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Skiing and Snowboarding : Gear

Adidas miCoach Smart Ball

If you still haven't caught at least a twinge of World Cup fever, then you might as well be Ann Coulter (seriously, lady, you’re supposed to be pro America!).

Personally, it’s made us want to get back out on the pitch, even if we haven’t kicked a ball around since elementary school. To remedy our rusty skills, we’ve been been messing around with Adidas’s miCoach smart ball, which functions sort of like a friendly U11 coach.

Integrated sensors built into the size 5 regulation weight ball provide almost instant feedback about the speed, spin, trajectory, and strike point of our kicks to an accompanying smartphone app. And supplemental coach notes tell us what all that data means (though some are admittedly more helpful than others. Helpful: "To get a better power kick, the ball spin should be below 150 rpm." Less helpful, but encouraging: "It takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at a task").

Adidas also thoughtfully incorporated various challenges for once we master the basics, so we’ll be able to practice bending and knuckleballing like the pros. Our touches might be slower than they once were, but we’re going to crush the competition at next week’s co-ed rec game.

$300, adidas.com 

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Blowing Up: Inflatable Gear of the Future

Inflatable gear is nothing new. You probably even have a Therm-a-Rest or blow-up raft stored in your gear shed as you read this.

Now, designers are getting more creative with their inflatable designs. Stand-up paddleboards, tents, and even snowshoes can be set up with an air pump—or some powerful lungs. That means lighter, more portable gear for you.  

Black Diamond Halo Jetforce Avalanche Airbag ($1,275)

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Few inflatable products have drawn as much buzz as Black Diamond's new avalanche-safety bag. The Halo Jetforce revolutionizes the airbag pack, making it more versatile and practical for most backcountry skiers.

Jetforce technology uses a battery-powered fan instead of a compressed-gas cylinder, so you deploy can the airbag multiple times on a single trip. You'll also save money since canisters are good only once before they have to be refilled, which can be expensive. They're also difficult to travel with because of TSA restrictions.

Klymit Ulaar Jacket ($295)

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If there's an inflatable revolution, expect Klymit to lead the charge. The company has developed a seam-welding technology that allows it to produce products like ultralight cutout sleeping pads and inflatable pack rafts. It's even trying to replace old rigid backpack frames with air-filled ones.

The company's most impressive product to date has been its inflatable clothing, which was initially funded through Kickstarter. Both the Ulaar jacket and Double Diamond vest allow the wearer to dial in the amount of insulation using argon gas. The weightless compound provides better insulation than fibrous materials because it won't get wet and weigh you down. 

Heimplanet The Cave ($670)

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Inflatable tents are no longer reserved for carnivals and used-car lots. Hamburg, Germany–based Heimplanet has developed expedition-worthy air-pole shelters.

Stefan Clauss and Stefan Schulze Dieckhoff founded the company in 2010 because they wanted a tent that was quick and easy to pitch even in bad weather or at night. They created the Cave, a geodesic structure of air chambers that can be inflated from a single point.

If a frame section fails, a built-in safety system allows the user to separate the chambers. (You likely don't have to worry about this, however: Videos show the tent holding up to 60 mph gusts.) As a bonus, the tent looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica.

Hövding Helmet ($410)

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Swedish company Hövding set out to develop a bike helmet that acts like the airbag in your car. Dozens of sensors in the helmet monitor the cyclist's movement. At the first sign of an abnormality (read: a crash), the helmet inflates and covers the rider's head and neck. Crash tests show the helmet inflating in less than a second, well before the cyclist hits the ground.

Worn around the neck, the uninflated helmet looks more like a bulky scarf than a typical lid. Take note: This helmet isn't designed for mountain biking. "Since it's based on movements from people cycling normally in the city, it could be 'oversensitive' while cycling downhill or jumping," says company spokesperson Maria Persson.

NRS Baron 6 ($1,395)

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Inflatable stand-up paddleboards make a lot of sense in environments from whitewater rivers to high alpine lakes. They're easier to transport, harder to damage, and lighter than their fiberglass counterparts.

If you're looking for a casual-float board, check out NRS's Baron line. At six inches thick and 358 liters of volume, the board could almost accommodate the whole family next time you take to the river.

Like many inflatable SUPs, the Baron inflates to 15 psi, which keeps the board rigid and helps it glide smoothly. The triple-fin setup is versatile enough for rivers, lakes, or even catching a few waves.

