While the rest of the winter market is already bringing out the close-out signs because of the lack of snow, the climbing category seems to be relatively healthy. Most vendors on the floor were surprised by the up-beat nature of the retailers who came by their booths. At the same time, many admitted that the ice climbing category will likely see some difficulty this winter, it is a relatively small business for many retailers.

Black Diamond has been investing in ice climbing as a category and is seeing nice double-digit growth because of it in spite of the fact that winter did not happen this year. The company completely redesigned the ice screw this year. Even though on the shelf, the product looks the same, BD CEO Peter Metcalf said, “Once you use it, you will never use another ice screw again.”

On the ski side of their business, the company completely redesigned their entire line and switched factories. Metcalf said that this was partially due to Atomic’s new relationship with Salomon, but that he was looking at Asian manufacturing before this issue came up.

Black Diamond also seems to be taking steps similar to Trek and Specialized in the Bike industry. BD has been hosting regional two-day camps for key retailers to try out their new product. However, unlike Trek & Specialized, BD gave no indication of pulling out of the show cycle in favor of this format.

Sterling Rope Company was showing retailers their recently certified Nano 9.2mm single rope. The company feels that these ultra-light ropes make for great “halo” pieces, especially for the longer elite-level sport climbs that are pushing into 70-80 meter endurance marathons. However, the bulk of the business is still in the 9.8mm-10.1mm diameter range. In Europe, Alpine climbing is pushing the skinny rope trend, with climbers using a single rope + tag-line instead of doubles. This trend has yet to hit the U.S. market in any significant way.

Petzl ropes hit retailers this year, and from what the company can see, the sell-through has met expectations. The rest of the company’s efforts went into to updating and tweaking various existing models. The company’s crampon line already had the largest range of bindings on the market, and their designers tweaked nearly every model to make them all fit more boots better. They also tweaked their alpine axes so they have polished chrome heads, giving the line a retro-premium look.

DMM came to the show with their first line of ice axes, but the real news was surrounding two products that will be launched at retail in spring of 2008 – the Phantom will supposedly be the world’s lightest full-strength carabiner at 26 grams, while the V-Twin is a stainless steel belay device that is more compact and lighter than traditional aluminum versions.