Are you conversant In the language of freeskiing? You should be. The number of people calling themselves “alpine skiers” is down 19 percent, while the number of people self-identifying as “freeskiers” is up 47 percent, according SIA’s annual participant survey. “It was an incredible change in a single season,” says SIA’s director of research, Kelly Davis.
“Ask people what they think when they think of alpine, and it’s old-folks home—it’s about the perfect turn and perfect form. Freeskiing is about freedom. Anything goes. It’s more about fun,” says Davis. She says retailers would be wise to pay attention to the freeskiing culture.
That said, be careful before loading up on twin-tips and fat skis—the kinds of skis you might identify with freeskiing. In fact, SIA’s research shows that twin-tip sales may have finally plateaued, topping out at just over 30 percent of the market, while the gradual decline of flat-tailed skis (including “slight twins”) appears to have found bottom. “A whole lot of freeskiers are buying flat-tailed skis,” says Davis.
Meanwhile, retailers are begging manufacturers for carryover models and overall line consolidation, suppliers admit they’ve done little to reduce the breadth of their lines and say they worry that carryover models will be overshadowed by new models from competitors.
Shrinking Waist Widths
Indeed the most important trend in ski sales going into the 2014 sell-in season is that consumers are pulling back on waist widths. Part of it is weather-related: Two low-snow winters certainly played a role in undermining demand for powder-ready fat skis. Part of it is saturation: Those inclined to add a powder specialty tool to their quivers have done so. “Now consumers want a ski that does it all, that goes anywhere, and manages a lot of conditions,” Davis says.
Versatility is the name of the game. “The 95- to 110-mm range is where the top sellers are,” says Alex Clarey, business analyst at Armada. “You get up above 110 and the consumer has to worry about whether we’ll get snow; below 95, you lose soft-snow versatility. We’ve added a considerable number of models in that range, in both park and all-mountain.”
“It’s exhausting to be on the wrong ski for the conditions,” says Willy Booker, president of Nordica, which launches a new line of midfats called NRGy. “People want a ski that does everything well. There’s still a lot to learn about how to make skis ski better across multiple snow conditions.” Faction will debut the Candide 2.0, engineered for versatility with a 102-mm waist, large tip rocker for float, and medium tail rocker for on-piste precision. Kästle reports it’s utilizing more early rise tips on all-mountain skis, less full rocker, reverse camber, and joining the trend toward the midfat silhouette, with the introduction of the 98-mm MX98 to its MX Line.
Recognizing the need to offer slimmer waists for everyday skiing, Icelantic adds two models, the Gypsy and Keeper, to its SKNY (skinny) line. “We took our four most popular models and made skinny versions of them,” says Icelantic team manager Scotty VerMerris. “The idea was to cater to a broader market and specifically the Eastern skier.” Rossignol is also offering narrower-waisted models, like the completely redesigned Experience 88, and lightening skis across the Experience series with the use of Air Tip technology.
Companies are taking what they’ve learned from building powder skis and applying it to midfats. “Tapering of the tip and tail is an important trend in fat skis, and we’re working to scale that down to narrower waists and focusing on how it works in concert with rocker for next-level performance,” says Mike Gutt, global marketing director for K2, which has added a 90-mm model to its Rictor line. Völkl updates its popular Mantra with a new 100-mm waist width and new sidecut geometry with early taper in the tip, combined with full rocker. At the Show, Icelantic will introduce its first rockered park ski, the Da’nollie. (Also look for The Framewall, a new twin tip from Head with an innovative new 360 degree sidewall construction for enhanced durability.)
Fat skis aren’t dead yet, however. Völkl adds the 135-mm Three to its powder collection. “It’ll be an image piece,” says Geoff Curtis, VP of marketing for Völkl. “Something for our athletes and cool window dressing for retailers.” Atomic’s Bent Chetler gets an overhaul with a new 120-mm waist, horizontal rocker for more tip surface area, and poplar com- bined with carbon stringers in the core for lightness. For next season, Blizzard adds a tail notch for skins to its 108-mm Scout.
Brands like DPS, Surface, and Liberty still embrace fat skis. “We’re a Western company, so we still sell a fair amount of powder skis,” says Tom Winter, Liberty’s VP of marketing. Still, even a brand like Liberty sees people opting for midfats. “Our Helix 105, that’s a man- ageable waist width for most people, and that’s the meat of the market,” says Winter.
Weight Loss Plan
Light is good, though not in and of itself; suppliers are looking to shave weight without compromising performance. “If you can make something that weighs less and performs as well or better, that’s a convenience,” says Erik Anderson sales director, winter sports equipment at Salomon, which introduces lighter skis in the new X-Drive series. “On the low end, that can mean a ski that’s easier to carry around the base area. On the upper end, a lighter ski can be quicker,” says Anderson. “But if you make something lighter and it gets skittery, that’s not a good thing.”
Dynastar continues to refine rocker and sidecut while introducing lighter weight con- structions across the categories. Look for the new CHAM 117, a lightweight addition to the Cham freeride series. Three years in the making, Line’s Magnum Opus powder ski, the fattest ski in the Eric Pollard signature line, features a light and airy “cloud core” of balsa and flax wood. Fischer’s new Motive 95, a versatile midfat with 95-mm waist and tip rocker, features a lightweight AirTec Ti core. The company reduces core weight by 25 percent by milling out a layer of titanium and milling wood cores with a special pattern.
(From the SIA Snow Show Preview)