Checked out quite a bit of new product today, with emphasis on AT ski gear. I’m getting concerned with what’s now a strong trend in randonnee gear — that of making it heavier, rather than lighter. Reminds me of the telemark industry. Every year brings us heavier bindings and boots, while the lightweight binding end is held up by only several offerings from (Dynafit, Silvretta Pure), and nothing truly innovative in lightweight boots has come out since the Scarpa F1 several years ago. I’m all for beefy randonnee gear to keep agro boys happy, but it’s obvious the hard core touring crowd is being left out. Naxo has gone from 2 heavy bindings to four (adding a women’s model and a midweight unit), Fritschi has beefed all their models, Garmont has 8 randonnee boot models that all look nice, but nothing innovative this year on the lightweight end, and so on.
I believe much of what’s going on here is that it’s become stylish to have randonnee bindings on your skis — even if you use them seldom (to never) for touring, only for lift skiing. This happened with telemarking. Lift skiers take over the sport, and the gear gets huge because they mostly want downhill performance. At least with telemarking you’re actually using the binding to do something different than an alpine binding. If you’re skiing randonnee gear and not using it for touring, could you qualify as a style victim? Only you know for sure. (Ditto for telemarkers, of course).
Part of the problem with lightweight gear might be that Dynafit has a lock on that part of the market what with most lighter AT boots being Dynafit compatible, yet the Dynafit pin/socket boot interface is patented. Thus, even thought the boots are out there, no one but Dynafit can make lightweight bindings for them. I’ve heard that at least parts of the Dynafit patent might be expiring soon. If so, that could get interesting real quick.
On a lighter note, Outdoor Retailer booth displays have gradually become slicker over past years. Indeed, the whole backcountry gear scene is obviously evolving into more glitz and glitter. A little eye candy is always welcome (booth guys and babes, giant LCD screens with excellent adventure footage catching your eye, etc.) but we’d hate to see things go totally Hollyweird. Perhaps the best example we saw of something cool but not over produced is a compelling display of gear frozen in crystal clear blocks of ice. At first I thought it had to be some sort of resin that looked like water ice, but no, it’s real. Check out the photo below (the boot is actually inside the ice.)