Peter Shelton

Trend Report: Old Is New

Posted in Ski evolution, Ski history, Watch columns by pshelton on September 22, 2011

I don’t blame them. The editors. Ski magazine’s Buyers Guide is down to a 98-page weakling. So, they should be forgiven for hyping a bunch of product “trends” as “cutting edge,” when in fact they are either old ideas coming around again or subtle tweaks in proven technologies and materials. At least one “trend” – the one on the parity, finally, of women’s performance boots with men’s models – just made me laugh. It’s the same old “You’ve-come-a-long-way-Baby” sales pitch.

The first “trend” to leap off the page was the return of the one-piece suit, considered so very uncool for the last decade plus. “Back in the Bag” reads the headline. Well, what do you know? The girls always told me my yellow, one-piece North Face coverall would come back into fashion one day. It worked for Scot Schmidt; it’s always worked for me. It’s warm. Keeps the elements out. Lets you feel all loose and free around the waist. And, according to the Ski mag copy, it “tells the world you’re not just there for the hot cocoa.”

Then there is the Rossignol Experience 88, a ski made with “basalt igneous” rock. The editors tagged them “Rock Skis.” (“We’ve seen lots of materials in skis: woods of all kinds, various alloys, Kevlar, fiberglass, carbon fiber, bamboo, rubber . . . But rock?”)

Rossi melts the basalt and draws it into strands, which are woven into a fabric that stiffens the ski. Testers said the 88s had a snappy rebound. Whether or not that is due to the “rock fiber” will come out in time, I suppose. It makes me think of the Graves ski of the early 1970s. They were molded concrete. Guaranteed for the life of the skier. I kid you not. They were a dull red brick color, not especially heavy – air bubbles in the concrete? – but they were stiff.

Most of the “groundbreaking innovations” in the Trend Report have to do with boots. One features Fischer’s new vacuum technology. The boot shell is heated up and molded to the foot and leg angles of the skier. “Might be the most innovative upgrade in boots since plastic,” say the editors.

Dude! I was immediately returned to 1969. I’d purchased my first-ever pair of plastic ski boots. They were as rigid as Frankenstein shoes. But their liners – and this is what was so intriguing – were foam-injected to conform to my feet. I remember standing in the shop with my feet entombed in what seemed like ever-tightening, very hot, wraparound vices.

I don’t remember what brand they were (Riekers? Kastingers?), perhaps because I owned them for such a short time. The day I was going to christen them on snow (at Sugar Bowl), I set them out on the sidewalk in Berkeley, next to the car – it was dark, I was excited, I wanted to get there by first chair – and drove off without them. Never saw them again.

There have been innumerable custom liners since, some you put in the oven, some that mold to your special boney structure over time. All promise the skier’s Holy Grail: pain-free comfort for the dogs while sacrificing nothing in performance. I have no way of knowing if Fischer’s boot might live up to the hype. I’m just saying.

Another Trend Report blurb reads: “The hottest topic in the boot industry now is how to accommodate the stance changes brought about by modern skis and technique. Essentially, manufacturers are using more-upright cuffs and a little less ramp angle in the boot board (or floor) of the shell to promote a taller, less-loaded leg angle and a more balanced feel underfoot.” And so on.

Sheesh. This isn’t new. I’ve always tried to find boots that allowed an upright stance. It’s only natural; you want to stand tall and use as little muscle as possible. The genius boot makers have tilted us up and down (like hemlines) for decades. In the 1970s and 80s, when ramp angles made me feel as if I were on high heels, I fashioned quarter-inch plates to go underneath the binding toes, effectively lowering my heel.

No, what the editors call “The New Frontier of Boot Design” is anything but; it’s common wisdom coming around again on the big wheel of memory. Claiming synergy with “the stance changes brought about by modern . . . technique” is more than a little disingenuous. Good technique doesn’t change.

And I’m sorry to say the editors must think we consumers have extremely short memories when it comes to women’s boots. Forever, before the advent of gender-specific gear, men and women wore the same ski Schuhe – and things worked pretty well. Strong skiers wanted the tightest fitting, most reactive transmission tool they could find. Boys and girls.

Then a marketing opportunity arose: women’s lib, more distaff buying power, fashion! Some design modifications made sense, lower cuff heights for instance, since some women’s calf muscles are set lower on the leg. But mostly, the boots were a soft-flexing, girl-colored version of an intermediate unisex boot.

Every year the salesmen say the condescension is over. Here’s what Ski says about this year’s XX crop: “This year’s boot test was a watershed for the women . . . Why? The upright stance angles that work for guys also work for women [Duh!] . . . Add a little faux fur in the liner, and it’s a great time to ski like a girl.”

Sisters, unite!

2 Responses

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  1. kellie day said, on September 25, 2011 at 3:37 am

    you are hilarious! only someone with a climbing history likes yours peter could call it like this… sistahs unite!

  2. kellie day said, on September 25, 2011 at 3:39 am

    i meant skiing!

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