WINTER SPORTS GET A LIFT
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — Snowboarding is still hot on the mountain, but daredevils are dialing into lesser-known snow sports for a few thrills this winter.
No longer limited to teenage adrenaline seekers or graying tree-huggers anxious to get away from chairlift lines, secondary winter sports like free trecking, snowshoeing, freeskiing and skateskiing are catching on with a wide range of people.
Light on equipment and heavy on finesse, these individualistic sports are just establishing their dress codes, and skiwear makers want to be there to help them out. Jeanne-Marie Gand, vice president of communications and advertising for Rossignol, said: “There’s a renaissance of people really having fun on the hill again, where it used to be a matter of how many runs you could get in in one day. There’s more of a crossover look than ever between snowboarding and skiing, due mainly to freestyle skiing.”
Companies like Salomon, Burton, Eastern Mountain Sports and Sport Obermeyer are turning up the juice on their offerings, just as Vermont resorts like Killington and Stratton have opened new terrain parks complete with super pipes.
Salomon turned to freeskiers and other thrill seekers before developing its apparel line, which will be shipped for the 2001-2002 ski season. Gravis, a new footwear and accessories label that is an offshoot of Burton, is also quizzing alternative athletes for product development. Eastern Mountain Sports will offer snowshoeing, dogsled rides and even snow golf at this weekend’s winterfest in Vermont.
At Blades Board & Skate Shop, a 16-unit chain, snowskates are taking off. Slightly larger than a skateboard with grooves on the bottom instead of wheels, snowskates can be used in parks and backyards. Riders don’t have the hassle of boots or bindings, so they can do kickflips and other skateboard tricks on the snow, said Scott Kelleher, marketing director.
Burton, the snowboard brand that brought the sport to the masses, has the snowdeck, which ships to stores in August. Unlike snowskates, which are plastic and do not have edges to turn and stop, Burton’s new snowdeck is slightly elevated with a subdeck made of a polyethylene base and steel edges.
When founder Jake Burton passed out prototypes to all his employees during a late-December snowstorm, staffers ditched their desks and stepped outside to them test out. Many also ditched their jackets, since running uphill is part of the sport. But they weren’t about to lose their snowboard pants — a safeguard against spills.
During this weekend’s X Games at Mount Snow in Vermont, pro skateboarder Tony Hawk should take a spin on Burton’s snowdeck for TV viewers. During Burton’s Pro/Am Pipe Jam at Mountain Creek in New Jersey last weekend, the snowboarders were so into testing the snowdecks that they had to be asked more than once to put them away to resume the competition.
Two new sports to the X Games, HillCrossing, which is uphill snowmobiling, and Moto X — motocross competition with big air jumps — are also expected to make fans do a double take. But ESPNers like Amy Cacciola, manager of marketing and communications, understand that these sports may have short lives. Snow mountain bike racing, for example, will no longer be featured in the event after a two-year run.
Other snow sports are also taking shape. There’s sprint snowshoeing, skateskiing (imagine inline skating with skinny skis), free trecking — hiking up slopes wearing short, fat skis and then skiing down — and freeskiing, which consists of doing stunts on twin-tip skis at terrain parks — which are skateboard-type jumps and half pipes for snowboarders.
From August through November of 2000 — during the bulk of the snow sport skiing season — shoppers spent $635 million for snow-sport apparel and equipment, according to the SnowSport Industries of America in McLean, Va.
Snowboarders continue to be a serious force behind the business. But with Hertz, Philip Morris and other mainstream companies using snowboarders in their marketing, some thrill seekers and style-conscious sports fans are looking for what’s next.
As the snow reporter for Sunday River Mountain in Maine, Paul Livingstone sees his share of slope-side fashion trends.
“With the free-riding scene, there’s been a convergence in style between snowboarders and skiers. There’s a real push for self expression,” he said. “Puke green is no longer the color of choice.”
Black, gray, blue, red and orange have replaced the drearier tones that dominated previous seasons. Clothes are more tapered, especially snowboard-inspired baggy low-riders. There are also plenty of muted-color helmets and white-rimmed reflective goggles.
Skip King, vice president of American Skiing Co., the Newry, Maine-based firm that represents seven major ski resorts, said: “There’s tremendous amount of new energy in skiing, including free riding and back-country skiing. For a long time, snowboarders had all the panache because they represented the outlaw fringe of winter sports. That’s not the case any more.”
Reflecting how mainstream snowboarding has become, Macy’s Herald Square flagship tapped Bally Total Fitness personal trainers to dole out fitness tips to shoppers last week at MacySport. Reps from Airwalk, The North Face and Helly Hansen were on hand to offer fit tips and training advice.