Billabong V1 Wetsuit ($TBD)

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After nearly drowning at California big-wave spot Mavericks, pro surfer Shane Dorian wanted a wetsuit that would help keep him safe. So Billabong and maritime safety company Mustang Survival teamed up to design a special suit.

Dorian repeatedly tested the V1 suit in huge waves and found that his time held underwater dramatically decreased with it on. In 2011, the suits were distributed to a handful of elite surfers, but the research and development continued, and Billabong still doesn't know when the product will go to market.

In the meantime, other companies began to follow suit. Patagonia developed the Portable Self-Inflation (or PSI) vest, and big-wave pioneer Jeff Clark helped come up with the Quatic Inflatable Surf Vest. Few of the products are available to the public yet, but expect to see more prototypes this year and next.

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First Look: Whisky 70W Carbon Fat Rim and 45NRTH Vanhelga Tire

Whisky Parts Co., the boutique carbon bike and accessories manufacturer under the QBP umbrella, today unveiled the first-ever tubeless-ready, carbon-fiber fat bike rim.

The 70W No.9 Rim uses a double-wall construction for durability and ease of sealing, and a recessed channel to keep the rim tape clear of the bead hook for a clean seal. The 70mm-wide rims are optimized for tires between three-point-eight and four inches, though Whisky says they will work just fine with the biggest tires on the market.

Whisky teamed up with winter bike accessory specialists 45NRTH to craft a compatible tire. The result: the Vanhelga, a four-inch-wide folding tubeless-ready tire with chunky knobs, extensive siping for traction, and tighter bead tolerances to ensure a leak-free seal with the new rim. There’s also a new flat edge along the bottom of the bead, which creates more contact with the rim shelf.

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We received a test set of the rims laced to Salsa hubs, and the setup couldn’t have been easier. Included in the kit were valve stems and lightweight rim tape, and after we dumped in four ounces per wheel of sealant, the Vanhelga tires set up onto the rims with reassuring pops.

Many racers have already been running their fat bikes tubeless, but the broad range of rim and tire combos, plus the wide tolerances in tire production, has made sealing tricky and burping air common.

The fact that Whisky and 45NRTH have built these products in tandem should ensure that they provide better tubeless performance than anything else on the market. You can run these tires with as low of pressure as you want and not have to worry about blowouts or losing the bead from the rim.

Though the 70W should provide a suppler ride than comparable aluminum rims, the biggest advantage will be weight savings. We swapped the new wheels onto a bike that came equipped with Surly Marge Lite rims and Nate tires to shave exactly two pounds off the bike. That’s a massive savings in rotating weight.

Whisky isn’t the only company entering the tubeless-fat-tire market. Last week, Stan’s No Tubes announced the 52mm wide Hugo, an aluminum rim that marks the company’s first foray into the fat bike world.

The profusion of parts and bikes for the fat market shows that the trend continues to mature and catch on. In the last few months, RockShox debuted the Bluto, the first fat bike suspension fork, which was the precursor to Salsa debuting its sexy Bucksaw, the first production full-suspension fat bike. Both are good indications that fat biking is moving beyond just the snow and cold-weather niche. 

The 70W No.9 Rims will sell for $600 apiece and will be available this fall. Whisky also plans to announce complete wheel builds soon. The 45NRTH Vanhelga tires will come in two models, 120tpi for $155 and 60tpi for $125, and will go on sale in September.

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How High Can GoPro Go?

By this point, GoPro cameras have been used to film just about every activity on the planet, from BASE jumps to baby’s first steps to surgical operations. Amateurs affix to them to dogs and kites, professionals use them to shoot Discovery Channel shows and feature films. But the company found itself in unfamiliar territory earlier this week: the stock market.

This past Thursday, GoPro’s initial public offering brought the company into the world of public trading. It’s the first consumer electronics company to go public since headphone maker Skull Candy debuted in 2011, and early signs look promising for GoPro. Its shares rose 31 percent by the time the floor closed Thursday, giving it a market value of 3.9 billion, nearly equal to that of Domino's Pizza Inc., according to the Wall Street Journal

By just about every measure, the company is on fire right now: revenue increased last year by 87 percent to nearly $1 billion, it sold 3.8 million cameras last year, and GoPro customers uploaded nearly three years worth of video in 2013 alone. But founder and CEO Nick Woodman’s brainchild has run into some recent debt, and revenue dropped 7 percent in early 2014. A source with knowledge of the situation said that the IPO was not a result of that debt, but that it’s simply a natural progression of GoPro’s evolution.

