“There was a certain buzz,” “Better than last year,” and “It’s been a great show,” were just a few of the comments BOSS picked up during the annual SIA.05 show.

The late wintry blast in the Northeast served to limit attendance a bit from that region as major airports were forced to shut down under the heavy weight of the snowfall throughout much of New England, New York and the Mid-Atlantic. Still, the sudden appearance of winter turned some frowns upside down as retailers were able to move a good chunk of winter goods at or close to full pop at retail. The story was quite different coming out of the Northwest as the lack of any snow this winter had the SIA.05 aisles filled with speculation that more than a few specialty retailers won’t make it through the year. Many of the Northwest folks may have stayed home to cut expenses and use the time attempting to sell off stagnant winter goods.

For those that attended, there was little doubt that the snowboard companies are still “bringing energy” to the show, but there was also a certain amount of subdued excitement in the halls surrounding the ski companies as well.

One of the most interesting developments at the show was that SIA saw its first snowboard company “cross over to the dark side” of the ski world. The crew at Lib Tech launched their new line of park and pipe skis. It seems the event was unheralded, but it is just one more example of the blurring of the lines — and a growing cultural acceptance — between snowboard and ski companies.

In other interesting developments in the snowboard market, Ride is on the fifth iteration over the course of ten years of its “Timeless” board, which now features sidewall construction. This is another trend that is sweeping both the snowboard and ski market. It seems the beating that skis and boards take on the hill limits the appeal of cap construction and the traditional, sturdier sidewall construction is popping up in nearly every booth. Most every company, from traditional race companies like Head, Rossignol, and Fischer to snowboard companies like Ride, Lib Tech, and Nitro, to the “new school” ski brands like 4FRNT, Line, and Armada, are shunning cap construction.

The “new school” ski brands are drawing youth into the world of skiing faster than a grassroots marketing director could have dreamed possible. It seems that an entire generation of kids that grew up snowboarding –- and watching their parents ski — have decided that it is once again cool to race down hills on two boards.

Perhaps the driving force behind this mini-revolution in the ski world is a whole new generation of business-savvy skiers who were looking for something different, so they started their own brands.

Jason Levinthol and Charlie Lozner, who are running Line Skis and Karhu under the Trax Sports banner, are a perfect example of relatively young management running new companies that are making a real impact in the market. Vincent Dorion, Niklas Karistrom, Steele Spence, and Matt Sterbenz, who are the team behind 4FRNT, are a similar example. These companies may only be selling five thousand pairs of skis, but they are all to a much younger audience, and they are slowly growing strong brands that will keep those younger skiers in their fold for years to come.

There was quite a bit of energy, albeit muted, coming out of the alpine ski section with several show-goers pointing to a new buzz in the air surrounding Nordica. Andy Knittle, CEO of Nordica’s U.S. division, could hardly contain his excitement. “I know what its like to be on the top of the pack,” he said. “I also know what it’s like to be falling behind. It just feels great to be taking back some market share again and the support we have received from our new ownership in Italy is the main reason for our success.”

Head launched an important new product extension and redesigned from scratch a new women’s line called the “Thang” series, which boasts seven skis catering to anyone from beginner to intermediate. The company also has five new models in its “Monster” series targeting the freeride market.

Head has also decided to take its tennis court relationship with Liquid Metal into the ski world and has introduced 13 models across all categories that use this patented material to produce a livelier and stronger ski. According to the company, the fact that Liquid Metal can be injection molded, similar to plastics, makes it ideal for use in the ski world. So far, no other ski manufacturers have used the material. Head is using the Liquid Metal technology in conjunction with its “Intelligence” technology and its “Chip” system.

Tecnica has expanded its top-end Diablo line to include several tuned-down versions of the race boot. At the same time the company has completely re-addressed the women’s market with the new Attiva line of boots incorporating design features like narrower heel pockets, and other gender specificities.

Volkl is doing what it has always done best – making skis that go fast. The company’s racing heritage is undeniable, but with the recent upsurge in backcountry and big mountain skiing, Volkl had to shift focus a bit. The company has a very solid line of lightweight BC skis, and also fatter heavier boards that will appeal to the powder junkie.

