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Backcountry Bonanza: Freeride gear from the ski show trenches

Sean McCoy, managing editor of GearJunkie.com, leads a pack of equipment testers backcountry touring in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains near Alta, with the author assuming his usual spot toward the rear of the line.
Courtesy Photo

A few from the local side

What are Steamboat-based companies debuting at the show?

Utilizing 100 percent compact spun yarns, which is 25 percent more durable than ring spun yarn, Point6 showcases its new Colorado Sky High-Ski Ultra Light, a minimalist design paired with backcountry graphics, featuring achilles and arch braces; and Snowboard Powerhouse, a lightweight design with slight cushioning around the calf and under foot where riders need it.

For Big Agnes, it’s all about DownTek™, a treated down that absorbs 30 percent less water and dries 60 percent faster than untreated down. Its 700-fill power DownTek™ Long Draw Parka features vertical stitching with better heat distribution and a nylon rip-stop shell for wind and water resistance.

“The women’s market is super important to us,” says Marketing director Len Zanni, also touting its new Zirkel Circle down skirt and Lucky Penny Vest, which features 60g Pinneco Core synthetic insulation and 100 percent recycled polyester shell.

For fall 2015, SmartWool is taking women’s-specific fit to ski socks with its new seven-style, women’s PhD collection, utilizing a lower volume silhouette, narrower heel pocket and thermal body mapping to mitigate heat and moisture through mesh and elasticity placement. It comes with 4 Degree Elite™ fit for stretch and recovery and ReliaWool™ for durability. IT also debuts its Men’s Corbet 120 midlayer collection, with 120-gram, Merino-based SmartLoft insulation to reduce bulk, Merino lining and a wind-resistant nylon face treated with a DWR finish to offer protection from the elements.

Fashion: Gold and pink are back in

Stylesight, which canvases 40,000 users in more than 3,000 companies, reveals that gold and rust tints are in for next year, as are contrasting tonal combinations — especially those evoking “a natural, earthy feel” — and pink, which “offers a strong look that’s not too feminine.” Tartan and plaid also are making an increased presence in outerwear. Bold patterns, primary color palettes (think jewel tones) and color blocking, especially on zippers, also are key design details.

Nordic

The Nordic market is up 15 percent, led by the women’s sector up 28 percent, according to the Snow Sports Market Intelligence Report. “It’s an exciting time for Nordic skiing,” K2 Outdoor’s Chris McCullough says. “The Olympics brought it to the forefront and it’s enjoying healthy cross-over participation from other endurance sports.”

Trends include resurgence in off-piste touring, fueling more kick-and-glide offerings, weight-savings from carbon, and better price points. “More versatile designs have made touring products easier to use,” sums up Rossignol’s Nick Castagnoli.

For the Telemark crowd, after an absence of new designs during the past few years, fall 2015 will see two new additions to the binding realm. Utah’s Olympus Mountain Gear unveils its new TTS (Telemark Tech System), a new Telemark binding with a Dynafit-style tech toe and a Telemark cable heel. Idaho’s 22 Designs, meanwhile, debuts a new NTN telemark binding called the Outlaw, the industry’s first step-in NTN binding with a true free-pivot for touring. Both bindings require different boots than standard 75mm toe systems.

Fischer debuts its new 125 S-Bound, a super-lightweight back country ski that comes with a new integrated Easy Skin system that attaches through a hole in the forefront of the ski. “It’s a bridge ski between conventional cross-country and backcountry skiing,” Fischer’s Andrew Gardner says.

Also climbing aboard the craze is Madshus, unveiling its new Terrasonic IntelliGrip® Classic ski, which comes with a mohair/nylon IntelliGrip® skin built into its base. “It allows people to spend more time on the track and less time in the wax room,” Madshus’ McCullough says.

Rossignol offers more progressive tip rocker on its wider Nordic Backcountry skis (BC 125, 110, 90) and new constructions, camber profiles and sidecuts on its best-selling EVO Tour and EVO Action skis for easier use and maneuverability. In boots, it’s developed a more forgiving fit in its touring line.





Sean McCoy, managing editor of GearJunkie.com, leads a pack of equipment testers backcountry touring in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains near Alta, with the author assuming his usual spot toward the rear of the line.


