Roving reporter Doug Schnitzspahn spoke to attendees at the  SIA/WWSRA On-Snow Demo between laps and pints to find out what’s buzzing in snow sports.

The SIA/WWSRA On-Snow Demo picked up where SIA demos have left off in previous years: On the welcoming slopes of Colorado’s Copper Mountain. Under bluebird skies, close to 3,400* retailers (1,000 more than last year), reps, manufacturers, media, and other show attendees gathered to get out of the aisles and onto the white stuff, on the Monday and Tuesday following the first ever Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show in Denver. (*Final attendance numbers have not yet been confirmed.)

The festivities kicked off with a raucous karaoke party on Sunday night (Joanna Wernette from REI of Fort Collins killed it singing Adele), and eased into a 10 Barrel Brewing Happy Hour on Monday evening. In between, attendees enjoyed Copper’s groomers, bumps, and bowls on gear they will be selling next fall and reveled in the combination of the two previously separate shows.

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Marcus Selig of the National Forest Foundation holds down camp at The On Snow Demo at Copper Mountain Colorado yesterday. The non profit came to the event to raise awareness for public lands (Copper operates on USFS lands) and hopefully help raise cash since USFS budgets have been slashed.

Manufacturers and retailers both praised the combination of the two shows. “We’ve just really injected the whole process with a new sense of energy,” said Kim Miller, CEO of Scarpa North America. “We’re sending more boots out than we have for a number of years throughout all the segments. from freeride to telemark.”

Didn’t make it? We have you covered. Here are the big trends and happenings we saw at the demo.

You have to get on the stuff

The biggest takeaway when it comes to the demo? It’s essential. While there may be quibbling over the timing or if it needs to be two days long, everyone sees it as one of the most important parts of the show. That’s a point that every retailer hammered over and over. Chief among them Mike Donohue, co-owner of Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont, who tries to ski on every ski he sells.

“In terms of testing, the Salomon S/Lab Shift binding was incredible and a true next level game changer,” he said. “It's also available branded by Atomic. In terms of boots the Dynafit Hoji was definitely a show-stopper. On the other end of the spectrum, I was impressed with the new Salomon S/Max Alpine boots. In addition to downhill skiing on the Dynafit boot at the demo, I also got in two solid tours on them over my time in Colorado.”

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Spy's new Ace EC goggle was a hit at the demo.

Putting new product to the test makes a difference in buying decisions. Lauren Resnick retail manager of buying, distribution, and marketing for Copper Mountain’s eight winter and summer retail stores appreciated the ease having the event at her home mountain and “getting all supervisors and managers who would be selling equipment on it at the demo.” I was really excited to test the new Spy Ace EC goggle that changes lens tints electronically. I was just riding with it and excited to be able to change the lens while I was riding the pump track in the trees.” She did note that while the demo was packed, many retailers from outside Colorado had chosen to go to regional shows instead.

“Everyone is excited to get on our new step-on binding,” said Teddy Kanner an independent rep with Ghost Army who handles soft good sales for Burton. “We are definitely seeing a lot of old faces but we are seeing a lot of new faces here too with OR being involved. But, basically, we’re all having a good time. I wish we could be outside all week.”

While more traditional ski and snowboard brands saw increased traffic and interest thanks to the combined demo, some more traditional OR and backcountry-dedicated brands did feel a bit lost in the crowd. There’s a different energy for sure, but it was a lot busier for us at the previous OR demos, since we are more AT-focused,” said Jonathan Lantz, CEO of La Sportiva North America. “Being two days after OR means that fewer people stay for the demo. Having it the day before was conducive to being a lot busier.” Then he stopped and added, “But, hey, it’s still early on Monday morning.”

The uphill party

As more and more ski resorts embrace the idea of uphill skiing, more and more manufacturers and retailers have been providing gear focused more on the up than the down (a godsend on many days or during low snow years). Rondo and ski mountaineering-style racing have always been a part of the demo, but this year the COSMIC series, which puts on ski mountaineering races across the Rockies, upped the fun with a new three-person relay alongside individual races in the SIA Copper Mountain Uphill/Downhill.

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The winners of the SIA Copper Mt. Uphill/Downhill celebrate the first three-person-relay version of the annual demo race that raised over $1,000 for the USSMA. First place went to Dynafit's Team Pants Down, second to Cripple Creek, and third to La Sportiva’s Jankie Pickles.

