Sizzling parking lot bacon, spilled PBR, a high turnout of faded denim–NASCAR races and spring skiing have a lot more in common than their respective participants might care to admit. After a historically deep winter across North America, let’s take a look back at some of the gear that dominated the hill this winter.
We spoke with evo’s ski buyer Laura Holman about some of the biggest trends the Seattle-based retailer saw this winter.
Backcountry skiing is the hot thing to do right now, there’s no getting around that. As new skiers pour into the backcountry at an exponential rate, it’s no surprise that alpine touring gear has become the focus of many brands and retailers.
“A lot of skiers really want to have just one setup, and brands are responding to that, with boots, bindings, and skis that are designed to be skied in and out of bounds,” says Holman.
Salomon and Atomic’s new Shift Binding, which features the step-in and security of a burly alpine binding as well as pin-tech touring capabilities, is a key example of the desire for a midweight, high-performing option that offers ultimate versatility between the resort and backcountry. Holman says they expected the Shift to do well when it launched last fall, but they had no idea how well; “We literally can’t keep enough in stock,” she says.
Atomic’s Hawx Ultra Xtd 130 Alpine Touring Boot was evo’s best-selling overall boot this year, not just for the backcountry category.
“Brands are taking the technology they used to make lightweight touring boots, like thinner plastic, and applying that to their downhill line,” Holman explains, adding that while Titanal (the most common metal used in ski construction) still holds a strong presence, it’s not necessarily tip to tail– instead, brands are incorporating shaped metal constructions, like Volkl’s M5 Mantra, to create a more optimal balance of strength to weight.
Interestingly enough, while touring bindings and boots are at an all-time high, climbing skin sales haven’t seen the same uptake. “Touring is really aspirational,” says Holman. “Whether or not they’re actually skiing in the backcountry, a lot of customers want a boot or binding that has the option.”
For The Ladies
Women now make up half of all participants in skiing, and brands are focusing more than ever on customizing products specifically for women. Holman says women’s ski and snowboard sales have increased 7 percent from 2009 to 2017.
“We see brands like Blizzard/Tecnica really looking to gain a deeper understanding of the female market and what women really want and need in equipment,” she says. “They’re actually changing tech specs and construction of the ski, instead of the classic ‘shrink it and pink it’ protocol.”
Blizzard’s Women to Women initiative, which began in 2015, works with women of all ski levels, backgrounds, and body types to develop skis and boots that meet their needs.
Blizzard’s Black Pearl and Sheeva skis, which use Blizzard’s women’s-specific Carbon Flipcore construction, were some of evo’s top sellers this year, alongside the Black Crows Atris Birdie and Coalition Snow’s SOS skis. “There are more women at the table on the back end of production now,” Holman says. “The female voice is louder than ever and it’s really cool to see the industry moving in that direction.”
Mid-fat skis have been slowly edging their way back to center stage in the last few years. “There’s far less demand for ultra-fat powder skis like there was maybe five years ago,” says Holman. The Volkl M5 Mantra and Armada ARV skis were evo’s top two sellers on the men’s side, both with a 96-millimeter waist.
“The industry is circling back to right around to that standard, versatile, 100 underfoot ski,” she explains. “Skiers are looking for versatility now, instead of investing in two or three different setups. There will always be a place for a 130 ski, but the drawbacks outweigh the benefits on 99 percent of the days you’re actually skiing.”
Holman also added that developing ski technology allows a slimmer ski to perform better in deeper conditions, like with Atomic’s Horizon Tech. The tip convexity in Horizon Tech, seen in the Bent Chetler 100 and the Backland series, creates more surface area in the tip of the ski, allowing more float and stability like a wider ski, without the dimensions of one.
Holman says that evo’s also seen a solid uptake in carving skis, especially on the east coast. The Atomic Redster X9 and Blizzard Firebird WRC were popular styles this winter. “We’ve seen a lot of skiers looking for narrow, low 70mm underfoot carving skis. again,” she says.
“I think skiers are remembering that in the right conditions—which happens more often than pow days—a narrow ski is the right fit.”