Even Nike ACG has made its way to the mountains. Through a five-year partnership with American Skiing, Nike ACG will suit up 5,000 ski and snowboard instructors, ski patrol, lift attendants and employees at nine resorts beginning next year. Last week, the first freestanding ACG store opened at The Canyons in Park City, Utah, an American Skiing property.
Knowing snowboarding is no longer the only forward sport out there, Salomon designers worked closely with freeskier Sarah Burke and big mountain skier Wendy Fisher for its new Advanced Skin line.
Lisa Vinciguerra, apparel category manager for Salomon North America, said: “Freestyle skiing apparel is more lifestyle driven. It’s younger, faster and requires light garments that move with skiers’ bodies.”
Aimed at progressive sports enthusiasts, the high-performance collection has zip-front fleece-lined jackets, low-waisted pants with hidden zippered pockets, zip-front vest, wool mesh pants, sweaters and layering pieces. Some items are made of Schoeller’s WB-400, a windproof, waterproof, breathable stretch fabric.
To appeal to Gen X and Y hipsters, the Salomon catalog has images of people wearing its apparel in nonathletic settings. Advanced Skin’s catalog also acknowledges some of the risks of freeskiing and other snow sports. It has a lifetime warranty and a disclaimer, advising athletes to learn the proper techniques and assuming subsequent risk, including death.
First-year sales of Salomon’s women’s apparel are expected to exceed $1.2 million, Vinciguerra said.
At Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder, Colo., more women shoppers are looking for lightweight, breathable microfiber pieces to wear skateskiing. Elite athletes reach speeds up to 40 mph, but even the average skateskier gets a real aerobic workout, said Jen Mastro, a soft goods buyer.
“People are just looking for something new, but they don’t want to have to learn a new sport entirely,” she said. “They want to build on the skills they have.”
Gravis, which launched its first women’s footwear and accessories last fall, gets design input from elite snowboarders, skateboarders and surfers who have been getting into emerging snow sports. During roundtable discussions, the athletes describe the activities, clothes and trends they try or see during their world travels, a Gravis spokeswoman said.
Their picks are being used for Gravis’s women’s apparel, which bows this fall with hoodies, tech shirts and T-shirts. Accustomed to wearing jackets with specific pockets for MP3 players, two-way radios and avalanche beacons, they helped develop bags with pockets designated for laptop computers, cell phones and Palm Pilots, the spokeswoman said.
Other hard goods companies are also looking for ways to tie into the off-trail sports trend. The U.S. government’s decision to end selective availability for Global Positioning System (GPS) signals has prompted companies like Burton, Magellan, Eagle and Garmin to develop GPS devices as accurate as those used by the military.
Eastern Mountain Sports is sponsoring the second annual Woodstock Winterfest on Feb. 4 at the Woodstock Inn’s grounds in Woodstock, Vt. About 200 people are expected to go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, dogsled racing and try snow golf, a game played with hockey sticks and beach balls.
Marketing specialist Kristin Bernier said: “We want to get more people outside to show them they don’t have to be Joe Extreme to enjoy the winter.”
Rossignol is another company that has teamed up with resorts to plug winter sports by providing apparel and equipment for their employees and rentals for their guests.
Due to the positive response to free treck at European resorts like The Domain du Royal Club Evian in the French Alps, Rossignol plans to launch free-treck equipment in the U.S. for the 2001-2002 season and will pursue other resort partnerships, Gand said.
Rossignol designers are making looser skiwear designed to give freestyle skiers and free treckers room to move. They’ve also embraced different colors like orange, denim, beige and anise green that are different but not bright, Gand said. While the company plans to offer more styles of women’s apparel, it is keeping a lid on distribution.
“We want to make sure that any retailer who does take on the line is able to adequately display the line and give consumers the attention needed,” Gand said.
As part of its plan to make advertisers more familiar with active women, Shape magazine is hosting Shape Escape, a day of clinics, demos and a fashion show at the Park City Mountain Resort. About 10,000 people are expected to turn out for the event on Feb. 24. Rockport, Lucy.com, Becca and Avon are among the sponsors.
Sport Obermeyer gives a nod to freestyle skiers in its current print ad campaign and in the design of its new Alt 3 skiwear. Barbara Owen, director of marketing, noted the trend has put a kick back into the ski industry’s advertising.
Barrett Christy, a Nike ACG-sponsored snowboarder whose signature crosstraining shoe hits stores this month, said she is helping design ACG eyewear. Well aware of the hype surrounding snowboarding, Christie stressed the need for discernment.
“It’s plain to see when someone has slapped a snowboarder in an ad to appeal to that age group,” she said. “You can tell when an image is outdated and when it’s a current, progressive athlete.”