An Embarrassment of Riches

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: January 28, 2020

This Revelation will post the day before the 2020 SIA/OR show opens in Denver. To mark the occasion, our motif of the week is a snapshot of the coming season’s cast of ski models, with emphasis, as always, on what’s new.

In brief, there’s a boatload of new models on the horizon. More than half of the women’s models Realskiers hopes to review in 2020 are new for next year, and nearly half of the men’s field. Many of the next generation are variations on existing models or extensions of an established clan, but a few represent all-new model families. Let’s take a brief dip into the details before zooming out to capture the big picture.

The brand with the broadest overhaul has to be Atomic: about the only thing that didn’t change were its model names. Every ski we essayed last season, men’s and women’s alike, is back in a refreshed iteration. K2 is attacking the Technical niche with a vengeance with five new Disruption models, and has created another five Disruptions with a Frontside footprint. On the heels of this year’s Mindbender introduction, K2 has effectively transformed its entire brand in two seasons.

One corner of the 2020 SIA/OR show as it appeared on Monday afternoon. From this chaos shall emerge the beauty of the snow world’s most important annual reunion. 

Also under the “all-new” heading are the Stance series from Salomon and Blaze from Völkl. The burly Stance models offer a powerful alternative to Salomon’s lightweight QST collection, while the four Blazes hit key value price points in Big Mountain and All-Mountain East dimensions. Lovers of fat skis should note that Völkl is reviving the cherished Katana and Salomon has tweaked the sublime QST 118.

Among the iconic models that will be extinguished by the new wave are Rossignol’s category-killing Soul 7 and its siblings. Taking their place is an expanded family of Blackops covering every corner of the freeride market. Brother brand Dynastar has replaced its core freeride collection with its M-Line; M-Pro for skiers who charge (square tails, Ti laminates) and M-Free for a lighter, looser feel (more rocker, no metal).

Among the franchise model families that have been upgraded but not uprooted are Head’s legendary Supershape carvers; Blizzard’s keystone Flipcore models; Nordica’s original Enforcer 100 and its first spin-off, now the Enforcer 94; Rossi’s Experience flagships and Elan’s Ripsticks.

I can sense your eyes glazing over so let’s return to the long view of current events. All the nouveautés I’ve mentioned are confined to a half-dozen recreational categories that comprise most of the skis sold for in-resort skiing in the U.S.

Bear in mind that every major brand also makes several iterations of race skis, both in non-FIS dimensions for “citizen-racers” along with a list of genuine, FIS race skis so extensive it requires its own catalog. Then there’s an allotment of junior models, plus various skis reinforced to endure the rigors of rental.

Every line has to have at least a couple of twin-tips, whether for Pipe & Park antics or All-Mountain agendas. And now that seemingly every American is besotted with the idea of hiking, no ski line is complete without a squad of skis suitable for skinning. There’s even a sub-genre of backcountry models made for loonies who run uphill.

We haven’t even mentioned entry-level package skis and mid-price-point intermediate models, the province of most first-time ski buyers. You won’t find them reviewed anywhere, but they’re well represented in the marketplace.

Every major brand makes an effort to compete in nearly every one of these spheres. The more popular the genre, the more models are made to populate it. The resultant catalogs present a cornucopia of options of incomprehensible range and diversity.

Small-batch producers don’t usually cover the same scope of categories, but there are a dozen small brands for every major, creating hundreds of additional choices, particularly for off-trail skiing.

It’s reasonable to conclude that, as far as their choice of skis is concerned, skiers are being over-served. One of the ski market’s historically most abused minorities, women, now have a crazy range of options, given that the made-for-women market is adequately diverse on its own and women can also choose a man’s ski if it’s sized appropriately. Not that men have any room to complain, mind you, as the unisex field includes the sub-universe of race skis and the rare air of super-wide powder boards.

Why do I raise this topic on the eve of the national trade show? Because this show is about the ski world’s important brands and the shops who represent them to the public. The retailer plays a valuable – and underappreciated – role in analyzing this crazy market and filtering it so the customer can make a rational choice.

No one is clever enough to sift through 2,000 alternatives and find their perfect match. You need a guide, a guru, a counselor, someone who knows the snow world because they live it. This week, the best shops in America interact with the best brands, all in the hope that they’ll deliver to their precious clientele the best experience.

The SIA/OR show is an undeniably commercial enterprise, but its underpinnings aren’t in avarice but in what one might call skiing evangelism, the desire to fashion an earthly experience that seems touched by the divine. It also serves to remind us that we’re all in this human enterprise together, which alone is worth the price of admission.

Note to product nerds: Last week we lost Clay Christensen, a brilliant mind who composed one of the only business books worth reading, The Innovator’s Dilemma. If you want to understand the pattern and pace of brand and model evolution in the ski world, Christensen’s work is the place to start.

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