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Outdoor Retailer Winter Market '08: Climbing and mountaineering trends and product report

Two mountaineering products that generated big buzz at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market had us asking, “why didn’t we think of that?” Meanwhile, we also found notable products designed to make climbing more accessible, plus a few things that are especially lightweight and environmentally friendly.

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The SNEWS® trade show reporting team, which was 15 editors strong thanks to the addition of our Backpacker magazine comrades, scampered around the trade show floor over the course of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to bring you the most comprehensive take on trends, directions, colors, styles and innovations in stories that will run until we pass out or you cry, “Uncle.” No, each report is not complete and we apologize in advance if a company feels its product was not mentioned — we do know you love your company’s product, really. However, we’re only covering product that stood out to us, so if you’re not mentioned we either didn’t think your product stood out sufficiently or we started drinking alcoholic beverages too early in the afternoon to see straight and missed you as a result — you pick one. With that in mind, here’s our take on trends and new products for climbing and winter mountaineering:

The buzz

Two mountaineering products that generated big buzz at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market fall under the “why didn’t I think of that” category:

Rossignol’s lightweight, stretchy and waterproof breathable Harness Pants have an integrated ultralight mountaineering harness (the harness weighs 94 grams in size medium pants). The harness belay loop extends above the waist of the pants in front and gives freeriders, heliskiers and ski mountaineers traversing dangerous terrain a tie-in point that’s secure. (The harness meets U.S., European and Canadian standards.) The system is not bulky, and in the backcountry it solves the problem of trying to put your harness on in a potentially awkward, precarious or dangerous situation. The pants, which won an ispo award for textiles, no longer create the “codpiece” look from donning a traditional harness over pants, and they provide total mountaineering functionality.

On par for intuitive innovation with the Rossi pants was the Pieps iProbe. This digital probe beeps when the tip comes within three meters of a beacon in send mode, and emits a constant signal when the probe is within 40 cm of an active transceiver. In multiple burials, once a buried victim has been located with the iProbe, the beacon’s signal can be deactivated so that searchers can move on to locate other victims. It’s 2.25 meters long, with a functional reach of five meters. While the iProbe works with any 457 kHz beacon, it only deactivates beacons with iProbe support, currently just Pieps beacons. The carbon tubes are light and rigid, and the probe sets up quickly and securely.


The other trend in avy safety: accessibility. Backcountry Access introduced its Tracker 2, a faster, easier-to-use Tracker with three antennas, an indicator for multiple burials and simplified switches to move from transmit to search modes. You get all these features at the reasonable retail price of $335. Pieps’ new Freeride single antenna transceiver opens up a whole new retail price category in beacons — $199 versus $300 or more for other transceivers. It’s not quite as intuitive as other Pieps models, and its range is only 40 meters versus 60 meters for the Pieps DSP, but the cost should make it accessible to backcountry users who previously weren’t willing to make the investment.

Another way that climbing companies are making the sport accessible is by diversifying and specializing gear. To this end, Mad Rock created a youth-specific shoe with aesthetics that will appeal to the younger crowd. Its Flash Lace youth climbing shoe is tricked out with skateboard graphics. Also, Trango is targeting gym rats, and large ones at that, with the Titan, an XXXL gym harness (MSRP $49.95). And Evolv, in partnership with Paradox Sports and Malcolm Daly, showed the first prototype of a climbing shoe specifically adapted for a prosthetic limb.


Increased adaptability and ease of use were front of mind for backcountry gear designers this season. The Tracker 2 falls into this category, as well as Grivel’s Steel Bladed Shovel (MSRP $69). It’s a cleverly designed single-piece, injection-molded shovel blade with a steel insert at the tip that reportedly will have extra penetrating power in compressed snow. Side handles are cut into the mold giving users a second position, and the short handle at the top is optimized for digging when users on their knees. Need more leverage? Slide a mountaineering axe into the handle opening for a longer handle.

For tweeners and others who are inseparable from their electronics, Flashed has introduced its first electronic climbing guidebooks. Set up for iPod browsing, the full-color guide gives directions to crags, as well as detailed route info. It’s still in beta form, so stay tuned for more details as this series develops.

Trim and slim

Climbing companies continue the search for the lightest materials for everything from carabiners to helmets to ropes, even if it means shaving off just a few grams. C.A.M.P. USA introduced the polystyrene Speed helmet (MSRP $129) which, at 210 grams, is one of the lightest climbing-rated helmet in the industry. Petzl also introduced a new helmet, the Altios, which has a mesh sling inside to keep the helmet off your head and improve air circulation. It has removable vent plugs with a handy storage spot inside the helmet to prevent you from losing them. Mad Rock’s Mercury harness is a fixed leg-loop harness that company representatives claim is the lightest full-featured harness on the market at 270 grams (MSRP $49.95). It’s also available in an adjustable leg version, the Neptune, that’s 20 grams heavier and $10 more. Sterling added the 9.5 mm Ion to its lightweight line of Fusion ropes (MSRP $210, 60 m), the “high performance everyman rope,” which complements the lightest climbing rope made in North America, the Nano 9.2, which it introduced at Summer Market.

Green gear

The trend to create innovative, sincere and meaningful solutions to lessen the impact on the environment was thriving in the climbing corner. Mammut, in partnership with MyClimate, created a Climate Neutral Rope Program. The money Mammut pays to offset the carbon cost of its rope manufacture is used to build greenhouses and micro hydro projects in Ladakh in Northern India. Traditionally, roads are inaccessible in winter in Ladakh, and food needs to be flown in. This initiative will build 500 solar-powered greenhouses that will extend the annual growing season, and allow local residents to sustain the community year-round, eliminating the need for food drops, saving jet fuel and providing locals with an independent means of food production. Sterling’s Rope Redemption program takes a different tack. This program repurposes and recycles nylon ropes, including all dynamic climbing ropes and static lines without polyester sheaths. The company is collecting and recycling used ropes at centralized drop points (like climbing gyms and climbing competitions) to maximize transportation efficiencies. For example, in Colorado, the sheaths are being reclaimed by Green Guru, which uses them in its eco-friendly bags. Rope cores and factory scraps are recycled by a company that turns them into pellets for other non-climbing rope use. Evolv has evolved the climbing shoe rubber recycling process, and can now do it cleanly and economically enough that, beginning this summer, its Trax will use 25-percent recycled rubber, and by 2009, all of Evolv’s climbing shoes should have recycled content.

Retro & retrofit

Metolius clothing is back by popular demand. It’s simple and includes the Dyno collection (nylon pants and shorts) and the Big Wall collection (all cotton climbing clothes). Both have a double seat and knees, plus Metolius’ patented low-profile belt.

And Petzl’s Sarken crampon, recalled last spring for premature frontpoint wear, has been re-released with redesigned, hardened front points and a reinforced frame.