Pro skier Cody Barnhill leads us to a precipitous, rocky drop into a couloir at Utah’s Alta ski resort. I’m here with the star of ski flick “Valhalla” and representatives from Dynafit, BOA Technologies and Gore-tex to test the companies’ wares and kick off a whirlwind industry week that includes the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market tradeshow in Salt Lake City and the Ski Industries America tradeshow in Denver.

“All yours,” he says, moving aside.

With that, I drop in, watching the entire Wasatch Range whiz by as I schuss to the resort’s base far below.



The next day we head out on a backcountry tour with representatives from DPS skis, TREW Gear and ProBar, skinning from Alta to Solitude and a slew of powder stashes in between. By day’s end, we arrive to a cold beer at Solitude’s on-snow demo, where even more gear waits on display.

Yep, it’s tradeshow season for the snowsports industry, an annual rite of passage that brings the sport’s most prominent players to Colorado and Utah to showcase their latest wares. Can’t join the hundreds of industry professionals — including reps, retailers and manufacturers — from Steamboat attending the shows? Fear not. We’ve compiled a roundup of freeride products you can expect to see on retailers’ shelves next season.



Protective apparel

Push the envelope far enough and a helmet alone won’t cut it anymore. Long popular in Europe, body protection apparel is now ringing up cash registers domestically as skiers and riders hit parks, pipes and more.

“Back protection is vital,” maintains Salomon’s Chris Mckearin, whose Flexcell spine protector comes with a hard, flexible exoskeleton, removable back pads and air channels for temperature control. Marker debuts protective vests and shorts, engineered with its honeycombed Multi-Impact Adaptive Polymer system, featuring three densities of padding and a honeycomb design for flexibility. “The category’s definitely growing,” Marketing Vice President Geoff Curtis says.

Citing that 25 percent of avalanche fatalities are caused by chest trauma, Backcountry Access (BCA) unveils its MtnPro protective line, including the Vest and Float Vest, featuring front, back and side protection made from a 1 mm hardshell sandwiched between high-density polyethylene foam for protection on mechanized outings. The Float version is equipped with BCA’s proprietary airbag system.

Airbag packs 

Airbags are the latest rage in avalanche protection, keeping skiers and riders on the surface if caught in a slide. Scott Sports tackles the trend with its Air Free and MTN packs, available in 20 to 40 liter sizing. It’s based on inflatable life vest technology with two separate canisters, one of CO2 and the other of Argon as an inflation accelerant.

The Modulator ABS from The North Face makes avalanche airbag systems more accessible by not relegating them to a single pack. This universal ABS system mounts to the exterior of a pack with the trigger located on either shoulder strap.

Powered by compressed air that lets you easily refill the canisters for multiple deployments, backcountry safety pioneer BCA has redesigned its popular Float 22 and 32 avalanche airbag backpacks while adding the new 8-liter Float 8 to its line for minimlaist outings.

The Float 32 (32 liters) includes a fleece-lined goggle pocket, two waistbelt pockets, dual ice axe carrying system, side cinch straps and adjustable waistbelt.  

Backcountry skis

Weight savings for the up and performance for the down — that’s the take-home from the backcountry ski category for 2015-16. “Gear is getting lighter and more efficient,” DPS Skis’ Erme Catino says. “That’s where the momentum’s going.”

Category pioneer Dynafit unveils a new two-model, Free Tour ski collection, including the 108mm-underfoot Chugach ($800) and 118mm-underfoot Hokkido ($900). Both feature elliptical arcs at tip and tail with flat camber underfoot combined with progressive Dynafit Scoop Rocker3. “There’s also a new market for fitness skinning at resorts,” Dynafit’s Eric Henderson says.

Salomon unveils its new 1,390-gram CFX Superfiber MTN Explore 95, with Spaceframe 2.0 design for power, 3-D core for stability, MTN Rocker and G-Spot Technology for skin compatibility. Matching the lightness of its hometown Wastach powder, DPS introduces the touring-specific, prepreg-carbon-sandwich Tour 1 ($1,050) in a new ultralight line weighing 300 grams per ski less than its Pure3. “It’s more focused on the up, yet still built with our proprietary carbon technology and shaping,” DPS’ Catino says. Also joining the weight watchers is La Sportiva with its new carbon nanotube Vapor Svelte ($1,200), a 96mm-underfoot tourer weighing 1,050 grams.

