"Just look for the banners," the guy next to me in the chairlift advised. "That's what tells you people think they have something that's gonna be hot."
My new acquaintance and I were on the lift at Brighton Ski Resort, the venerable resort (in business since 1936) outside of Salt Lake City. He owned a bike/snow sports shop in Bozeman, Montana, and, like me, was attending that day's on-snow demo, part of the Winter Outdoor Retailer show, the annual gear extravaganza where hundreds of gear makers flog their latest products. I'd asked him what he had seen of interest, prompting his remark about the banners.
This wasn't bad advice, really. Although the show hasn't seen a banner explosion since the height of the dot-com boom seven years ago (Fogdog, anybody? Quokka.com? Planetoutdoors? And do you realize that in Internet years, the Gear Guy has been around for 38 million years?), there's still plenty of stuff to promote. So here are some of the banner-intensive items, and a few that perhaps are worthy of a banner.
Rottefella NTN binding: Given that it's a winter show devoted to sliding around on snow or keeping warm when out in the snow, Rottefella's NTN ("New Telemark Norm") binding surely counted as one of the big events, even if bent-knee skiing is never going to become the pastime of all but a hardened core.
Along with boot makers Garmont, Crispi, and Scarpa, Rottefella has tried to re-think the telemark binding to devise something that's sturdier, walks better, and can take a boot that's also suitable for alpine touring. The NTN binding seems to solve all of that. For one thing, it eliminates the need for the 76mm "duck bill" at the front of traditional telemark boots, making it easier to walk. And an NTN-style boot more easily fits into a crampon. The bindings also have a two-step spring mechanism that increases resistance to heel lift when skiing downhill and decreases it when you're hiking up.
And instead of clamping at the toe alone, NTN bindings grip the boot between the toe and a cut-out in the boot sole located about one-third of the way back from the toe. That makes for a more positive connection between boot and ski and allows a more comfortable gliding action when skiing uphill. That connection also allows a releasable binding, so NTN setups are equipped with ski brakes.
I'm not much of a telemarker, but I took some NTN-equipped K2 skis and Crispi boots up for a run or two. I thought the connection between the boot and ski was extremely firm and powerful. I also thought the binding complex and heavy, and somewhat difficult to get into/out of. But serious telemarkers who ski big lift-supported areas should love it.
None of this comes cheaply. The bindings will sell for about $350, boots and skis for another $500 or so for each.
Gore-Tex Pro Shell: Gore-Tex has had to scramble a bit as light weight becomes more and more valued. True, Gore has had Pac-Lite out for the better part of a decade, but that is seen as having lesser durability compared with heavier XCR Gore-Tex. So the Gore folks are introducing Pro Shell, a much lighter version of its waterproof-breathable membrane bonded to a tough face fabric and a liner. I wore a sample jacket during a demo day hosted by Gore and came away impressed. The full-featured jacket, designed by an Arc'teryx alum, was maybe just over half the weight of a comparable XCR piece. The fabric was a little crinkly, but it was generally comfortable, comparable to a Pac-Lite jacket. And it seemed highly breathable. I couldn't attest to its waterproofness due to crystal-clear skies.
Gore is also introducing a new winter glove technology that employs Pro Shell. Gloves from Gordini and other makers will have two five-fingered membranes within the shell. One has maximum insulation for cold weather, the other a thinner layer for better manipulation of small objects, or less insulation. I found them warm, but in the "nimble" mode they weren't as nimble as my Marmot Randonee gloves are all the time. My impression: Why do gloves need to be that complicated?
Several makersMountain Hardwear, Merrell, Arc'teryx, and Marmot among themwill introduce Pro Shell jackets and other items this fall. Cost of a Pro Shell jacket will be on par with those made from XCRaround $400 to $600, depending on maker and bells and whistles included in the piece. Take Arc'teryx's Sidewinder SV jacket, for instance. It currently employs Gore-Tex XCR and costs $499. But the revamped-for-Fall-07 Sidewinder SV will feature Gore-Tex Pro Shell using a polyester-faced (rather than nylon) fabric, which sheds water more effectively. Expect to pay $599 for this gem.
Green, green, green: Appropriately, participants in a winter-oriented show have concerns about global warming. So "green" initiatives were everywhere. In some cases that meant a green exhibit boothKeen's was made of recycled mailing tubes; Gramicci's booth of particle board was 100 percent recyclable. But products also are looking greener. Marmot, meanwhile is expanding its line of clothes that include Cocona, a fabric derived from coconut shells. And companies such as Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear were showing new lines of Polartec-based garments using 100 percent recycled materials. These have been around for a while, but improved recycling technology makes them softer and more competitive price-wise. Now you can't tell recycled Polartec from non-recycled.