SIA.06 Trends: Nordic gets in touch with its feminine side

Our Nordic report from the SIA.06 SnowSports Trade Show takes on a different, and we trust, more entertaining twist. This year, we asked SNEWS® founder and editor emeritus Bob Woodward to take a more personal approach to his show coverage with editorial license flavored by 34 years of SIA attendance and over 40 years covering the ski industry. Few can match his experience. Fewer still, his wit and sense of history. To that end, we bring you Woody's take on SIA.06's Nordic world.
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Our Nordic report from the SIA.06 SnowSports Trade Show takes on a different, and we trust, more entertaining twist. This year, we asked SNEWS® founder and editor emeritus Bob Woodward to take a more personal approach to his show coverage with editorial license flavored by 34 years of SIA attendance and over 40 years covering the ski industry. Few can match his experience. Fewer still, his wit and sense of history. To that end, we bring you Woody's take on SIA.06's Nordic world.

The first person I encountered as I entered the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for the first day of SIA.06 was a modern-day Chicken Little. In this Chicken Little's case, the sky wasn't falling, but things were bad nonetheless since Fischer had opted to join Rottefella's NNN camp.

OK, so what else is new? Sorry if I sound jaded, but while Fischer jumping to NNN from SNS is an interesting bit of news, it wasn't that unexpected given the joining of Atomic and Salomon at the hip under the Amer Sports banner. And frankly, the importance of it all won't be known until SIA's 2007 show when Fischer debuts its first NNN line.

Still, one retailer told me, "It is of concern now because it will dictate both my NNN and SNS buys for next season."

It was that same veteran cross-country retailer who also added, "Why the hell can't both companies produce a universal plate a la NIS and let people put whatever kind of binding they want on it."

Well said, but wouldn't that be a bit too alpine? Sure, the alpine ski guys have proven they aren't stupid and universal binding plates make sense, but heaven forbid the Nordic folks take a lead from the alpine side of the hill.

So cross-country continues to fly in the face of logic. But for as hardened a cynic as I am about the cross-country ski business after so many years of covering it, I was moved by a lot of the new product, especially those for women.

The attention to women's skis and boots was the best I've seen in years. One aisle wag noted, "Perhaps the ski makers are gearing up to move all those women who are snowshoeing onto something that glides on snow."

So, who did what for women? Atomic worked with the famed biomechanical group at Finland's Jyvaskyla University and created some new soft-cambered women's-specific exercise skis (FX 10, 9 and 8) and it'll be interesting to see how they're received.

Frankly, if women buy strictly on graphics, the Atomic skis will sell by the gazillions. They are very pretty skis. In fact, the entire Atomic Nordic line from race through entry level was the best-looking line at the show by a wide margin.

That's not to disparage many of the other suppliers which clearly made serious strides in offering up graphically pleasing ski product. Rossignol for one carried its attractive race cosmetics down further into the company's line, and Madshus' line in general and its women's-specific skis in particular were nicely turned out.

Fischer took the popular Nordic Cruising skis -- popular because the skis perform so well -- into women's-specific (Vision) models. That should translate into strong sales.

On the boot side, the Madshus new boot line features the women's Athena Skate and Metis boots that not only look nice (they match the women's ski and pole graphics), but also have all the necessary technical touches.

In the course of navigating crowded aisles, I was subjected to yet another Chicken Little blast. This time, it was bemoaning the fact that the New Telemark Norm (NTN) is coming.

Suffice to say, I sat down for an hour with Rottefella's Torbjorn Ragg and NTN is closer to reality than it's ever been. End of story and wake me up next January to talk about it when chances are Crispi, Garmont and Scarpa will have boots and Rottefella will have bindings to show at SIA.

Coming out of the Alpina/Madshus booth, I was dragged over to see the new Swix Force-10 racing poles -- $400 suggested retail. Force-10 poles are very cool and certainly very rich-doctor/lawyer-masters-racer friendly.

Only 300 will arrive in the country next season and those mango-colored, elliptical-shaped beauties will be gone quickly. There's a lot to like here from the ultra stiff shafts, to the grip molded into the shaft, to the three size/cut-to-fit option.