Accommodating skins also is more important. K2 updates its WayBack ($780 to $840), CoomBack ($840 to $900) and Talkback ($780 to $840) skis, all now with pre-cut skin offerings, including universal, self-centering tip hooks and tail clasp. It also introduces new aerospace-grade composite core Konic and Channel Light Core technologies in its new men’s Pinnacle and women’s Luv freeride skis.

Scott breaks out its new composite/paulownia wood core Cascade 110 ($850), a lightweight, progressive-rocker backcountry twin-tip with a new skin fixation system.

Black Diamond introduces three categories of backcountry skis — Ski Mountaineering (Carbon), Freeride (Boundary) and Tour (Link) — designed for the climb and descent. The Carbon series, including the Megawatt ($999.99), Convert ($899.99) and Aspect ($849.99), employ lightweight construction with high-performance carbon. The 3-D sandwich construction Boundary series is all about the down with rockered tips and tails, traditional camber, skin notch and a new sidewall dampening system. The Link series features a softer flex for touring. Fischer’s new Ranger 108 Ti ($850) features Aeroshape construction, an Air Tec Ti wood core and a shovel construction Carbon Tip to shed weight. It comes with tip/tail rocker, reduced camber and tapered shape for enhanced climbing and schralping. Blizzard also enters the light touring sector with its new Zero G Carbon Drive collection ($720 to $960), the lightest SKU in its Freeride category. Available with Swiss Pomoca skins, the ski features a uni-directional carbon frame construction on top which, combined with the sidewall, increases torsional rigidity and aids power transmission.

Manufacturers also are targeting resort-accessed backcountry. “Skis that rip inbounds still need to be light enough for side-country use,” G3’s Gord Bailey says. G3 debuts its hand-laid, powder-oriented Scapegoat Carbon ($929.95), with powder rocker and 40mm tail taper and weighing just 5 pounds, 13 ounces; and its touring-oriented Synapse Carbon 101W ($899.95), weighing just 2 pounds, 14 ounces per ski.

Backcountry bindings

This year it’s all about DIN releasability in the tech-binding world, and “weight, performance and versatility,” Atomic’s Jake Strassburger says.

Dynafit addresses these with a freeride-focused addition to its Beast family called the Beast 14 ($750). It offers a DIN range of 5-14 and reduced weight from its Beast 16 brother. The company also augments its radical line with the lightweight Radical ST 2.0 ($550), retaining the original’s simple operation with the addition of a rotating toe piece for added safety.

Marker enters the tech-binding category with the first tech binding to gain DIN ISO 13992:2007 certification from Germany’s TÜV. The Kingpin ($599/$649) has a configurable release setting thanks to a six-spring toe piece and unique heel with wide contact points for play-free attachment and power. It comes with 7- and 13-degree heel lifts and easy-to-switch walk to ski mode. “Our goal was to engineer a frameless PinTech binding comparable with conventional alpine bindings in performance, comfort and protection,” R&D Director Michael Mangold says.

Black Diamond updates its Fritschi VIPEC ($599.95) binding with a new pin locker system, featuring an easy step-in/out adjustable front pin with enhanced release-ability. “The biggest thing users will notice is a step-in guide for the toe,” Black Diamond’s John Dicuollo says.

G3’s new ION LT weighs 456 grams per binding, with release values of 5-12. The step-in features a snow-clearing channel at the toe, 40-mm mounting pattern and consistent forward heel pressure. “AT bindings have become very acceptable, even to skiers using big freeride skis,” G3’s Bailey says. “Having a forward pressure heel and a wide binding mount enhances durability.”

Backcountry boots

Dynafit debuts its new free-touring Khion Carbon, whose new Precision Lock System locks down all its components in ski mode, increasing rigidity along with a magnesium spoiler and carbon fiber exoskeleton. With a Boa closure system, 90-degree walk motion, One Touch Buckle system and Formula Pomoca sole for grip, it’s compatible with tech- and other touring bindings.

 K2 upgrades its backcountry-oriented Pinnacle 130 and 110 ($650 to $850) with an optional Vibram® ISO 9523 rubber touring sole for traction. Scarpa fleshes out its Freedom line with the stiffer, 130-flex Freedom RS ($849) to augment its P-bax SL, made from Polyamide nylon with uni-sex fitting. It also serves up a re-design of the Freedom ($649), made from a thinner, proprietary polyurethane and Intuition liner. Both retain the original Freedom’s 27 degrees range of motion.