"The race brought together shop boys and girls, Colorado's fastest skimo athletes, and the ski industry's leading uphill skiing brands for a race to test the limits,” said Joe Risi, COSMIC series race director. “An uphill sprint course tested the athletes limit in under-five-minute laps. Pro COSMIC men finished in a blazing 3:55. The industry teams lead by Dynafit, SCARPA, Cripple Creek Backcountry, and La Sportiva had teams of three. With a beer chugging relay start, courtesy of Upslope Brewery, each team fought indigestion and altitude as they raced.”

Dynafit’s Team Pants Down won the team race. Cam Smith took the top spot in the mens’ individual race, Sierra Anderson in womens’, and Henry Hanes won the junior race. All proceeds benefited the United States Ski Mountaineering Association.

Telemark is the terminator

It seemed as if telemark skiing was dying out. But much like the cyborg that shares a name with SCARPA’s famed tele boot, it keeps rising up from the ashes. Idaho Tele binding manufacturers 22 Designs kept putting retailers out on its new Lynx, an NTN tech binding that offers up AT-style ease of touring and power while staying lightweight.

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Doing laps on new gear was the name of the game at the demo.

“For the first time, there’s major excitement over tele,” said Craig Dostie, editor of Earn Your Turns and a longtime telemark evangelist, who had been testing the Lynx at Copper. “I think it’s the most excitement over any product here—but I am biased.”

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The SCARPA booth was bustling at the on-snow demo as buyers sought to check out tele boots.

SCARPA’s Miller certainly saw a high demand for freeheel boots at the demo and that made him smile. “Tele for us is still much bigger than the uphill and the rondo race trend,” he said. “We’re still selling a lot of telemark boots. The biggest question I fielded at this show is ‘When’s the next telemark boot coming out?’ And we are working on it.”

Are ski brands the new brew pub?

One possible trend that showed up at two tents at the demo was that of ski brands making their planks in the U.S.A.—and selling them at wholesale. Many popular boutique brands piggyback on big factories (think the Atomic factory in Europe for production) and most small U.S. manufacturers only offer skis direct to consumers. But Victor, Idaho’s, Sego Ski Co. and Denver, Colorado’s Meier Skis put demo attendees out on skis built here. They also make those babies in shops that serve craft beer and let customers watch the process. That’s a real-world example of how the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy can boost local economies and encourage small business.

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Eric Henderson of Meteorite PR was all smiles after a few runs on Sego boards. Manufacturing in Victor, Idaho, and selling at wholesale, Sego Ski Co. took advantage of the demo to introduce retailers to its core skis in the midst of big-name brands.

The small brands jumped at the chance to put retailers unfamiliar with them on their wares. “This is where business gets done,” said Rex Wehrman, Sego’s director of sales. “You can talk all you want at the trade show, but nobody is buying skis without testing them first. That’s a win for us because every one of our skis is so good.”

The nordic area is perfect

SIA has perfected the way the Nordic section of the demo, long a bit of an outlier, is set up. Unlike the alpine demoi, it’s just one day long and set away from the lifts and action in Copper’s East Village. Copper grooms a course on the golf course just for the demo that includes skate lanes and classic tracks that run straight past the exhibitors’ tents. One loop offers up flats, another a bit of a hill, and the third, and longest, significant up and down.

“I really appreciate the way it’s set up,” said Elaine Vardamis who works on the sales floor at Boulder Nordic Sport in Colorado. “We were all able to get on a bunch of different gear, which was very valuable. Everyone has a slightly different skiing style, so you need to understand specific ski behaviors to match the right ski to your customer. Because the shop has so many of us go to the demo, we get a really good feel for a wide range of skis.”

Vardamis, who is headed on a ski expedition across Greenland’s ice cap this year, was particularly impressed by one of Madshus’ new Redline Intelligrip skin skis out on the course. “With a lot of these skin skis you're making a sacrifice between glide and stick, but it glided very well and had minimal drag. ” she said.

Looking forward

Now that Emerald Expositions owns and operates both Outdoor Retailer and SIA’s Snow Show, SIA will continue to run the On Snow Demo. OR will operate the summer demo coinciding with the July show, but the location is not yet determined. There will most likely be no demo for November’s Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in November. And SIA will once again operate the On Snow demo for January 2019’s Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show. The only wrinkle is that the show dates, which run Tuesday through Friday, could put the demo on a weekend, something the resorts don’t want, so the timing of the 2019 demo is still being determined according to SIA. No matter, it’s always good to get out of the aisles and on the gear.

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