Happy New Year friends! May your 2014 be full of safe and fun snow — especially of the low density variety known in some parts of the world as POWDER. I consulted with Obewhanskinobie on the following, so any complaints leave a comment to him, not me. I’ll take credit for predicting anything that does happen (grin).
1. Swap sole ski boots will virtually disappear from the market within 24 months.
2. One-kilo (plus or minus) backcountry skis will become the norm.
3. New technology will appear that takes place of fur (plush) climbing skins.
4. Tech 2.0 will provide a wider boot/binding interface at heel of boot, with more vertical elasticity than most current tech bindings. Hint to binding makers: Make a better heel, provide a swap-on fitting for the boot heel that goes with it, done. A major brand already got this started, but they missed the opportunity to widen the actual boot/binding interface at the heel. New bindings coming out this season look good, but most if not all appear to have stayed with the meager interface width.
5. Boot breathing technology will eliminate sweaty hot feet during ski touring.
6. Compressed gas filled avalanche airbags will disappear from the market to be replaced by electric fan technology.
7. Commercial innovation in telemark gear will virtually disappear, but continue in garages and workshops of the few holdouts.
8. 2-way radio communication will become lighter, easier to manage, common, and built into smartphones.
9. Smartphones will replace stand-alone GPS for most ski alpinists.
10. Skiers in the United States will push for huts located at higher elevations, in prime skiing terrain.
11. Fixed length lightweight carbon ski poles will take a much larger market share.
12. Uphill skiing at resorts will become huge, resorts will begin to treat as revenue stream but will need several more years to figure it all out and realize you make money off uphillers not by charging them to ski, but by selling them beer.
13. Price of tech bindings will lower, but skis will continue to be expensive due to the use of space-age weight saving materials and sophisticated engineering. Boutique skis will have to follow suit or we may see a consolidation of the ski market as only bigger companies with deep pockets and human capital will be able to compete in the intense weight vs. performance category.
14. Demographic of ski touring in North America will continue to broaden, achieving 50% female within 4 years and with an ever increasing age range. Eventually, demographic profile will match European alpine countries.
15. Split snowboard technology will continue fast paced growth, with a significant percentage of backcountry sliders using snowboards instead of skis. Snowshoes will hold their market share as a conveyance due the proliferation of hardened skin tracks, but the splitboard will continue to be the desired mode for any serious backcountry snowboarder.
16. As backcountry skiers’ average vertical-feet-per-day continues to increase, boots will replace antiquated construction with components such as friction-free cuff pivots and downhill/uphill mode changes that truly require only one motion — at the most. Eventually, you will simply step into your binding and ski, with no prep whatsoever — including switching your “skins” on and off with a button on your ski pole grip. Come to think of it, that same switch might even flip your bindings over to ski mode, so you’re doing zero “step-in” action and no fiddling with machinery.
There you go folks, we’ll see what happens! Meanwhile, I’ll be the first to offer that today’s gear is pretty good. In my view, the single biggest problem continues to be durability. Due to the constraints of pricing and weight reduction, we continue to see gear that fails all too soon. For example, I was deploying some climbing skins just a few days ago and the tail fix parts popped off and flew across the parking lot. Boot soles could be improved, cuff pivots wear out. Ptex ski bases continue to be a limiting factor when you start working truly gnarly terrain, as they gouge and scratch all too easily. Backpacks continue to struggle with durability vs weight; I just got an evaluation pack that masses at almost 5 pounds — while another of our eval packs is much lighter but has no compression straps. Both backpacks could stand much improvement — including the use of stronger fabric than WWII era nylon. And clothing. I have a favorite mid-layer with a breast pocket where I like to keep my beacon. One morning, I stick my beacon in there, the seam rips out, and my transceiver falls to the concrete. Thus, the frontier for gear improvements is as wide open as ever. Yeah, perhaps the perfect ski jacket will never exist — thankfully, nature produces perfect powder on occasion!
Again, Happy New Year friends!