Atomic unveils the Backland Carbon Light, which comes in at 1,040 grams per boot with a carbon spine, frictionless pivot, rockered sole and whopping 74-degree range of motion. It’s also available in a women’s version, the Backland W, offering the same features at 1,000 grams.

Salomon hangs its hat on its new 1,576-grams-per-boot MTN LAB ($900), an Alpine-touring/freeride boot with Sensifit shell, Motion Flex technology, Surelock touring/ski mode mechanism and My Custom Fit 3D full thermo liner. Scott ascends the market with its new 125-flex, four-buckle (plus strap) Superguide Carbon boot, featuring a Powerlite Carbon shell and Grilamid®carbon frame inlays for weight reduction (1,400 grams), a new PowerLight High Gore-tex liner and high-range-of-motion tour mode. It’s also available with Dynafit-certified tech inserts.

La Sportiva debuts the Spitfire 2.0 boot ($899), a two-buckle whose ski/walk mode is built into its cable upper buckle for easy mode switches. Made from carbon and Grilamid, it weighs 2 pounds, 7.8 ounces, offers 68 degrees of range of motion and is compatible with Trab TR2 tech bindings, traditional tech bindings and step-in touring bindings. Its new Sideral 2.0 ($699) is a 2 pounds, 8.5 ounces, all-around ski mountaineering boot with Grilamid shell.

Freeride Ski Apparel

Sure, hardgoods are all the hoopla. But apparel isn’t just sitting back and looking pretty. It, too, is cashing in on the freeride craze with innovations. “There’s a clear trend toward highly technical product,” Black Diamond’s Tara Latham says. “Outdoor consumers are extremely tech savvy.”

Look for apparel designed to perform inbounds and out, with everything from built-in harnesses to avalanche beacon pockets. Black Diamond introduces a new freeride apparel line, including the Schoeller/Primaloft Deployment Hybrid Hoody, with new Cohaesive three-cord hood technology for helmet cinching. Its Mission Pro Pants come with a built-in Poron® XRD™ Impact Foam-protected Pieps Pocket™ with integrated internal harness, Recco technology and boot-access zippers for adjusting buckles.

Dynafit debuts a new collection featuring three-layer Gore-tex C-Knit, including the Yotei Jacket, with chest pockets for skins, a removable mesh powder skirt and an ergonomic wrist cuff. “It excels in fast, repetitive transitions,” says Dynafit’s Eric Henderson, adding that it pairs well with the Yotei pant. Similar features can be found in the new Windstopper Softshell Chugach jacket and pants.

Aspen’s Strafe Outerwear incorporates air permeable/waterproof eVent into its line, also for the uphill/downhill niche. “Other fabrics weren’t cutting it,” Strafe co-owner John Gaston says. “Moisture build-up was a limiting comfort factor when climbing.” The material can be found in its Nomad Jacket and Pants and one-piece Sickbird Suit. 

Helly Hansen showcases its new ULLR freeride outerwear collection, made from Helly Tech® Professional 3L fabric with a new FLOW membrane for enhanced breathability.

“It’s a younger demographic than ski racing and a lifestyle shift,” Manager Philip Tavell says.

The new wares, including the men’s Ridge and women’s Aurora Shell jackets, feature such backpack-friendly modifications as seamless shoulders to reduce abrasion, pocket relocation for accessibility and longer cuts to facilitate waist belts.

Drawing upon its Alpine climbing heritage, Patagonia unveils its new Backcountry Touring Collection, collaboration between its Snow and Alpine teams. 

“It’s as much R&D as we’ve ever put into a category,” Ttechnical Design Manager Glen Morden says.

Models include the Gore-tex C-Knit Refugative jacket; softshell, more Alpine-oriented Kniferidge Jacket and Pant; and Reconnaissance Jacket and Pant, a softshell/hardshell hybrid designed for the up and down with stretch and breathability.

Designed to work around backpacks and harnesses, Fly Low releases its super-lightweight Neoshell kit called the Genius Jacket and IQ pant and three new pieces utilizing water-resistant down, Primaloft Gold and Polartec Alpha. “The insulation wars continue to fly,” founder Dan Abrams says. “Synthetic insulation is taking a swing at the recent push from water-resistant down.”