{%{"quote":"For many of us, a GoPro is not unlike a fancy new juicer. We buy one because it’s new and cool. We’re excited to use it at first, but then we realize that it’s easier to just buy juice. Or watch someone else’s awesome video."}%}

As hot as GoPro is right now, its IPO comes at a pivotal time for the camera maker. One of the big questions on the table, which the company acknowledged in its IPO filings, is that it currently makes nearly of all of its money selling cameras (that cost upwards of $400). This is a serious issue.

For many of us, a GoPro is not unlike a fancy new juicer. We buy one because it’s new and cool. We’re excited to use it at first, but then we realize that it’s easier to just buy juice. Or watch someone else’s awesome video. That’s because creating a fun little video that your buddies might want to actually watch is not easy: you need to do something cool, film it from multiple angles, and then edit it creatively. There’s lots of boring POV footage on people’s hard drives; there are lots of GoPros sitting in people’s gear bins, no longer being strapped to chests or mounted atop helmets on a regular basis.

One big example stands out as a cautionary tale. Remember Flip Video cameras? If so, you probably haven’t seen the company around lately. Cisco Systems bought Pure Digital, maker of the Flip cam, for $600 million worth of stocks in 2009, and yet the ascendance of the smartphone camera rendered the product obsolete. Cisco shut the Flip operation down in 2011.

Despite what some financial analysts might be predicting, GoPro is a long way from becoming obsolete. While it’s true that every few months a new competitor enters the action-cam scene, often selling a similar product for less money, no one has yet to make a comparable—let alone better—camera. We know this because we’ve tested nearly all of the rival cameras. New technologies, like wearable cameras that capture 360-degrees of footage, will eventually erode some of GoPro’s market share, as will smartphones, whose video capabilities are only getting better, but not any time soon.

GoPro is acutely aware of the challenges it faces. It just recently debuted new software that makes it easier than ever to edit your own movie. Newer, fancier, smaller, more user-friendly cameras are in the works. And they’re rapidly trying to transform themselves from a camera company into a media empire, à la Red Bull. Woodman told Bloomberg on Thursday that GoPro’s “focus is to help customers capture, manage, share quality content.” The product he’s trying to sell is not just the technology itself, but the experience of reliving last week’s bungee jump through video. 

{%{"quote":"GoPro is a long way from becoming obsolete. While it’s true that every few months a new competitor enters the action-cam scene, often selling a similar product for less money, no one has yet to make a comparable—let alone better—camera. We know this because we’ve tested nearly all of the rivals."}%}

Not everyone bungee jumps, though. And while they’ve done an exceptional job at marketing themselves at active people doing rad things, they need to do a much better job marketing its camera to the rest of us. This will require new and different branding and marketing campaigns.

The biggest question, however, is whether or not they can figure out how to make money as a media company. GoPro recently struck a deal with Microsoft to be a channel on the new Xbox, and has begun to monetize its content on its YouTube and Virgin America channels, but these are relatively small drops in the bucket. To make significant amounts of money, GoPro will need to negotiate deals with bigger and bigger content distributers as well as forge new licensing partnerships.

And GoPro will need to do so pretty quickly. The reason Red Bull has been able to sign up hundreds of athletes and musicians, sponsor major events and stunts, and become a massive media and marketing empire is that many people drink several cans of their stuff every day. GoPro doesn’t have that luxury. As its camera sales inevitably decrease, it needs to figure out how to distribute and make money off its own content, be it user-generated or of its own creation.

“Over time, if you think of all the resources that Apple or Google can bring to bear, not this year but next year, GoPro could have some problems,” said Paul Meeks, a tech industry financial analyst with Saturna Capital. “It’s the same kind of scenario for GoPro. They have to become a bigger ecosystem than the product." 

Which is exactly what it’s trying to do. The IPO is getting all the mainstream media attention, but behind the scenes GoPro is reportedly signing up musicians, producers, and content creators of every stripe. It also recently beefed up its roster of athletes. In short, it’s ramping up big time. So while you may not use your GoPro as often as you thought you might, don’t write the company off yet. 

If it can pull it off, it will be a clever trick.

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