Wide, shaped skis, snowboard attire all the rage on slopes

Baggy styles, fat new gear ring in winter sports season

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY -- Fat is here to stay. So is soft. And baggy is cooler than ever, too.

Winter has arrived, and with it comes the latest in ski and snowboard equipment, accessories and clothing.

While gear and attire are always evolving, nothing appearing this season seems to be as groundbreaking as the late '90s emergence of wide, shaped skis that turn almost effortlessly. Or even the resultant shift toward boots with softer shins since parabolic skis have lessened the need to power into a turn.

But it is also clear that snowboarding's unquestioned status as the one thriving segment of a struggling industry is influencing all styles -- everything from the popularity of twin-tip skis -- skis with tips front and back -- to loose clothing.

''Full-piece ski suits are not in any more,'' Mike Thorpe, general manager of Salt Lake City's Sports Den, said unequivocally.

More likely to be seen on the slopes this winter are jackets, such as those created by Burton Snowboards in conjunctions with Gore-Tex, that have a maze of air chambers that can be inflated for warmth.

''Instead of adding a layer of clothing when the temperature drops, inflate the liner,'' said Burton spokeswoman Leigh Ault. ''With a few breaths, riders can add air or remove it from the liner depending on the level of insulation needed.''

Not much has changed this season in terms of snowboard technology. As always, the emphasis is on lighter.

But more than anything, confided Salty Peaks' general manager Spencer Nance, ''snowboards are getting more fashion oriented, not just dealing with performance.''

Case in point: Burton's Dominant 56s come with a stencil pack so riders can design their own board graphics.

Snowboarding also is merging with skateboarding in what is known as either ''snowskates'' or ''snowdecks.''

Snowbird and Brighton resorts are both creating playgrounds for these double-decker composites, which feature a skateboard-like deck mounted atop a mini-snowboard and have the advantage of not needing bindings or boots.

But a safety strap-like leash is required for venturing out among the resort masses.

Another modification worth noting is that some boards now have recessed edges ''so they don't blow out when riding rails,'' Nance noted.

Riding rails and boxes looks to be the ''in'' thing to do this winter, based on the investments that resorts statewide are making in expanding their terrain parks.

Manufacturers are making sure these parks are not limited to snowboarders, focusing considerable attention on diversifying twin-tip skis so they are fluid enough for spinning and landings off terrain park features but also rugged enough to handle powder runs.

''The kids want fat skis twinned in the back,'' said Sports Den's Thorpe, ''so you can do all the parks, you can ski in the (half)pipe, do big kickers in the backcountry but land in big powder. It's meant to be an all-mountain ski.''

While most manufacturers made a fat twin-tip ski last year, this year's production lines offer customers a choice of perhaps three types -- one for backcountry use, another for powder, yet another for hardpack and cruising resort runs.

Even without a tip on the tail, fat skis have converted the masses.

''People used to think it was cheating, but now the best skiers are using them,'' Thorpe said. ''You can be way more aggressive, can really float on the powder with the big-waisted ones. People tend to like it and not go back'' to conventional skis.

The impact is extending to telemark skis, too. The Karhu Jak goes as wide as 127 millimeters in the tip, 96 millimeters in the waist, dimensions approaching those for fat Alpine gear. But it is lighter.

One innovative design coming out of Colorado this season is the BobTail from ScottyBob. Shaped like a parallelogram, the sidecut on the outside edge has been shifted forward and the tail has been narrowed to make parallel turns easier for intermediate to expert skiers.

Snowboarding's influence on boots also is more evident this year.

''Soft boots'' emerged last winter, partially because stiff shells no longer were needed as much to initiate turns, but also in recognition that over the past decade, many people abandoned skiing for snowboarding for the sake of comfort.

Softer snowboard boots simply are kinder to feet and shins.

Manufacturers have been working with different plastics for various parts of the boot and developing new molding technologies to make overlaps more comfortable.

And more and more leather is appearing around the necks of boots.

Telemark boots have been following the same trend. The big news locally in three-pin gear, however, has been Black Diamond's O2 binding, with cables running under the boot.

''It's the only binding we've been selling, the one everyone has been coming and asking about,'' said Brook Shinsky, a buyer at White Pine Touring Center in Park City.

One important change in thinking should be more apparent this year: Helmets no longer are reserved for kids and wimps.

Observed Thorpe: ''All the athletes tend to use them. You ring your bell once or twice with falls and it makes you a little less likely to step it up and go for it.''

Helmet makers have focused on improving their products' circulation systems, from adding adjustable vents to packing the inside with more breathable foams, while also trying to make them lighter and more comfortable without sacrificing safety features.

Goggle manufacturers also are coming up with adjustable straps to make their eyewear more compatible to helmets.

New features this season include wraparound lenses that enhance peripheral vision and easier systems for exchanging lenses to cope with changing sunlight conditions.

And, of course, the effort continues to come up with goggles that will not fog up

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