Friday, November 29, 2013

Winter gear continues to evolve

Alpine and backcountry worlds are blending

Express Staff Writer

Brian Williams at Backwoods Mountain Sports shows off the new 45 North insulated snowbiking boot.
Express photo by Willy Cook

    Though local outdoor-gear retailers don’t report any major innovations this year, manufacturers continue to invent new technologies and apply older ones to new uses.
    Olin Glenne, owner of Sturtevants in Ketchum, said ski companies are refining their use of rocker and camber to better match skis’ sidecuts. He said some of the wide powder skis, including the Rossignol Soul 7 ($750) and the Volkl Katana VWerks ($1,100) are using carbon-fiber and have a honeycomb design in their tips and tails to reduce swing weight there.
    “Carbon allows us to make a light ski that’s not ridiculously soft,” he said. “These powder skis are so wide that weight becomes an issue.”
    Though wide skis are standard for skiing powder and crud now, Bob Gordon, owner of Formula Sports in Ketchum, said manufacturers are easing back on the widths of their all-mountain skis.
    “The narrower skis hold better on firm snow,” he said.
    Those include the K2 Amp Bolt ($1,099) and the Blizzard Power 800S ($999).
    Technology from alpine-touring gear continues to creep into standard ski equipment. “Sidecountry” bindings, such as the Marker Baron ($329), can be switched to walk mode and allow the skier’s heel to lift free of the ski to facilitate climbing an out-of-bounds ridge to catch some fresh tracks after most of Baldy has been skied out.
    “It’s a bomber binding on the groomed as well,” Glenne said.
    A set of climbing skins, easily carried in a small backpack until needed, will make the climb even easier.
    Some of the boots carried in alpine ski shops this year have a slight rocker to the sole, as well as tread, to make walking in boots easier.
    Jeremy Hickey at Ski Tek in Ketchum, which specializes in custom footbeds, said he thinks the Dalbello Lupo ($679) is leading the pack in sidecountry boots. The boot comes with a moldable Intuition liner.
    “It’s got an awesome fit,” he said. “It’s a real on-mountain boot with a walk mode.”
    Hickey also pointed to the Atomic Waymaker Carbon ($775) as an innovator, with its rubber section along the “sixth-toe” area on the outside of the boot. He said the concept was originally used in rental boots, and worked so well that it’s now being used on retail boots.
    “That eliminates a lot of boot work,” he said.
    Mike O’Hara at Pete Lane’s at River Run said boots have generally gotten easier to get on and off as well as easier to walk around in. He said manufacturers’ lineups this year include boots with less forward lean, since the shorter skis, many with some rocker, don’t require as much pressure on the tips to get them to turn, and a more upright stance is easier on the thighs.
    O’Hara said his shop puts a custom footbed in every pair of boots that it sells, and many customers add custom liners. One is the Italian-made Zip Fit liner ($310), which uses heatable cork to mold the fit. O’Hara said more cork can be sprayed in, making the liner a good choice for people with narrow feet.
    A new competitor in the boot world is K2. Brian Webber at PK’s Ski and Sports in Ketchum said K2’s Spyne 110 ($499) uses carbon fiber in the spine to create the forward flex, reducing outward deflection in the lower half of the boot. The boots also come with an Intuition liner.
    In the Nordic world, Nappy Neaman at The Elephant’s Perch in Ketchum said the biggest innovation this year is Fischer’s Speed Max skate skis. The ski’s sintered (wax-absorbing) base is glued on after the rest of the ski is molded. Neaman said that when the base is molded with the rest of the ski, as has traditionally been done, its pores get partially closed. He said the new method results in a ski that’s 15 percent faster. He speculated that at least with existing technology, the process can’t be used on alpine skis since the base has to be molded with the edges.
    With an increase in sales of snowbikes, more people are enjoying their winter recreation by rolling across the snow as well as sliding on it. Neaman said The Elephant’s Perch expects to do a brisk business in rentals of the super-fat-tire bikes this winter to people who want to strap on a headlamp and go riding on the bike path after work or after skiing.
    Brian Williams at Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum said new accessories are quickly being invented to go with the bikes. One is the 45 North insulated biking boot ($325), which includes a cleat to step into your pedals. Williams said the go-almost-anywhere bikes are opening up new worlds of touring.
    Clothing manufacturers continue to put modern technology into making outdoor garments lighter, warmer and more waterproof. Libby Holtz at Backwoods Mountain Sports points to the North Face Thermoball parka as an example of synthetic insulation’s closing in on replacing down for lightweight gear. The company’s Primaloft insulation uses fibers that are cut into long strands, rather than sheets, giving them more loft and allowing them to be packed tighter. But unlike down, if they get wet, they still provide insulation.

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