Surf shapes, skinnier skis and better boots were some of the themes coming out of this year's SIA show. SIA photo.
While it's hard to say that any single product was truly revolutionary coming out of the two marquee North American snowsports tradeshows – Winter Outdoor Retailer and the SIA Snowshow – much of what was seen by TGR's staff represented an evolution of trends that got small starts in the year or two past. Ski companies have had a number of years to play with radical shapes, and are now retreating towards skinner and more normal-looking shapes. Snowboarders, on the other hand, are taking more and more cues from the surf world, dropping wild-looking short, squat shapes with swallowtails all over the place. Elsewhere, gradual improvements in splitboard gear and ski boot design are making the more notoriously painful (for consumers) parts of the hardgoods market less and less so.
On the whole, we found six overarching trends in gear design worth noting. Look forward to seeing these in action as you shop for gear next fall.
#1: The Surf Is Up In Snowboarding
A trend towards surf-inspired powder shapes that really began to sink its teeth into the snowboard market last year really expanded in its breadth in the snowboards on offer at this year’s SIA. Lib Tech had a line designed in collaboration with …Lost Surfboard’s legendary shaper, Matt Biolos, while Chris Christensen worked with Jeremy Jones to introduce fully surfboard-looking shapes like the Jones Storm Chaser (above, left) while introducing 3D concave noses into many of the brand’s boards, taking a nod from surf design.
You’d have been hard-pressed to find a snowboard brand at this year’s show that didn’t have at least one board with a swallowtail, a big nose, and a tapered tail for directional powder barreling and all-round soul shredding, even on firm snow. If you like riding soft snow or carving the shit out of your local hill, next fall should be a fun time to explore what you can get with your dollars.
#2: Fat Skis Are Dead
Black Crows' Nocta (left) is one of the shrinking number of fat skis above 120 mm in the waist. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Common among almost every brand was a lightening of the waist width in their powder ski lineup. While many snowboard brands are dropping pow shapes that are shorter and wider but packing the same amount of surface area, many ski brands dropped the largest waist width in their powder lineups. Whereas last year the biggest pow machine might have been in the 120’s underfoot, next year many brands won’t be going wider than 115 in the waist.
This could possibly be a nod to the fact that only a handful of us are actually shredding ski movie-worthy waist-deep pow on the regular, and possibly also due to the gradual evolution of ski shape design, whose more thoughtful nuances have supplemented what simple doses of wide waists and massive rocker used to do,while leaving the ski in better shape for average days.
#3: Get Ready To See Skis You Bought 10 Years Ago
While the biggest skis from the lineup are also getting cut, nearly every brand was excited to show off a 90-waisted all-mountain ski with a flat tail, nearly no tip rocker, and often with layers of steel embedded in the ski. Sound like a ski you probably bought in 2000 or 2005? That’s what I thought, too. But as ski design as a whole backs away from the powder-focused design extremes it explored in the past 5-7 years, it’s clear designers as a whole are recognizing the advantages of more traditional, single-camber shapes for the majority of skiers who, it turns out, are not landing switch all the time or skiing bottomless blower every day they go out, but are often skiing firm snow and groomers.
#4: Ski Boots, Now Less Miserable For 2016/2017
While ski boots may forever suck – no one walks around in a hard plastic shoe doing anything else – manufacturers are steadily chipping away at the worst parts of the ski boot experience, and working especially to make out-of-the-box fit a reality for most boot buyers. Atomic's new Hawx 130 boot shown above deals with many of the aspects you'd have to go to a bootfitter to deal with – canting, boot sole shimming, punched sixth toes, forward lean – and makes many of them easy to deal with on your own, while providing a custom-fit shell that's molded to your feet in about 15 minutes. The Hawx Ultra in particular also dropped a ton of weight compared to your standard 130-flex plug boot, coming in at just 1,600 grams - the same as my Salomon MTN Lab touring boots.
Many other manufacturers, from Dynafit to Dalbello, are designing more anatomical fits, while waterproof gaiters are being built into a small but growing number of touring boots, providing more comfort for long days in the backcountry.
#5: Ski And Board Cores, Possibly Identical But Made From 2,500 Different Possible Materials
Salomon's new QST lineup has materials we couldn't even figure out how to spell no matter how much Googling we did. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Remember the "good" old days when a ski or board core consisted of just two possible materials, foam or wood? Now there are 38 kinds of wood in play, along with steel, titanal, carbon fiber, kevlar, hemp, flaxseed, recycled plastic bottles, quoroid (spelling?), blends of all these, and crazy composites coming off of Formula 1 cars and airplane wings.
If you're as confused as we are, that's okay. Given how complicated ski and board designs are getting, there's no sense in saying one material is better than the other, and it is remarkable how similarly two different and incredibly complicated designs can ride like each other. But overall, the growing diversity of materials and designs are providing skis and boards that are stiff without being heavy, light while still being powerful, and providing a better middle ground for skis and boards that balance playfulness with stability.
#6: Splitboarders Get Better Gear Next Season
This stringed retention device from Karakorum can be locked down to stiffen the upper cuff of a snowboard boot for more efficient, less tiring sidehilling. Ryan Dunfee photo.
You would have been hard pressed to find a snowboard brand not offering at least one splitboard, and in many small but important ways, equipment for the niche is improving. Karakorum came out with a string retention device (above) that stiffens up your boot for sidehilling, along with a binding system with multiple plates so you can ride both your split and solid boards with one pair of bindings. They also came out with splitboard clips that should make for a significantly stiffer union between the two skis. Jones found a way to remove all hardware from the base of their splitboards, making for a smoother, cleaner ride. And G3's splitboards skins come tailored towards matching each of the individual skis. All in all, splitboarders should be optimistic about improvements being made that should allay some of the traditional setbacks of a splitboard setup.
#7: Goggle Lenses Get Transition-ified
The Dragon/TGR collab goggles, which will be available next fall. Dragon was one of a couple brands introducing Transitions lenses into their goggles. Ryan Dunfee photo.
Remember Transitions lenses and all those goofy infomercials where the sun rises on some bald guy's face and his nerd glasses turn opaque, turning them into sunglasses? While new lens technology is not a new thing, and seemingly every brand is chasing the quickest and easiest lens change system, the integrations of Transitions technology into the lenses of brands like Dragon and K2 should be an interesting one to watch for next season. While some may be fine packing an extra lens in their jacket for the hill, most of us probably don't, and are left squinting when a storm day goes blue or vice-versa. We hope to get our hands on some and report back!
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