While Nordica was clearly creating buzz with its new management and ownership, Atomic was turning heads with some developments of their own. The company is the clear winner of the “thinking out of the box” award with its new series of park & pipe skis. The company is offering three skis in every set instead of two, and in a parallel launch, the company is offering binding three packs. The “Triplets” line is designed to give the fashion forward youth movement a choice of mix and match graphics from day to day. Considering the heavy fashion influence in apparel this year, this is an idea that just might fly in spite of the fact that it is so out there-or simply because of it.

Spy Optics’ IPO earlier this year seems to be fueling some creative energy. The company said they felt they were offering top-shelf quality in the eyewear department, but apparel was lagging. The entire apparel line is new this year, and much more in line with the quality of Spy’s sunglasses and goggles. The main goal was more attention to detail and to creating pieces that followed the fashion statements of the eyewear. The company brought in a new design team, which fully customized the new line for Spy.

On the eyewear side of the booth, Spy launched its Rock Series of goggles, which features Van Halen, Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, and Pink Floyd inspired logos and graphics. They have also developed a “water-based sublimated graphics” process that puts a slightly different print on every pair of goggles. The company said that it was not opening up many accounts at SIA, but their existing account base was making more of a commitment to the brand. This seems to be an effort to keep distribution clean, fuel growth, and resonate with the brand’s core audience all at the same time.

Smith Optics came to SIA offering several innovations in its Turbo Fan series including a new proprietary low-light mirrored lens that replaces the standard yellow or orange tint and brings the always popular mirrored look to the hill in nearly any condition.

The company is seeing some of the fashion trends in the apparel industry spill over into glasses, with many manufacturers, including Smith, offering a range of different patterns on the headbands throughout the goggle line. Smith has taken this one step further and let the patterns flow through on to the frame, adding more fashion to the world of goggles.

A final important addition to the goggle line is the new Transit, which offers a high performance goggle to the smaller-faced individual. This new model is designed for the “Grom” crowd of teenagers and ‘tweeners that, in many cases, are more demanding in fit and function than adults.

Boeri is repositioning itself as a higher-end specialty and boutique shop helmet brand with slightly higher price-points and more of a “designer” feel to the product. With this repositioning, Boeri has added a fashion influence into its 2005/06 helmet line with the introduction of the premium-priced VIP Collection. The VIP Collection provides high-end appeal with two new models bejeweled with Swarovski crystals on the front brim of the shell and two models with leopard-print linings.

Jeff Revreby, president of the new North American subsidiary, Boeri USA, said that he is refocusing distribution on the specialty retailers and is “no longer pursuing” large national chains.

Ravreby also said that under the company’s new distribution arrangement, Boeri shipped all orders on-time and complete for the first time in company history.

Last year, the SnowSports industry saw a glut of newcomers to the helmet category, but this year the numbers seem to have thinned out somewhat. There is still an abundance of competitive pressure coming out of the larger multi-product hardgoods manufacturers. Companies with solid sourcing structures in multiple categories and established brands like K2, Burton, and Marker, are putting pressure on helmet-only companies like Boeri and Giro. So far, both of these brands seem to be holding up under the pressure, and in some cases expanding their reach.

Giro shared some revealing numbers concerning market share. With at least a dozen different brands displaying helmets at SIA, Leisure Trends is estimating that Giro has over 40% market share in the SnowSports segment. The company’s ‘NINE’ model alone accounted for 15% of all SnowSports helmet sales. With the backing of Riddell’s RD&D department, Giro is expecting to take even more market share.

The electronics fad is taking the helmet market by storm, and there didn’t seem to be a single brand on the floor that didn’t have an integrated music system in their protective headwear. Some companies on the floor were quite cautious about the possibility of a lawsuit, but others are of the opinion that if it hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t.

Despite the weak fourth quarter at retail for winter outerwear and ski wear in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, the goods appear to be liquidating and few vendors were concerned about the carryover affect. Although Columbia took a big hit on cancellations from some of its bigger chain store accounts (see page 5), they appeared to have little concern about the resulting year-end inventory position. For other vendors, a focus on a more specialty-based business appeared to have insulated them from the slower start to winter. As the winter weather held off, chain stores apparently worked to clear the floor of winter goods in mid-January and re-set pads for spring goods and baseball. The specialty guys were still working the seasonal goods as the season finally opened up.