While we're poling, Leki's latest version of Trigger (Shark) is much better in that getting the loop on the strap over the pillar (shark's mouth shape) at the back of the grip is way easier than snapping the plastic tab in and out in the pole shaft, as was the case in previous Triggers. Shark also offers a closer fit of the hand to the pole grip.

Also at Leki was the very cool Carbon Vario pole that adjusts (depending on which size you buy) from 130 to 150, 140 to 170, or 150 to 170. The length adjustment is located just below the pole's grip area.

And lest we forget, Alpina and Madshus now have poles emblazoned with their names. For those of you keeping score, the poles are from One Way but made to Alpina/Madshus specs.

There was more poling action, and this time, it was over at Exel where it's the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Black Feather carbon-fiber pole. And to celebrate, Exel is bringing out a new version of the famous pole with an interesting handle that's canted back 10 degrees. Not to worry as Exel has volumes of biomechanical data (again from Jyvaskyla University in Finland) that proves that this canting helps performance. The poles will debut in Torino, naturally.

However, all the hype over carbon fiber brings me to this question? How is it the pole makers aren't worried about the reported world shortage of carbon fiber? Kayak makers, paddle makers and just about everyone who uses carbon fiber is saying that between Boeing and Airbus the supply of readily available carbon fiber is gone for the next few years.

OK, so now I'm sounding like a Chicken Little. What else impressed me at SIA? Well there were some very nice boots and Salomon's new Pilot Classic binding is, well, a classic.

First, to the boots. Salomon's S Lab top-end boots got very good reviews from pre-SIA on-snow demos. That's good, as in being -- in the words of a very persnickety Midwest retailer, -- "easy to get in and out of and with a lot more forefoot volume." Now that's big news for Carbon Pro users who have resorted over the past few years to incredible foot and lower leg contortions trying to get into their skate and classic boots.

Rossi continues to be a challenger to the title of best boot maker with the new X-11 Skate model that pairs nicely with the new Cobra Cut Delta skate ski built (don't let Chicken Little know) by Fischer.

Rossi also scored big with the new X-9 for Max skiers, as well as the X-7 men's and the X-7 women's boot for Zynex and Evo skiers.

By the by, as me grand-mum used to say, Alpina's ultra-light Titanium/Carbon skate boot is the first to use that combination of materials in a skate cuff. In this case, the Titanium is Ti webbing. The result is the lightweight race boot champion.

Also note that Atomic's all new SNS-compatible line of boots was designed to fit slightly wider than Salomon's boots so that the two boot lines complement each other. Atomic's men's- and women's-lasted boots will all be made by the same company that produces Specialized's popular Body Geometry cycling shoes.

And now for a moment on skis, and by that I mean not on them but about them. Most of the ski makers of note are into refining for 2007 and good for 'em on that. Fischer did raise the bar with their ultra, ultra light Carbon Lite classic and skate skis, which will come to market in limited quantities next season. Retailers selling to those master racers again take note. Salomon also refined its ski line, as well as Rossi, Madshus and Atomic, which also put names on the product instead of numbers for the company's top-end race skis.

And when it comes to NIS, Rossi did well by adding the five-click adjustment NIS plate instead of the two-click plate well down into its general touring models. It may seem trivial on the surface, but it's a great service to retailers and customers.

Now let's segue, at long last, to Salomon's Pilot Classic binding. It's well thought out and designed, looks sharp, and those who have tested it have been very complimentary. Of course, after Torino, we'll know how it was accepted by the top guns.

On to the gadget stuff. Kudos to the Alpina/Madshus gang for having fun with the Start "Dope" wax. The baggie with some oregano, a packet of Dope wax and some matches was very nice.

And on the wax front, how about spray-on performance hard waxes from both Swix and Toko? Very nifty indeed as is the fact that Toko has a good-looking new Nordic clothing line. Equally nifty is that Auclair, Swix, Toko and others are really paying attention to making superior cross-country gloves -- refreshing.

Finally, to those who have been waiting for me to go bananas over Fischer's Jib Skate concept -- keep waiting. It's a cool idea, but will it translate into big numbers at retail? I don't think so. Hey, but a shout-out to Fischer for trying to shake things up.

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