Monday, 08. February 2016
Ski Hardware: Dynamic development and back to the slopes
We are not sure whether it is the untouched powder that Freeride enthusiasts have been searching for and finding only way up high in the mountains? Or whether it is the statistic that of the 15 million people who currently ski about a third is now aged 60 and above? Fact is the market is changing, and flexibility is in demand. The ski industry has begun to re-focus on the large number of recreational to advanced skiers, and women, in particular, will have access to a higher number of innovations for resort skiing in the 2016/17 season than in the preceding years.
Climate researcher Andrea Fischer brings the challenges of climate change to a point by explaining that snowfall on Christmas Eve in alpine valleys has actually become a meteorological exception. Another fact is that the desire for retreat, active recreation and the enjoyment of snowy winter days in an alpine environment has been on the rise. Ski lift operators and other winter sports tourism providers have reacted as much as possible with modifications to their services and infrastructure, and try their best to ensure that even at the beginning of winter skiing down to the ski lift base is possible by maintaining the slopes with the help of manmade snow. Austrian ski resorts have invested close to 154 million Euros in artificial snow equipment for this winter alone.
Of course, the ski industry is also reacting and continues to display enormous segmentation—providing everything for all facets of the sport on two boards. However, the selection of light touring, wide free-touring as well as twin-tip skis for the fun park has become a little more subdued than it was during the years of the growing boom. One of the reasons is likely the lack of snow, yet also the rather elaborate technique and conditions, requirements for this sport, which is not for everyone. The rather high-end Freeride and Special Touring sectors will likely continue to grow—albeit remaining more low-key. The interest in discovering nature, finding a balance and gaining fitness is increasing. In addition, more and more winter destinations are creating the appropriate infrastructure, such as marked, secured Freeride terrain and options for touring on groomed runs.
As consumers were able to experience the most technological improvements in these specialized segments in the recent past, the 2016/17 season will see a number of wider, longer, yet quiet-running skis as well as new shapes (Scott 124 Scrapper) for extreme skiers. New are lightweight wood cores that promise the full performance thanks to torsion-resistant construction. Despite all these features that are supposed to ensure clean turns “off the beaten track”, the many small, very innovative “garage brands” are the ones who bring us even further advanced models in more agile widths, promising improved control even on groomed slopes.
Among touring skis anyone from novices to race-oriented enthusiasts can look forward to models with decreased weight. In lengths up to 160 centimeters and narrower widths some of them even come close to the magical one-kilo-limit per ski without binding. Next season racers in the ski touring segments will even have a ski at their disposal weighing only 500 grams without binding. Despite lighter and lighter weights manufacturers succeed in increasing downhill performance: New side cut construction, hi-tech materials such as carbon inserts, as well as lightweight wood cores, sometimes also cork inlays (e.g. Scott Speedguide) are being used to ensure more forgiving performance under a variety of conditions. Add to this wider shapes and longer touring models.
While tourism destinations have to stage their offers in a new and more attractive way and generate emotions to keep up with all the changes, ski manufacturers have to produce innovations to remain successful. “On-piste skiing” seems to be the predominant topic returning to the discussion. A the last ‘Interski Congress’ in Argentina the consensus was that from an international perspective the trend is returning to natural skiing. In essence, instead of radical the penchant is for rather balanced waist shapes, instead of extreme turn speeds the focus is more on modified and safe speeds. And all that preferably with perfect, clean and elegant ski technology. “Following the two winters of 2013/14 and now 2015/16 with little to no snow,” adds Heiko Klein, Senior Product Manager Hardware Ski and Snowboard for INTERSPORT Germany, “Freeride skis are having a hard time in retail. The trend is clearly turning back towards on-piste skis.” Rainer Schramm, CEO of alpine ski market leader Head, also reports that in Germany it has become clear that most skiers tend to prefer the groomed runs.
So it is no surprise that despite the currently difficult conditions on the overall market there are many, some even expanded, ranges of on-piste and all-mountain skis present at ISPO MUNICH 2016. Models for every condition and skill level, for men as well as women. There is increased focus on improved quality as well as comfortable starter pricing; they are slated to ensure that good quality remains affordable.
While some manufacturers work particularly on their top segments, such as race (Fischer) or improved shock absorption (Dynastar) in skis and bindings without making the skis too cumbersome or less controllable, the majority of brands are once again offering more dependable, easy to control on-piste skis as well as narrower all-mountain models targeting an even broader range of skiers. There are improvements in riding comfort, creating skis that are fun to use on groomers as well as easy to ride in powder, offering a certain degree of versatility and multi-functionality (e.g. Line Ski). There is also demand for performance-oriented, athletic skis that offer great enjoyment both in tracked terrain and powder. The skier is meant to feel happy and safe with one and the same pair of skis to enjoy a weeklong ski vacation. This ski will allow him to ski well on compacted and slushy snow, to drift and carve, feature light weight, and thanks to improved rocker technology will allow him to initiate and control his turns without a lot of effort. Furthermore, thanks to improved combinations of ski boots, skis with integrated, now wider binding plates and the matching bindings direct energy transmission is improved and optimized.