Upbeat has become so hackneyed when used to describe the mood at trade shows, but in the case of SIA '08 SnowSports Trade Show, held in Las Vegas Jan. 29-Feb. 1, it proved to be an understatement. Coming off a superlative snow year, which saw most of the traditional snow-belt states covered with decent snow, inventories for cross-country-ski hardgoods suppliers were virtually stripped bare and sell-through at retail was the best it's been in years.
"Everyone did better than expected," said Van Brinkerhoff, sales manager of Madshus. "Retailers here at the show are optimistic yet cautious."
But as cautious as suppliers were this season?"
The knock on suppliers coming into the show was that most had badly under-forecast needs and were out of skis, boots and poles by late December. Scrambling to fill the void, some were able to get more gear from Europe, while others simply apologized and promised to do better in their 2008/09 projections.
So SIA posed an interesting conundrum for both suppliers and retailers. For suppliers, it was whether to bet on another great season and up their inventories, or play it conservative yet again and not have much fill-in stock. For retailers, it was whether to remain cautious or to bet, with fingers crossed, on another great snow year and write some big orders.
Gambling on what the weather will do is playing some pretty long odds. But then again, playing long odds is a very Las Vegas thing to do.
SIA opened with a bang and -- by our SNEWS® editor's count -- four distinct trends:
Trend No. 1
The No. 1 trend, and getting the most attention, was race boots, with Fischer, Alpina and Atomic showing new boot concepts that will have high-end race gear consumers drooling.
Fischer's new boots still bear the Centrix moniker from a few years back, but are as close to that now forgotten concept as Mars is to earthlight years away.
In addition to a new look, the Fischer boots featured a last that one retailer said made for a "delightful fit." The classic and skate boots feature the unique "snake" lacing which offers a foot-caressing feel. They're both ultralight, with the skater featuring a minimalist, yet supportive, ankle cuff.
Over at Alpina, Steve Kvinlaug, vice president of sales, was all smiles over the reception for the company's new top-end race boots.
"We have two designers who really got into the race boots and changed everything. The results are incredible," he told SNEWS®.
Indeed, the whole new concept was based around an inner low-cut boot that combines running and soccer shoe technologies. In the case of the classic boot, a full-zip cover was added to the basic boot. In the case of the skate boot, a cover and a minimalist ankle cuff have been added.
Soles on both the Alpina skate and classic boots have a more supple flex. A totally old-school lacing system on the classic boot features to-the-toe flat laces for even tension all the way along the forefoot.
These boots are featherweights. And as to the fit -- well, how does "condom-like" sound? Hey, we were in Vegas, and what's said here stays here -- except in this case.
Moving on to Atomic, it decided to offer two complexly different lasts in its top-end skate and classic boots. The World Cup boots are built on a narrow Salomon SLAB last, while the Race Carbon boots have a wider last.
In the Atomic performance line, the next step down is boots featuring the BOA fit adjust system. BOA works off a dial on the rear of the boot that allows the skier to micro adjust the fit around the foot. How does it work? Twist the BOA dial and internal laces tension around the foot.
In touring boots, Atomic's IndiFit lacing system features color-coded laces. Pull on the red lace and the back of the boot snugs around the Achilles tendon area. Pull on the black lace and the top of the boot snugs down around the top of the foot at the arch.
Of note, Atomic is offering more entry-level Pilot Touring binding-compatible boots. And Madshus has recast its entire boot line top to bottom with full and partial soft shell covers.
Trend No. 2
SIA Nordic trend No. 2 was the resurgence of interest in traditional off-track touring gear. Madshus showed the Norge collection: three trad-looking touring boots that will match with three mid-length skis. And yes, there are touring poles to round out the collection and the old-school look.
At Alpina, the new Woody ski with full metal edge pays tribute to the past graphically and is matched with the totally retro, and gorgeous, leather Crispi Stetind boot. Poles and binding round out a package that will retail for $599.
Salomon surprised with two foam-wrapped, wood-core touring skis (Adv 89 and Adv 69) with positive waxless bases and soft tip and tail flexes. Matching the skis are revamped Adv 8, 6 and 5 boots with full gaiters, quick-lace system, Thinsulate lining and Energizer cuffs.
Like its sister company, Atomic uses the same core technology and a positive waxless base on its redesigned Rainier backcountry touring ski.
Trend No. 3
SIA trend No. 3 brings us to poles. Leki's Shark pole grip system has been enhanced with two models of gloves that come with the Shark loop sewn into the glove between the thumb and forefinger. One of the new gloves is a soft shell designed for spring and warmer weather use; the other one is insulated.
Over at Swix, its new Quick Click system is essentially the original version of the Shark (tab fits into a slot on the pole grip) that will be used on all poles from entry to race levels.
The other big pole news is the popular One-Way pole line now being exclusively distributed by Rossignol. It's also bringing in One-Way's roller ski and roller ski pole lines. Apart from this move, Rossignol's 2008 line remained much the same as its 2007 line -- a noticeable trend at SIA of holding the line.
Karhu followed suit in its touring and general backcountry lines with minimal changes.
Trend No. 4
Trend No. 4 was about acquisitions. Rossignol, as mentioned, did it with One Way. Alpina went big, adding Peltonen, Exel and the Bjorn Dahlie apparel line. Talking about these line acquisitions, Alpina President Frank Thibodeau said, "Some of the lines, like Bjorn Dahlie, were referred to us, and others, like Exel, we pursued."
Alpina's Kvinlaug added, "The acquisitions show who's really serious about the cross-country market."
Peltonen gives Alpina a high-end race line to replace Madshus, and the company delivered the new Supra-X ski with Hyptonite construction that is arguably the lightest skate ski in the world.
High-end gear garners a lot of attention
And high-end gear, as always, saw a lot of buyer attention besides at Peltonen. For example, Atomic showed off a new skate ski that's narrower over the first 11 inches of its forebody. This thin shape supposedly improves uphill climbing significantly.
A step down in performance, Atomic's X Cruise compact exercise skis have a new look that's very similar to the old Beta, but only on the fore and aft portions of the topsheet and not underfoot.
At Salomon, there was lots of buzz about the new Equipe 10 "Zero Base" chemically treated smooth base waxless ski. And for the less sporty skier, the new Elite 8, with partial metal edge and G2 waxless base, is aimed directly at the active in- and out-of-track enthusiasts.
An upgrade for Rossignol were the slight changes in the soles of the X1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 boots -- now, they have more grip when off the snow.
Clothing gets more stylish
Then there were clothing upgrades. Salomon's soft shells for women hit the mark with pleasing bright colors and styling, and its Motomesh fabric proved to be one of the show's softgoods highlights.
Swix countered with a nicely executed knit soft shell, and for the exercise skier, a 14-gauge wool/acrylic mesh top high on breathability.
Toko didn't change its apparel line as far as styles, but added more color, and expanded its hat and glove collections.
Waxing and tools
Moving over to the hardgoods side, Toko showed the new Express workbench, which is about half the size of its current portable benches, and added blue, red and yellow to its Jet Stream line of glide waxes.
Swix pitched its new Freeride easy-application glide waxes, available in aerosol, liquid or rub-on versions. It also showed the new Super Cera F that serves as a universal Cera covering the current range of Cera 7, 8 and 10.
And speaking of 10s, SIA '08 received top marks from most buyers. There was genuine excitement about the new cross-country gear and the prospects for yet another banner season. Now if only the snow will cooperate again next winter. Bets anyone?