Under Armour enters the ski outerwear niche with the new Nimbus shell, featuring STORM 3 waterproof and windproof technology in a three-layer Gore-Tex® Pro fabric, with frontal chest zip venting and stretch powder skirt. Also in jackets, TREW Gear debuts The Beast, made from waterproof/breathable private reserve 3L fabric featuring a Dermizax EV membrane, powder skirt with three-point attachment to bibs, shoulder radio pocket and more.

A few from the local side

What are Steamboat-based companies debuting at the show?

Utilizing 100 percent compact spun yarns, which is 25 percent more durable than ring spun yarn, Point6 showcases its new Colorado Sky High-Ski Ultra Light, a minimalist design paired with backcountry graphics, featuring achilles and arch braces; and Snowboard Powerhouse, a lightweight design with slight cushioning around the calf and under foot where riders need it.

For Big Agnes, it’s all about DownTek™, a treated down that absorbs 30 percent less water and dries 60 percent faster than untreated down. Its 700-fill power DownTek™ Long Draw Parka features vertical stitching with better heat distribution and a nylon rip-stop shell for wind and water resistance.

“The women’s market is super important to us,” says Marketing director Len Zanni, also touting its new Zirkel Circle down skirt and Lucky Penny Vest, which features 60g Pinneco Core synthetic insulation and 100 percent recycled polyester shell.

For fall 2015, SmartWool is taking women’s-specific fit to ski socks with its new seven-style, women’s PhD collection, utilizing a lower volume silhouette, narrower heel pocket and thermal body mapping to mitigate heat and moisture through mesh and elasticity placement. It comes with 4 Degree Elite™ fit for stretch and recovery and ReliaWool™ for durability. IT also debuts its Men’s Corbet 120 midlayer collection, with 120-gram, Merino-based SmartLoft insulation to reduce bulk, Merino lining and a wind-resistant nylon face treated with a DWR finish to offer protection from the elements.

Fashion: Gold and pink are back in

Stylesight, which canvases 40,000 users in more than 3,000 companies, reveals that gold and rust tints are in for next year, as are contrasting tonal combinations — especially those evoking “a natural, earthy feel” — and pink, which “offers a strong look that’s not too feminine.” Tartan and plaid also are making an increased presence in outerwear. Bold patterns, primary color palettes (think jewel tones) and color blocking, especially on zippers, also are key design details.

Nordic

The Nordic market is up 15 percent, led by the women’s sector up 28 percent, according to the Snow Sports Market Intelligence Report. “It’s an exciting time for Nordic skiing,” K2 Outdoor’s Chris McCullough says. “The Olympics brought it to the forefront and it’s enjoying healthy cross-over participation from other endurance sports.”

Trends include resurgence in off-piste touring, fueling more kick-and-glide offerings, weight-savings from carbon, and better price points. “More versatile designs have made touring products easier to use,” sums up Rossignol’s Nick Castagnoli.

For the Telemark crowd, after an absence of new designs during the past few years, fall 2015 will see two new additions to the binding realm. Utah’s Olympus Mountain Gear unveils its new TTS (Telemark Tech System), a new Telemark binding with a Dynafit-style tech toe and a Telemark cable heel. Idaho’s 22 Designs, meanwhile, debuts a new NTN telemark binding called the Outlaw, the industry’s first step-in NTN binding with a true free-pivot for touring. Both bindings require different boots than standard 75mm toe systems.

Fischer debuts its new 125 S-Bound, a super-lightweight back country ski that comes with a new integrated Easy Skin system that attaches through a hole in the forefront of the ski. “It’s a bridge ski between conventional cross-country and backcountry skiing,” Fischer’s Andrew Gardner says.

Also climbing aboard the craze is Madshus, unveiling its new Terrasonic IntelliGrip® Classic ski, which comes with a mohair/nylon IntelliGrip® skin built into its base. “It allows people to spend more time on the track and less time in the wax room,” Madshus’ McCullough says.

Rossignol offers more progressive tip rocker on its wider Nordic Backcountry skis (BC 125, 110, 90) and new constructions, camber profiles and sidecuts on its best-selling EVO Tour and EVO Action skis for easier use and maneuverability. In boots, it’s developed a more forgiving fit in its touring line.


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