How to best sum up the SIA SnowSports Trade Show this year? Let's swipe the line from the song "Home on The Range" that goes: "Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the clouds are not cloudy all day." That was the cross-country ski retailer mood at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas where weird weather and a lack of skiable snow across much of the country (including the driest January in 185 years for the state of California) did little to dampen the energy and buzz.
Call it cockeyed optimism, hope springing eternal, whatever you like, despite much talk about seeing nothing but "brown ground" this winter and no one even whispering "open to buy," the mood at the 2007 show was buoyant. It was if the past low-snow/no-snow winter hadn't happened.
Befitting a poor overall ski season, there wasn't that much new being flogged at the show -- unless one considers tweaks to existing products and cosmetic changes serious steps forward.
But what was new was interesting and well done. For example, Salomon's new Sport Pilot binding proved to be more than a light version of its Pilot racing model. The Sport version is a rugged touring binding with an easy under-foot bar adjustment. It offers step-in ease with either a pole or manual release. At first blush, and without any testing, the binding looks like it will give those who are ski touring a much better feel for the kick phase of the diagonal stride technique and make step and wedge turns easier to execute.
Turning to other new ideas, Madshus' new Nanosonic skate and classic skis are the company's new lighter and faster top-end race skis with the new Nano base.
Salomon offered an entirely new version of the Equipe 10 Classic ski. Not only is the ski lighter weight, it also features a heel-to-toe camber concept that brings the wax pocket into full contact with the snow when weight is applied to the skiers' forefoot. An all-new and lighter Equipe 10 Skate model also debuted.
On the waxless side of the picture from race through performance and touring skis, Atomic and Salomon both offered the new G-2 pattern with its fishhook-looking cuts in the base.
Also with a new waxless concept is Fischer. It's called Mountain Edge technology and employs a ceramic fiberglass edge with the pattern cut into it for more gripping surface underfoot. The pattern will be used only on the Outbound Crown ski model.
Ladies in the limelight
In women's-specific gear, the current movement is all about producing true women's-specific skis, boots and poles -- not just cosmetic or minor tweaks simply to be able to slap a "made for women" label on a product. Rossignol offered women's skis and boots in every use category from racing to touring. Fischer's answer for women was the Vision performance and sport line of skis and boots. Madshus' Nordic-x ski and boot line was revamped for women, and Alpina offered several new women's performance race and touring boot models. Salomon continued its Vitane women's initiative of the past few ski seasons.
Going to the poles
No matter the use category, every company produces poles it seems -- and pretty decent ones from the looks of it. Alpina, Madshus, Rossignol, Fischer, Yoko, etc., etc., all have top to bottom pole lines. Best of all, it seems that everyone is riding on virtually the same strap train having gotten on board with the power strap concept
So what about the proverbial pole category leaders? Swix didn't make many changes except to the Star poles, which now have natural cork grips and stiffer shafts. But wait, there was more: a new women's-specific pole line comprised of several models all with softer feeling straps.
Exel kept the battle for the lightest and stiffest top-end race poles hot with its Ntec construction competition poles, which were touted to be 30-percent stiffer and 6-percent lighter. Leki made the Trigger shark's mouth bigger and extended the trigger concept even further down into its line.
Tele/AT garners most of the buzz
When it came to lines that have undergone a total makeover, Karhu should get an award. Its boot line is completely re-done on the NNN (New Nordic Norm) sole platform, and the ski line is now comprised entirely of wood core/Cap constructed models. Also adding new models -- 10 of them to be exact -- is Black Diamond Equipment.
These examples of extreme product expansion highlighted the weirdness that is the tele/AT market. What's going on here? Are 10 new ski models appropriate given the past season? And is NTN (New Telemark Norm) all it's cracked up to be? Retailers asked these questions often during the SIA show.
On the flip side, K2 kept things in check by making slight changes to existing models or simply leaving them as is.
As for NTN -- well, the debate has just begun. No question that there's interest in the norm and in both the Crispi and Scarpa NTN boots. But many retailers commented to SNEWS® that the NTN binding is still a bit "rough."
And making matters even more interesting, we noticed that Garmont has not signed on with NTN. "We missed the bus," Garmont's John Schweizer told SNEWS® with a sly grin. Then there's Black Diamond, which plans to deliver a boot/binding system of its own design next year.
Getting dressed up
Taking a renewed stance on apparel, Salomon is back with a new line that is more well thought out and comprised mostly of basic jackets and pants (soft shell tops/Windstopper tights, for example) that will work for other sports during the off-season.
SNEWS® View: And so we arrive at the end of this report with a bit of seasoning left. You know the spice that makes a show interesting -- the heard-in-the-aisles and over drinks fodder that you've been telling us you want more of. Well, buckle up, friends.
Once again, we have bindings and boot-binding systems that offer more choices; however, what could actually result from NTN and Black Diamond's future offerings is even more incompatibility. Yeah, that's just what the cross-country/backcountry ski world needs -- more incompatibility in a market where confusion remains the biggest buzz kill.
Which brings us to the new Nordic Integrated System, more commonly known as NIS -- no, not that NIS. Could someone please essplain what's up with NIS? At the same time NIS is making it's way down into touring ski lines, it appears from our viewpoint that more racing ski makers are taking less of a NIS or nothing stance and offering up both NIS-1 and NIS-2 plates, as well as unencumbered, flat binding areas. Huh? Pick one, folks. If it really is integrated, shouldn't everyone be on board, meaning you don't need an alternative? Or is this just another innovative ski program designed to ensure retailers have more SKUs than either they or their customers know what to do with?
We're also wondering what is up with the apparently cozy relationship between Fischer and Rossignol. Fischer is making some Rossi ski models that we know of, and it sure looks like Rossi could have made the new Fischer NNN boot line.
Also, how about all the talk surrounding the absolutely lackluster Karhu and Madshus display spaces at the show? Karhu had a display area about the size of a phone booth, while Madshus had space akin to a small clothes closet. The latter's lack of space made two visiting Norwegian ski industry executives livid. Said one exec to our intrepid editor on-scene, "It's a travesty, and insult to a great brand."
That may be true to European eyes where image is oh, so important, but under the new K2 ownership, managing costs might have had something to do with the decision.
Finally, we turn to the cosmetic situation. Can we please come up with a more forward-thinking color scheme for the industry other than, "make them pastel for women, hyper busy for tele, and bright for race?" Thank you. On the race side, we do offer up kudos to Rossignol for taking a chance with its new "solar" orange color -- damn eye-catching. And props to Rossi's Robert Lazzaroni. He described the current color trend in ski graphics of a simple front with a busy aft as "quiet up front with a party in the back."