To kowtow (however temporarily) to the cult of brevity, the short answer is, “not very.”
To elaborate, most major ski brands didn’t derail the introduction of new products that were in the works well before the pandemic dropped the hammer. There’s a rhythm to the product renewal cycle that shifts the spotlight every year to a different model family within any brand’s global collection; that rhythm was largely respected despite the unique obstacles imposed on the process this year. If most of the models appearing in 21/22 catalogs seem similar to what was offered this year, it’s because this is how the line renewal machinery ordinarily operates.
What’s difficult to judge from outside the R&D pipeline is what we’re not seeing. That is, were there more new models or upgrades to existing star products ready to launch that were put on hold to avoid overloading a potentially weakened distribution network? Possibly; what might have been a planned six-model launch may have been trimmed to three or four, for example.
Happily, there’s no real downside to this scenario for the prospective ski buyer. All essential model family refreshing and line extensions will unfold as forecast. If you haven’t bought a ski in three or four years – I believe the average span between new ski purchases is over seven – the entire universe of Alpine skis is new to you. You may spot some names you recognize, but the skis that bear the name will almost assuredly be different.
The New Normal is a Lot Like the Old Normal
There are couple of interesting consequences to the modest rate of model turnover for next season. It diminishes the potential for buyer’s remorse: if the model isn’t changing for next year, why not get it now and improve your ski experience as soon as you can? (The Pontiff of Powder disapproves of deferred gratification.)
If the model you’ve had your eye on is about to shuffle off the stage, its sale price is likely to slip as winter turns to spring. While this sounds like a bonanza lies right around the bend, understand that many of the most popular models and sizes will already be gone, gobbled up by a demand for skis that rivaled the bike sale frenzy of the summer. If you were thinking of refreshing any part of your backcountry kit, for example, that ship may already have sailed. In some parts of the country, skis of any kind are already scarce.
So while the pandemic certainly blew a big hole in a lot of ski-related plans, the beating heart of the sport – the passion of its addicted fan base – has remained strong. Just as in a normal year, where skiing is possible, skiing is happening.
And just as in a normal year, brands will fill in around existing star products and only replace an entire model family when its current incarnation has grown long in the tooth. For 2021, this means a lot of models are returning more or less intact for the very good reason that they’re only one or two years old.
I realize that many of my Dear Readers and Dear Listeners would like me to dish some of the details about new models that won’t be in retailer racks until next fall, but this is not the time or place for such revelations. Allow me to tantalize with these tidbits: Head, Rossignol, Kästle and Atomic will roll out new generations of mainstay models, while Völkl and Salomon have quite a few new faces spread across several categories. Naturally, I’ll divulge all in due course, after every model has been skied and its scores analyzed. The Pontiff counsels patience, as I have preached before in these pages.
And when the time comes for end-of-season sales – and that time is still a ways off, mind you, so again I preach patience – check with your favorite specialty retailer before you pull the trigger on a perceived deal; at least give your regular shop a swing at the pinata before taking your business elsewhere.
If you’re looking for backcountry gear, good luck. Skiers eager to make their way out of bounds have already scooped up every tech binding and climbing skin in sight. Despite predictions of doom, the American ski market has been doing robust business during the pandemic. [Photo courtesy of Völkl.]