One of the most prominent red-lines in the apparel categories was clearly the move to more embroidery. Bonfire has included several embroidered highlights on its men’s and women’s technical pieces. In addition the company is positioning some of its apparel lines a bit differently. This will be the first full season that Alex Birch, the company’s director of marketing and creative, will be with the team and he has implemented some changes to the way the line is structured. Instead of creating a men’s line and paralleling those fashions with women’s versions, Bonfire is now designing each line from the ground up.

The company has also discontinued its Kinetic brand. The technical alpine-climbing inspired apparel is now positioned as a new more youth-oriented line under the Bonfire brand.

Obermeyer has increased their offerings this year and has touched on several developing trends. Retro seems to be on the upswing in ski apparel this year. Obermeyer in particular has launched several men’s and women’s wool jackets which the company has dubbed ‘techno-wool,’ or wool outerwear with a traditional look, but with performance features like water and wind resistance.

Obermeyer has also introduced the “Retro Bomber Dharma.” This is a bomber style jacket in vibrant colors with faux fur hood. Obermeyer picked up on the embroidery trend as well, showing several pieces with intricate designs both inside and out.

Ride Snowboards is also bringing back an old favorite with its “CAPP3L” series of apparel, which last sold in 1997. Ride is working much more fashion into this line with embroidered accents, corset-style back waists, washable Camel Suede, and Pinstripe Herringbone, Tweed, Twill and Jean Herringbone fabrications, a clear example of the fashion meets function trend that has been developing over the past few years. Styles include three jackets and two pants for men, while for women, CAPP3L features two jackets and one pant.

Burton is clearly hitting on all cylinders. While the company’s booth has always been a relative mad-house, this year’s matching apparel and luggage line was bringing in many more buyers than usual. The company originally thought the matching patterns would appeal to female consumers, but it turns out the kids of both genders are looking for a more fashion forward look.

Fur is making its way into nearly every corner of the apparel and après footwear lines. Obermeyer, Burton, and Bonfire are all putting fur and faux fur linings on their hoods, while Tecnica is seeing very solid sell-in out of its “Scandia” of fur footwear. Even though the company has managed to resurrect the Moon Boot with great success, The Scandia is still Tecnica’s best selling line of après footwear.

On the technical side of apparel, Patagonia has added its proprietary “CSS-seamless” welded and glued seems to its hardshells and softshells in the “Edge” line, eliminating the problems traditionally caused by stitched seams. The company sees SnowSports as its “biggest un-tapped market for growth” and told BOSS that it will be upping the ante in the SnowSports market considerably over the next few years. Other new introductions were the Puff Rider and Puff Pants, a top and bottom insulated offering targeting a more youth oriented market.

In addition to its SnowSports specific offerings at the show, Patagonia was showing off its newly redesigned R1 insulation series. The company worked in conjunction with Polartec to create a new “Biomapping” process that allows different densities of fabric throughout one piece, without stitching two fabrics together.

This gave Patagonia the ability to place more insulation/protection where it is needed, and offer more breathability in other key areas.

Marmot was also showing quite a bit of new SnowSports specific product at the show, and the fashion influence that BOSS noticed at Summer Market is flowing through into winter.

Embroidery and fur again made their mark on several Marmot women’s offerings.

When The North Face was acquired by VF Corp., there were several jokes about a denim Mountain Light showing up in outdoor stores. Well, it’s not a Mountain Light and we probably won’t see it an any outdoor stores, but TNF is now producing a waterproof/breathable denim-inspired snowboarding jacket. The company has also updated its “Digital Camo” prints.

The biggest development in the cross-country end of the market was without a doubt the Rossignol, Alpina, Rottefella, and Madshus collaborative effort which produced the new “Nordic Integrated System.” NIS offers skiers the ability to slide their bindings forward and back depending on the course and terrain. It also eliminated the need for screwing the binding into the ski with a sonic welded plate.

Apart from the technical innovation, the fact that two competitors, who together hold over 50% of the U.S. XC market, collaborated to build a new system made several people sit up and take notice.

While the SIA.05 show was clearly smaller than the shows of the past, it was good to see some balanced energy making its way back onto the ski floor. A move by many vendors to focus energy on attracting a younger, more energetic, fashion-conscience consumer has helped instill quite a bit of energy back into some old-line brands and provides fertile new ground for younger brands to stake their claim to a fair piece of this business going forward.

>>> Now, if the weather would just cooperate with a more balanced delivery of winter across the country, we might see even more energy next year for sia.06…