High-end shoppers are returning this season to buy top ski apparel, but the majority of customers still need function and value along with a touch of fashion. Peering ahead to 2011-12, retail buyers will find a return to clean, classy looks and lines aimed at the growing sidecountry market, all delivered in new fabrics, laminates and insulations.
Krista Crabtree, apparel editor for Snow Show Daily, published by SNEWS WinterSports, gives a sneak peek of what you’ll find in Denver at the SIA Snow Show:
* Abundant snow conditions and an improving economy are a good combination. “Two years ago was horrible because we’re in the luxury business,” says Dede Longley, ski shop owner and softgoods buyer for the Startingate in Bondville, Vt. “But the tides turn. It doesn’t seem that people are backing off from top-end items anymore. If it’s got what they’re looking for, they’ll pay the price.” Case in point: Before there was even snow on the ground this season, Longley sold out of KJUS men’s jackets with a $1,500 price tag.
Though customers who frequent specialty shops with high-end apparel may not hesitate to buy a jacket that crests a grand, most consumers are not willing to pay more next season. Instead, they are looking for snowsports’ own version of the little black dress -- an item of apparel so fashionable, and yet so functional, that it’s perfect for any on-snow occasion. According to Kelly Davis, director of research for SIA, snowsports’ top selling “little black dress” equivalents typically share three features: high quality, innovation and perceived value. Look for 2011-12 examples of that trifecta in Snow Show Daily.
* Yo-yoing from within a resort to outside the gates and then back brought us the term “sidecountry,” and since there is often aerobic activity required to access the goods, the latest trends in apparel reflect a fusion between resort wear and backcountry gear.
You’ll see an influx of 2011-12 outerwear that marries the durability and weather protection of hardcore backcountry apparel with the insulation, looser fit and details, such as cell phone/MP3 pockets, that come with resort-oriented outerwear. “Sidecountry users can’t afford for their gear to fail, but they like the features that they get from jackets they wear inbounds,” says Melanie Sirirot, apparel product manager for Outdoor Research. “It’s important to have quick venting if you’re hiking because you don’t want to take your jacket off. Also important is a high collar to protect your face, a hood that fits over your helmet, and Recco and pack compatibility.”
“A clean and classy aesthetic is also prevailing in the apparel industry, partly in reaction to the economic downturn. Overall fit is a focus for many manufacturers, and jackets and pants accentuate shape instead of hiding it. According to Jackie Myers, designer for Armada, “fits are trending longer in jackets and slimmer in pants.”
There are a slew of skinny pants from snowboard manufacturers, and companies such as Bonfire offer a new high-waist pant made with stretch fabric to flatter every figure. Resort skiwear remains form fitting, but with fabrics that offer more stretch.
Because 80 percent of outerwear sold falls into the mid-price point category, many manufacturers are seeing a need for versatility: Designs trend toward a more timeless feel so that they can be multi-use garments -- not just for the slopes.
“New fabrics, laminates and insulations are the real showstoppers for next season. The latest innovation from Gore-Tex, called Gore-Tex Active Shell Laminate, combines a thinner and lighter Gore-Tex membrane with softer-feeling fabrics. Arc’Teryx and Scott have introduced Active Shell Laminate into their collections for 2011/12 to create more breathable and comfortable jackets that have better moisture management. The new Burton [ak] line offers a variety of fully-taped Gore-Tex fabrics combined with linings that focus on breathability. Salomon, known as a big mountain, freeride brand, has been seeing continued excitement in this category, which has been attracting new consumers every time the inbounds runs out of fresh powder. They construct 3-in-1 jackets for this category that combine 4-way stretch fabrics with Gore, Pertex windproof membrane, taped seams and down. Scottish hard shell manufacturer Rab incorporates the new Polartec Neo Shell stretch fabric, which combines the breathability and stretch of a soft shell with weather protection from a hard shell. --Krista Crabtree
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