Following on from this post which looked at apparel trends for winter 2015 / 2016, I’m going to take a look at what’s going on with where equipment is concerned next winter. As is often the case during the winter season, most of the big product stories and developments through the industry originated in the ski and snowboard sectors and less so in pure outdoor. Much like on the apparel side of things, it’s backcountry specific brands and products that are a really driving change and innovation where equipment is concerned.
Avalanche safety continues to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind it seems. Obviously this can only be a good thing and the increasing number of folks heading into the mountains in search of powder is pushing brands and their designers to come up with new solutions to improving avalanche safety.
The biggest trend in recent years in avalanche safety has without doubt been the increase in use of airbags. Last winter saw the release of Black Diamond’s long awaited JetForce technology to great acclaim. There isn’t anything quite so revolutionary coming next winter but there’s still some interesting stuff.
Next winter The North Face will release their new airbag product in conjunction with ABS (see image above). The Modulator ABS is designed to be compatible with any pack. Not just any existing airbag pack but any pack full stop. The Modulator attaches onto whatever pack you have already and voila, you got yourself an avalanche airbag.
I guess this is an obvious idea but one that hasn’t been done before. It’s a natural evolution of Mammut’s RAS concept and should make airbag safety more accessible and easier to use than ever. The North Face have been responsible for some pretty awesome developments in design and technology recently and this idea is another on the list that includes both FuseForm and Thermoball, to name just two. Despite the fact that they’ve become such a huge phenomenon, the brand is still able to be progressive and relevant in 2015.
Pin Binding Revolution
Following on from the revolutionary Fritschi Diamir Vipec binding, the pin backcountry ski binding market has gone into overdrive for winter 15/16. More binding manufacturers will offer a backcountry pin biding than ever and it’s the Marker Kingpin binding that seems to have captured most people’s attention.
The Kingpin combines the lightweight efficiency of a pin binding with the robustness and safety features of a trad alpine binding. On the up track the Kingpin is designed to be fast and easy to use, just like a dedicated touring binding. On the downhill however it provides a much stiffer and more solid feel than a traditional touring binding and also has a pre-determined release setting like an alpine binding.
This makes the Kingpin and others like it a great option for so called ‘freeride touring’ and any time when the skier doesn’t want to sacrifice downhill performance by opting for a for a lightweight touring package. The Kingpin is therefore aimed at adventurous skiers who tour to access powder stashes and big mountain lines.
Creativity in Snowboarding
Despite that fact the number of people going snowboarding worldwide seems to be on the decline from a creative point of view (and creativity is an important part of snowboarding) I think the sport is actually pretty healthy. Boutique brands seem to be popping up everywhere and there’s undoubtedly a big time shape revolution going on.
This revolution is in part driven by surfing. Surfing has always shared many cultural similarities with snowboarding, along with some fairly obvious physical ones. Inspired by the recent upsurge in popularity of backcountry snowboarding, many snowboard brands are increasing the number of surfboard inspired powder boards in their line.
The Jones Storm Chaser was designed in conjunction with legendary snowboard shaper Chris Christenson. The surfboard like shape and camber is designed to provide unparalleled float in powder. The Storm Chaser will become a reference point for surf like snowboards next winter.
Other notable examples of the upturn in creativity in the snowboarding include new brand KORUA Shapes. Winter 2015 /16 will be the Swiss brands second season in production. Their exciting line of boards pretty much represent the zeitgeist in snowboard design and production right now.
K2 are another brand who have been playing around with different concepts in snowboard shaping. The Cool Bean is has been getting a ton of attention since its debut at ISPO a couple of months ago. Again its design is rooted in both surfing and powder riding but this board is designed to be fun over the whole mountain and not just in the deep stuff.