Versatility was the order of the day at ISPO Munich 2013 – the world's largest trade fair for sporting goods. Exhibitors displayed their take on the perfect combination of lightweight and performance in skis and boards, boots, bindings and tools.
OnTheSnow mingled with a crowd of 81,000 visitors from all over the world to talk to the major brands about their highlights for 2013/2014 ski gear.
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Now that the Rocker has become standard rather than revolutionary, manufacturers get down to the weight. Völkl has taken lightweight to the extreme this year – and it paid off already: Völkl's freeski model V-Werks Katana has been awarded with the ISPO product of the year award in the "ski" category. The Katana combines an ultra-thin but functional and stable 3D construction with a full carbon jacket that makes the ski 1kg lighter than the basic V-Werks. "The developers of this ski managed to significantly reduce the weight to an unprecedented extent," says jury member Wolfgang Pohl, president of the German ski instructors' association.
The V-werks Katana also scored in the ISPO awards' "ski off piste" category, alongside the Rossignol Soul 7, the Idris Skis Lynx and the Black Diamond Carbon Megawatt. Will Stanton, Black Diamond's sales manager UK, calls the latter a "free-tour ski that is light enough for touring, but without compromise on the descent.” The sidewall construction complements the carbon and fibreglass layup ensuring torsional rigidity in this 3.2 to 3.6kg ski.
Rossignol relies on a more profane material to minimise weight: air. Their Air Tip Technology features a transparent honeycomb structure that guarantees their new 7 Series floatation and agility. "This is the future of the Rocker," says PR manager Katharina Seifert asserts.
No matter which brand, almost all skis displayed at the ISPO are rockered – except most racing skis. Blizzard's new race and high-performance all-mountain Power Series only has a slight tip and tail Rocker, as well as a three-dimensional sidecut (3 Matrix) that enables the ski to always adjust to the ground.
To alleviate the weaknesses of Rockers, such as vibrations in the tip and tail, the manufacturers came up with some novel ideas. Head's big mountain skis feature an inlay made from elastomers for vibration control and an exterior glass fibre skeleton for stability and torsional strength (Tip and Tail Stabilizer System, TSS).
Völkl developed the ski industry's first 360-degree vibration damper – a freely suspended mass inside the shovel that follows the ski’s vertical, horizontal and torsional vibrations with a slight time delay and counteracts them. The UVO (Ultimate Vibration Object) is integrated in the Racetiger RC, Racetiger SC and Code models.
Fischer is taking a different approach: the Austrians are sticking to last year's Hybrid technology, an integrated Rocker that can be switched on and off for performance in short as well as long, aggressive on-piste turns. "Hybrid is still our drawing card," says PR manager Kerstin Garstenauer.
Snowboard manufacturers rely on clever hybrid models, combining Rocker and Camber elements in various ways, and cater to a number of individual needs in fields such as width. In addition to standard widths, Volkl, for example, offers four versions, from narrow to extra-wide. Spaceflight technology makes not only the skis, but also the boards lighter than ever, without compromising on riding stability. Clever shaping makes it possible to apply the edge grip and stability of a longer board to shorter, more agile boards.
Head convinced the awards jury with its Framewall model. This snowboard has a 3D sidewall with even edge distribution which "completely revolutionises the snowboard industry," said the jury.
Splitboards must not be overlooked this year. The most spectacular new product in this segment is the K2 Kwicker – a fully integrated, yet very light system consisting of board, binding and boots, with a very user-friendly changeover between board and skis.
Riding characteristics in splitboards have improved as well. Rossignol, for example, combines traditional pre-tension with a tip-and-tail Rocker, which makes the board more stable in its tip, yet easy to maneuver even in difficult snow conditions.
In next season's snowboard bindings, shock absorption systems in the heel and toe areas become more comfortable to guarantee riding fun even after a long day on the board. Airbag systems, for example by Nitro, protect your joints during hard landings on ice. Small binding plates provide an enlarged dampening area and more agility.
The most spectacular ski binding innovation was displayed at the Atomic stand: a ski that can bend upwards like a bow. The heart of the unique ARC Technology is a binding that is only fixed at one point, which enables the ski to adjust to the ground more naturally, requiring less effort by the skier. It is featured in the renewed Nomad Series and the new, more race-oriented Nomad [S] Series.
World market leader Marker really rocked the ISPO awards' bindings category: four of their products – the Race Xcell 12, Race Xcell 16, Lord S.P., and the Tour F12 EPF – were awarded, alongside the Beast 16 binding by Dynafit. Marker's Race Xcell bindings include a new shock absorber technology that prevents premature release.
The Dynafit Beast 16, called a "Maverick in the freeride binding ascent category" by the manufacturer for its frameless design, ultra-low height and low weight of only 935 grams, was developed by former Swedish pro freerider Fredrik Andersson and Canadian pro skier Eric Hjorleifson. If you are convinced already, you have to order quickly: the Beast will be available only in a limited run of 2,500 bindings.
Fischer also enters the ski binding market this year. Bindings as well as climbing skins are new in their touring product range, making Fischer an integral supplier for ski touring.
In the ski boots sector it's also all about functionality and variability. Manufacturers try to integrate low weight and high performance, especially in the surging touring and backcountry sectors. "Backcountry is a small, but fast-growing market in the UK," says Richard Philip, head of marketing UK and Ireland at Salomon. The company takes their top-selling Quest Max boot (part of the Quest backcountry product range) to the next level this year with the even lighter Quest Max BC 120 that also features Salomon's Hike & Ride backbone release technology.
