is a compact folding base that assembles in seconds. A central rail accommodates several styles of vices for any type of ski or snowboard. These use a cinch strap system so even weirdly shaped cap skis are no problem. The skier can file on their edges, wax and scrape skis, and (eventually) even do bike maintenance. For many home tuners, this appears to be a superb solution.

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