Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '07 Trends: Ice climbing, bouldering and more

The SNEWS® editors cruised the floors of Winter Market 2007 to offer this take on noteworthy trends and new products for ice climbing, bouldering and more.

We continue with our Outdoor Retailer Winter Market trends wraps so we can bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out — or you get bored. No, each report does not name every company with new product and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned when it should have been. So if you’re not mentioned, our brains were either too fogged out from the smog to think straight or we didn’t think your product stood out sufficiently — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on noteworthy trends and new products for ice climbing, bouldering and more:

Ice market shakeup
The North American ice climbing equipment market is in for a change next season. Of course, there are some exciting new tools coming, which we’ll discuss momentarily. But there is also a significant vacancy left by Trango, which has decided to bow out of the competition…for a while.

Certainly, the U.S. market for technical ice products will continue to be dominated by three major players — Black Diamond, Grivel and Petzl. But Trango had long been a favorite runner-up with retailers and climbers for performance and value.

The brand most likely to fill the void is C.A.M.P., which already has strong brand recognition and good price points. Another contender is DMM, but that is more of a premium line with corresponding prices. Another company that would like a slice of the pie is Simond, though its past years of distribution turmoil present an ongoing challenge. The Lucky ice tools have the unfortunate combination of looking less finished while costing a lot, so they’re unlikely to be in the running for the near future.

Casey Newman, product manager for Trango, said that the company is consolidating SKUs and focusing on its core products for the next few years. However, the company may well be back in the ice market again, he told SNEWS®. And, we’ve heard, Omega Pacific too may reenter the market in the not-so-distant future.

Cordelette cautionary
Retailers should be aware that the cordelette has come under fire in the past few months. These long loops used for making climbing anchors were never subjected to rigorous testing before they were widely adopted. Following testing by Sterling Ropes, it turns out that cordelettes are not nearly as safe as originally touted, though they can be safe with a proper understanding of limitations. Several fatalities, possibly linked to anchor failures related to cordelettes have been reported, though it is important to note that no definitive proof has yet linked cordelettes to the anchor failures.

For climbing retailers, it may be wise to not sell prepackaged cord or webbing as a cordelette; rather, just sell it off the spool as always. Direct customers seeking more know-how on the proper use of cordelettes to check out several books, including the second edition of “Climbing Anchors,” by John Long, and “Rock Climbing Anchors,” by Craig Luebben.

And now, on to a company-by-company wrap of what piqued our editorial team’s interest:

Black Diamond — The long anticipated update to the Cobra ice tools is at last at hand. The original carbon-fiber Cobras set a new standard of performance when introduced in 2000, but that’s ancient history in the ice world. The new Cobras have the narrower grip climbers have requested from the beginning, better clearance and improved modularity — all without giving up versatility. While sweet news for gear whores, the real excitement is all of these refinements, sans the carbon fiber, have made it into the new version of the Viper which is going to be one heck of a value at $230 (compared to $300). The subtle design changes (better teeth shape, extra clip-in point) to the Express Ice Screw (MSRP $57) are claimed to be major performance upgrades, but we doubt many consumers will rush to upgrade their current Turbo screws, which are already pretty darn good.

C.A.M.P. — Though introduced last summer as rough prototypes, the production versions of the crampons and ice axes featuring Sandvik stainless steel are much refined and will certainly appeal to alpinists and ski mountaineers. Since it was a soft launch last year, the leashless version of the Awax ice tools hasn’t received much press but, at $190 retail, it represents one of the best bangs for the buck on the market. However, while indeed very nice, the Radion ice screws are still priced too high (MSRP $90) to gain traction.

Cilogear — Attending Winter Market for the second time, this new line of alpine climbing packs is worth a serious look from specialty retailers. Designed in the United States and manufactured in Turkey, these harken back to classics such as the Wild Things Andinista and Kelty Cloud packs — lean and mean with lots of detachable features for serious climbers. The Worksacks come in six sizes with reasonable price points (MSRP $200 for the 60 liter) and are made with high-tech materials for minimal weight and high durability. It’s refreshing to see well thought out product from a small company that isn’t going after the mass market.

Grivel — Following the huge success of the Monster and X Monster ice tools, which made leashless tools truly affordable to entry-level climbers, comes the new Matrix tools. The Matrix Tech (MSRP $220) features the same forged head of the X Monster on a more conventional aluminum shaft with a highly refined shape; this should compete well with the BD Viper and Petzl Quark (MSRP $270) in terms of performance, however, those tools have replaceable picks. The Matrix Light (MSRP $185) is similar, but has a cleaner shaft for alpinists who demand climbing performance with minimal weight. A limited production version of the Matrix Tech, called the Quantum Tech (MSRP $280), features a carbon fiber/aluminum shaft.

Metolius — Though rumors of its for-sale status have been circulating for years now, this company continues to crank out new products. The latest foray is an entry into the helmet market. The new one-size-fits-all, any-color-you-like-as-long-as-it’s-gray climbing helmet will retail for $70. While it’s great to see another major supplier touting the importance of head protection, it’s getting to be a crowded market and this one doesn’t bring much new in the way of features or style. Retailers will be happy to hear that the much-delayed medium size of the Supercam is due out in April. And new ultralight versions of the popular Curve Nuts are also on the way.

Petzl — Although the company’s six crampons themselves remain the same, the binding system for the entire line has been revised. While this means that dealers will have to clear out current inventory, climbers will be getting easier to operate crampons with more binding options (from a total of 10 SKUs to 16 next season). Both the Vasak and Sarken crampons will now be available in four different configurations. The Hirundos harness goes on a diet for next fall, losing the weight of a carabiner (60 grams) while holding the price (MSRP $80). And the Elios helmet gets a significant upgrade with a much improved harness system and two new colors with only a minor price increase to $66.

Though it’s only available as a preseason order, Petzl is offering the Attaché HERA carabiner, which is its standard HMS locker with a special blue anodizing and hangtag that sells for $14 instead of the previous $13. The idea is that the dealer pays $0.60 extra and Petzl kicks in the remaining $0.40, so that $1 will go to ovarian cancer research for each carabiner sold. A nice idea that has already sold better than anticipated.

Sterling — Yet another scary-to-look-at rope enters the market, the Nano. This 9.2 mm isn’t the lightest at 53 grams per meter, but it appears to be one of the burliest in its class, reportedly holding six single rope falls. Only available in neon yellow and clearly intended for high-end climbers, the Nano is undergoing final certification by the UIAA and CEN for use as a single, half and twin rope.

Trango — Though the company is out of the ice climbing business, the bouldering business is taking off with the Flashed Air Technology pads — the first real improvement in technology since crash pads were invented. The Ronin was introduced last summer to much acclaim, but at $410, it remains out of reach of many. The new Samuri features the same technology in a smaller package that will sell for $290, so it’s less of a leap.

Totem Cams — More than a few eyebrows were raised by a small booth out in the lobby with a totally new camming unit design. The three Basque climbers involved have brought the concept to a refined state and are now seeking a manufacturer and/or distributor. Among the interesting features is the ability to switch from 4-cam to 3-cam mode, solid placements with only two cams, and two clip-in loops. These may appear in stores in 2008, if things fall into place.