Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 Preview: Backcountry skis, boots and bindings

Uphill ski traffic: Brands flock to backcountry with 2014/15 products as acceptance grows for 'earning your turns,' even at the resorts.
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This SNEWS Outdoor Retailer Winter Market preview is brought to you by Cordura.

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Leading up to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014, SNEWS is previewing some of the top trends and new products you’ll see at the trade show and All Mountain Demo in Salt Lake City, Jan. 21-25. You can access all these articles and more in our digital edition of the O.R. Daily Day 0.

As more skiers go old-school, hiking for their turns, ski manufacturers are responding with ever-lighter, but still downhill-dependable gear.

For 2014-15, outdoor retailers see more skis featuring high-tech carbon construction and ski/walk boots with unprecedented mobility for comfort and ease of use.

“Ten years ago everyone was still trying to get fresh lines by skiing from the lift, but now there’s a much bigger interest in and acceptance of ski touring in North America,” said Gord Bailey, vice president of sales and marketing for G3. “People are accessing not just a line, but a day of adventure.”

When purchasing gear, added Bailey, those adventure-seekers are making “a really considered decision about weight, performance and accessibility.”

Kim Miller, CEO of Scarpa North America, calls the rise of backcountry skiing, whether accessed from the resort or from the trailhead, a paradigm shift. “It’s more than just a gear trend. People are looking for the adventure again.” At the same time, he noted, gear remains an important bellwether, with boots and bindings the leading indicators of where skiing is headed. “AT boots and bindings are the real bright spots in terms of growth and excitement in snowsports,” he said.

Meanwhile, the surge in uphill ski traffic, even at resorts, also influences product. “We’re seeing two segments growing at Dynafit: race fitness and freeride,” said Eric Henderson, the brand’s communications manager.

The drive to capture these new customers and innovate to keep them coming back is far from slowing down. “We feel that there are still big improvements that could be made in terms of the performance-to-weight ratio,” said Jed Duke, director of product and promotion for Tecnica USA/Blizzard Sport. “The backcountry skier has a lot of great things to look forward to in the future.”

>> One of the lightest skis ever to hit the skin track — at 1,200 grams per ski — is La Sportiva’s Vapor Nano (130/103/120 mm; MSRP $1,200). Made in the U.S. using a carbon-nanotube technology originally developed for the aerospace industry, the skis have an aggressively rockered tip, flat tail and enough stability to handle the most technical lines.

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>> A narrower, lighter and even nimbler version of the much-lauded V8 ski introduced last winter, Voile’s V6 (123/100/107 mm; MSRP $625) has the same full-length aspen core, carbon fiber/fiberglass construction and buyer-friendly price.

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>> Thanks to the capabilities of its new dedicated factory, Black Diamond can crank out more carbon-construction skis, including the Carbon Convert (133-105-117 mm; MSRP $900), a backcountry-focused model that shaves 380 grams per pair off the non-carbon Convert, weighing in at 1,460 grams per ski.

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>> Völkl’s V-Werks BMT was designed for big mountain touring, and includes elements like carbon-fiber construction, an air-channeled wood core, full rocker and early-taper tip drawn from the brand’s V-Werks and powder skis. The three models (MSRP $1,275) differ by waist width: 94, 109 and 122.

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>> Tested by 30-some mountain guides on its namesake peak, Dynafit’s Denali ski (131-98-116 mm; MSRP $900) heralds the brand’s move into producing a burlier and stiffer, yet still lightweight, ski. Tip-to-tail carbon stringer construction is beefed up underfoot for more pop, and the carbon flex tip enables a smooth, early turn initiation.

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>> Not content to rest on its laurels, DPS updates one of its most popular skis. The Wailer 112RP2 (141/112/128 mm; MSRP $1,299), constructed with pre-preg carbon laminates in DPS’ Utah factory, now has a lower tip and tail rocker to maximize power and stability in variable snow.

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>> K2 aims to deliver high performance to expert women skiers with the Minaret 100 freeride boot (MSRP $750), the female counterpart to the men’s Pinnacle. With a 100 flex and 100mm last, the Minaret includes K2’s innovative ski/walk mechanism that facilitates range of motion without compromising support for the downhill, a buckled powerstrap and universal outsole.

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>> Salomon expands on its Quest line of hike and ski boots with the new Quest Pro series. The Quest Pro TR 110 (MSRP $750), targeted toward the core backcountry skier, is the lightest of the bunch at 1.7 kilograms per boot and with a 47-degree range of motion.

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>> The Ion tech binding (MSRP $500) from G3 promises easier step-in than other comparable bindings while offering great retention. It’s lightweight (585 grams, with a 110 brake) and has a DIN range of 5 to 12.

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--Cindy Hirschfeld

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