Season’s newest toys offer improved performance
November 26, 2011
Faced with the newest, flashiest equipment — shiny skis that come bundled with big-time performance promises and gnarly snowboards that have all the answers — it's a difficult trend to keep up with.
Despite decades of development, modern skiing and snowboarding is still a maturing industry, one in which fundamental new ideas still crop up regularly and are driven by ingenuity and not just technology.
Yes, what's new this year may be antique the next, but that does little to keep eyes from popping out and wallets from popping open. Once again, the season's new crop of ski and snowboard gear is a step better than last year's, and once again those changes are drool-inducing.
The evolution of rocker and camber styling is one of those developments that has fundamentally changed the winter sports industry. The skis today are wider and lighter than they've ever been and more capable in powder than any have ever been. That change has gone hand in hand with an explosion of interest in backcountry and sidecountry skiing, the interest driven by the technology and the technology driven by the interest.
But the massive leaps that niche has taken in recent years has paid off for resort-bound skiers, as well.
Pete Normand at Ski Haus in Steamboat Springs pointed to Salomon BBRs as a perfect example.
Like many of today's skis, the BBRs have a fat, distinctive look, their noses puffing out before narrowing to a point, the front portion of the ski looking more like a missile than a powder platform. The ski doesn't feature twin tips, however, and the tail is much narrower than many other modern designs.
French designer Bertrand Krafft was inspired by surfboards and kite surfing.
"Most skis today are in an X shape, but he did more of a V profile," Normand said. "They carve unbelievably well and float when you need it. It's just a great all-mountain ski. It's a lot of fun to ride."
The BBR is available at Ski Haus for $699.
Another ski that's the offspring of the powder-floating craze is Armada's TST. It shares some of the look of the popular Armada JJ and has some of that ski's backcountry proficiency. It's cut just differently enough to improve its all-mountain performance, however.
The TST, available at One Stop Ski Shop in Steamboat for $679, is 100 millimeters wide at the boot. That's fat by yesterday's standards, but skinny compared to the 115-millimeter JJ.
"It's more versatile," One Stop's John Kole said. "It's more acceptable to turning everywhere. In the bumps, it can be really fun."
The right arrow
The story is similar with this year's newest crop of snowboards. The big development came a few years ago, and now it's being refined to perfect performance on different corners of the mountain.
"Everyone is playing with different mixes of rocker and camber. Every company knows it's going well, and they're trying to improve how it rides," said Molly Cannon at Powdertools in Gondola Square. "They're getting better at it, to get that mix, and it's getting to the point where they're great products. They're getting to be where they're all all-mountain boards, quiver killers that you can ride in the park or in the powder."
Cannon had plenty of examples on hand. Boards like the Capita Ultrafear FK ($449) are softer and have a little more play, while the Never Summer Heritage ($549) is stiffer and may be more suited to bombing a run.
"People want that board you can ride all mountain. Not everyone can afford to have five boards," she said. "They want to be able to take it out at 8 a.m. when the gondola opens and ride it all day."
A woman's world
Not all the development in skis this year is limited to refining. Local shops said a major push has come in the way of skis designed specifically for women.
"Some companies still stick to the 'Shrink it and pink it' philosophy," Normand said. "There are a lot more that are trying to develop more for women, though."
He said it's been a matter of taste among customers as to which way is preferred, but the important thing is there are beginning to be more options, and he pointed to popular ski manufacturer K2 as an example.
K2's SuperStitious is available at Ski Haus for $729. The all-terrain rocker ski has been a hit.
"It has that all-mountain construction we've seen out of K2 for a long time, but it's been lightened up and softened up a little bit, and it's real nice for powder, too," Normand said.
The Dynastar Legends Paradise at One Stop Ski Shop goes for $520 and is another example.
The ski was designed with a woman's body in mind. It creates a more forward stance and raises the heel for a different center of gravity.
"There always have been women's skis, but they were just a men's ski painted pretty," Kole said. "Now they've been making skis more specifically designed for a woman's anatomy, and Dynastar is one of the leaders in that. They changed the balance point and the flex point. It's really been progressing more and more each year."
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com