Boot, bindings advance in weight, walking modes

Strong backcountry boot and binding sales have led to advances in weight and walking modes for next season's products in the category. SNEWS provides a rundown from Outdoor Retailer Market 2012.

Throughout the month of February, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 19-22. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Alpine touring continues to gain ground in snowsports as more skiers hit up the backcountry and sidecountry slopes. The sector has helped backcountry boots and bindings continue to break new trail, exploding up to the start of this season with a robust 100 percent growth in dollar volume sales to $24.7 million, according to SnowSport Industries America (SIA).

The jump echoes a steady steam of traditional alpine category companies increasingly embracing the segment, resulting in more binding and boot offerings and beefier performance than ever. “The Salomon Quest boot, introduced in the AT market in 2009/2010, drove last year’s increase with sales of more than 10,000 units,” said SIA Director of Research Kelly Davis. “In AT, it appears that many are buying equipment with an eye on dabbling in off-piste in lift-served side country.”

The entry of companies like Salomon and Marker, with its Duke and Baron touring bindings, to the market is good news for smaller brands serving the niche. They bring volume and attention to the category, Dynafit President Chris Sword told SNEWS, “They’re the Chevrolet to our Ferrari,” he said. “We’ll sell more because of it.”

And as lift ticket prices continue to rise, the category is showing no signs of slowing down. “It’s a fun category to be in,” Sword added. “Is it going to keep growing? Absolutely.”

The growth is fueled several trends at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2012, from increased weight reduction and enhanced ski performance to walk modes you can use on the late-night dance floor. Manufacturers claim their latest walk-mode functionality for ascending the mountain won’t hinder downhill performance, and per-boot weights closing in on three pounds. In bindings, big players like Atomic and Salomon are joining Marker in embracing the category with tourable DIN offerings, while mainstay niche companies like Black Diamond, G3 and Dynafit continue to tweak their lines to offer more power and tourability for less poundage.

On the boot front, Tecnica is riding the strength of its six-model Free Mountain Collection, all with walk/touring and ski modes, including its popular back- and sidecountry-oriented Bodacious (MSRP $785), which completely sold out in 2011. The company is expanding its Cochise model to include six men’s and two women’s specific models. Reaching all price points, the line – which includes the Pro Light (MSRP $900), Tecnica’s first true AT boot – features the brand’s mobility cuff and interchangable soles.

Scarpa introduces seven new boots this season. On the AT side comes the Maestrale RS for men and Gea RS for women (MSRP $689), billed as its lightest, stiffest, four-buckle touring boot; and the Pegasus and Skadi (MSRP $549), price-point AT offerings made from polyurethane instead of Pebax.

Garmont launches the four-boot PowerLite family of AT boots, billing them as one of the lightest (3.2 pounds) four-buckle boots on the market. The series includes the Cosmos for men and Celeste (MSRP $699) for women, each coming with a webframe-designed Grilamid shell, shock damper inserts and a new, patent-pending walk mechanism.

LaSportiva introduces four new boots, including the Sideral (MSRP $699), an all-around ski mountaineering boot; the Spitfire (MSRP $999), a crossover between rando racing and free ride touring; and the Starlet (MSRP $699), a women’s all-around ski mountaineering boot. Also new is the one-buckle, carbon La Sportiva Stratos EVO (MSRP $3,000), which comes in 100 grams lighter than last year’s Stratos at 534 grams per boot (size 26).

Black Diamond is launching four new AT Boots – the Quadrant (MSRP $669), Prime (MSRP $599), Swift (MSRP $599) and Slant (MSRP $539) – each coming with the Efficient Fit AT, AT Light or AT LaceUp liner and enjoying less shell volume, improved articulation zones, a BOA closure system and 40-degree range of motion for touring. Black Diamond has revamped its O1 binding with underfoot cable routing, a six-hole mounting pattern, push-button ski/tour toggle and different cartridge options.

For 2013, Dynafit unveils seven new boots in three backcountry categories: free-touring, ski-touring and ski-running (fitness/racing). Heading its free-touring line are the 3.5-pound Vulcan (MSRP $1,000) and Mercury (MSRP $800), which combine the touring attributes of the TLT5 line with enhanced downhill performance, including 60-degree cuff rotation, carbon/Grilamid cuff, and 15- to 18-degree forward lean setting. “We’re taking a lot of the elements and patents of the TLT5 and broadening them into a whole complete line,” Sword said. As well as also venturing into the apparel category, the company has also made improvements to its Radical binding. “The simpler something is, the harder it seems to improve,” Sword said. “But its sales are still on fire and we expect that to continue.”

In bindings, sister brands Atomic and Salomon unveil a new alpine touring binding for 2012/13, marketed as the Guardian 16 by Salomon and Tracker 16 (each MSRP $559) by Atomic. 

“We built a lot of buzz around both of them heading into the tradeshow season,” says Salomon Alpine Brand Manager Jenny Naftulin. The binding will be marketed primarily for its downhill performance through such features as a low-profile chassis for stability and oversized platform for power and response. It also features a new pole-engaged hike and ride switch, meaning no taking the skis off to switch between touring and skiing.

Not to be outdone, Marker has updated its Duke binding (MSRP $495) with a new anti-friction device to make it more compatible with a wider range of AT boots, made the climbing aid higher for steeper ascents and added a rubber pad on the heel base plate for quieter climbing.

All the emphasis on AT gear doesn’t mean the freeheel category isn’t making the same strides as its followers. Flying in the face of declining telemark equipment sales, G3 is taking advantage of its position in the market by showcasing two new 75-millimeter telemark bindings this season, the Enzo and Enzo R (MSRPs $290/$225). Both employ a heel piece attached to cables with two cartridges that run underfoot, each with three different spring tensions, and a one-piece stainless steel toe bale. While the Enzo R is more resort-oriented, the Enzo comes with a new free pivot push button for touring, with a 60-degree range of motion.

Scarpa brings revamped men’s and women’s versions of the T2 Eco (MSRP $599), made from Pebax RNew, an environmentally friendly plant-based plastic, and the new Terminator X (MSRP $669), Scarpa’s most touring-oriented, NTN-compatible telemark boot, joining the X Pro and X Comp.

–Eugene Buchanan