K2 only entered the ski boots business this year and has already hit the bull's eye. Their freeride top product Pinnacle 130 has won one of this year's ISPO awards in the "freeride/touring boots" category (besides Atomic's Waymaker Tour 110 and Black Diamond's Factor MX 130). Unlike many other touring and freeride boots, it features a highly flexible walk mode (130 fore/aft flex) without compromising on the downhill performance.
For perfect adjustment to the customer's foot, many brands rely on heating technology that allows the liner or the shell to expand around your foot. In Head's Challenger boot series the whole liner can be adjusted to your foot and to the shell (and the marketing representatives insist you can repeat the procedure as many times as you want). Head's Adaptive Fit Technology allows you to change the width of your boot from 104 to 102 millimetres with the turn of a screw.
Meanwhile, Fischer advanced its Vacuum Fit boot forming technology with the Fuse 9 Vacuum Comfort Fit. Unlike its older (and more expensive) "brother" Vacuum Fit, the Vacuum Comfort Fit system only adjusts parts of the boot to the customer's foot. The product has been awarded in the "alpine boots" category.
Two snowboard boot models dominated this category at this year's ISPO show. The Burton/Anon Ion offers several new technologies in one product: the Infinite Ride inliner which maximises rebound, comfort and durability. “It combines proven technology with state-of-the-art materials to create a boot that guarantees great lifetime performance," says jury member Jeremy Sladen of retailer Snowboard Asylum.
The Deeluxe Spark Summit TFP boot combines high-performance features with a classy, natural brown leather design. Rubber reinforcements guarantee extreme durability; a Sympatex membrane regulates moisture even in extreme conditions.
Marker issues its small first helmet collection this year, and the brand's Ampire Otis model immediately scooped an ISPO gold award. Jury member and industrial designer Tao Schirrmacher says the helmet displays, "Very good workmanship, particularly in details such as the seams [and] a clear design language." Skiers and boarders will be thankful for the magnetic fastener that can be easily opened with gloves.
Head offers a special treat for all those who feel the urge to go online on a beautiful powder day. Its Sensor BT Runtastic Helmet is the first one on the market to feature ear pads with integrated speakers as well as a built-in microphone and bluetooth module so you can listen to music, take phone calls and put information on your speed, route and burnt calories online for friends to see.
The big ISPO trends in goggles were huge lenses, a wide range of vision and changeable lenses to suit all possible weather and lighting conditions.
The Burton/Anon M2 has been rewarded with the ISPO product of the year award in the "action" category because it features the fastest and most simplistic lens change capabilities in the industry. "After 17 years of snowboarding, this is the fastest and easiest way of changing lenses I've seen," said jury member and professional snowboarder Aline Bock.
For ski racers, Head's new Horizontal Race model could be the goggle of choice. Thanks to a new frame lens design, the horizontal field of vision extends upwards by up to 20 percent compared to other goggles, so you don't have to raise your head while racing.
In its second year as a goggle producer, Salomon offers the widest range of vision in ski goggles, as Richard Philip of Salomon marketing points out. In the X-Max model, this asset is combined with changeable lenses. "It's all about less frame and more vision," says Philip. "And they are cool, in the end that's why people buy goggles." K2 realized that too and focussed especially on matching goggles and apparel styles and colours.
Multifunctionality is also a main asset of all the other tools and accessories presented at the ISPO, be it ski poles, headlights, or avalanche rescue shovels. With a growing freeride and touring community, lightweight and space-saving equipment becomes increasingly important. The jury kept that in mind and awarded products such as Black Diamond's new light and packable, yet strong Carbon Compactor ski touring poles and the integrated K2 Rescue Shovel Plus Ice Axe.
Ski and snowboard clothes become more and more practical and comfortable without compromising on the looks. High-tech materials keep you warm and dry all day long. A new combination of astonishingly unbulky down insulation and waterproofness earned Arc'teryx equipment an award in the "2 layer insulated" category. The patent-pending Macai Jacket also has a hood that fits over helmets and removable powder skirts, a practical feature that could be seen in various products.
Another example of how even featherweight down jackets can be weatherproof nowadays is the Dynafit Cho Oyu jacket that maintains insulation despite wet conditions. Thanks to its DownTek technology, the 530-gram jacket does not absorb moisture, not even on long ski tours.
Products with 12-way stretch promise extreme levels of elasticity: a 4-way stretch is used in the upper material, in the filling and in the lining. Salomon convinced the award jury with its new Motion Fit fashion concept that guarantees full mobility even without stretching fabric inlays. It is featured in the Quest Jacket and Pants and the S-Line Jacket. Salomon also delivers examples of next season's most popular colour patterns – many single colours and colour blocks, ranging from green, blue and yellow to black, purple and navy (patterns that can also be found in many skis and boards).
Snowboard tailoring becomes lighter and cleaner, ranging from baggy to body-hugging. Athletic cuts are combined with cool, urban casual looks, with denim, cord, or herringbone surfaces, so everything cannot just be worn on and off piste, but also on your way to work or school.
Exclusive product lines for specific customer circles are another trend. Salomon's S-Line is made exclusively for retailer Snow + Rock. And Rossignol launches a new "Best of the Alps" line with rather pricey, high quality clothes and skis that can be obtained only in prestigious resorts such as Chamonix, Kitzbühel, or St. Moritz.
Style has become important in the safety sector as well; even protectors are looking trendy now. Head takes a step in that direction with its lightweight plain grey Flexor Vests with integrated protectors for men, women and children.
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