Traditionally this is the time of year when we see next year’s gear trickling onto the slopes. During a normal season, journalists would already have spilled thousands of words on what we saw at SIA, and the forums would have spilled thousands more, castigating us for not getting more information and more accurate weights. And even though this isn’t a normal tradeshow year, it’s still new gear season. Brands have released new and updated gear over the past month, your buddy who works at a shop might already have gotten on “next year’s skis, so sick man!” and pros have been teasing new graphics on social media for weeks. I keep dipping in and out of various “21/22 Gear” threads on a variety of forums, trying to keep track of what’s new and what’s changed.
But during this exciting time of year I’ve decided to put it all out there. The prediction business is a foolish and ironically unpredictable game to enter, but it’s greybird outside, my boots smell bad, and I’ve got nothing better to do. So here you go: I’m sticking my neck out and outlining first what I think next year’s ski gear will look like, and then secondly I’ll break down how I hope it changes. So hold onto your butts, we might ruffle some feathers here.
I am (mostly) just some guy on the internet who owns a scale and reads too much about gear. I’ve written plenty of reviews for Blister Gear Review in the past, but please don’t hold whatever I’m about to say against Blister, it’s not their fault. I don’t have any sponsors or “industry insider sources,” just a few discounts on gear and some people who work at ski brands who give me a hard time on Instagram sometimes. My name is orange because I make my living writing and drawing about skiing, not because I’m good enough at skiing to have sponsors. Your guess is as good as mine, so feel free to make your points in the comments.
What I Think We’ll Be Talking About This Time Next Year
These are just some general topics and trends that I think have a good chance of being front-of-mind next SIA season.
More Eco-Conscious Skis and Outerwear
I think this one’s a pretty safe bet. Some brands have been leading this segment for years, but it feels like we’ve reached a tipping point in the last few seasons. More consumers are recognizing the link between their buying choices and the impact manufacturing has on the environment, and more and more companies are responding by pursuing greener materials and processes.
My guess is we’ll see more than a few of the bigger brands who have been a little quiet on the sustainability front come out with big flashy initiatives in the next year. Going green has always made good moral sense, but at this point, it also makes obvious marketing sense. How much of an impact that will have is open to debate, but hey, it’s a step in the right direction.
More Options for Boot Customization
This one is less of a safe bet, but I still think it’s a trend we’ll see. I think boot brands will continue to offer ways for shops to customize boots beyond traditional liner molds and punching. It just makes sense. We’ve seen it happen already with the proliferation of fully heat-moldable shells. It wasn’t that many years ago that very few boots had a full shell mold option, and now that number has grown exponentially.
In some ways, Atomic is a good bellwether for the direction boots are moving. In the last few years, we’ve seen them at the forefront of innovation in the boot marketplace, not because they’re doing something totally unique, but because they’re taking things that very few other brands are doing, and making them accessible. The Backland was the hottest new ultralight boot, even though Dynafit had been making plenty of boots with similar intentions for years. The Hawx Ultra was at the forefront of the ultralight inbounds boot shift we saw a few years ago. Then the XTD brought a heat-moldable shell to the 50/50 market that the MTN Lab had dominated. Now with their Mimic liners, and their new Pro system Atomic is once again on the pointy end of the boot technology line.
And yes, I know, Surefoot has been doing custom foam liners for ages. But I think Atomic has the dealer network and marketing clout to bring them to folks who never would have considered them in the past. And I think other brands will follow suit, debuting new boot technologies that allow shops to quickly, and reasonably affordably customize your boots to your foot.
More Brands will ditch the model year cycle
I didn’t have to stare deep into my crystal ball to come up with this one. The traditional gear release cycle makes less sense every year, especially during the pandemic. Plenty of indy brands have already ditched the “drop your new line at SIA” model in favor of releasing new skis when they feel like it. Others have chosen to carry over graphics and skis between model years to reduce waste and help shops manage rollover inventory.
Personally, I’m a big fan. Release new skis when you’ve made a good new ski. Customers shouldn’t feel pressured to buy a new ski with an identical layup just because it has new graphics. I understand that less predictable releases can make things harder for shops, but that’s a hurdle I think they can work with brands to overcome.
More Custom Ski Options
On that note, I think we’ll continue to see new options to get custom or semi-custom skis. It makes a whole bunch of sense for many brands to offer a consistent lineup of stock skis, as well as selling one-offs or limited releases. Maybe we’ve hit market saturation, but I don’t think we’ve made it to peak “boutique/custom” brand levels yet.
Graphics will continue to have more personality
This ties into the custom options point above. It seems like the last two years have had a strong resurgence of interesting, original, artistic ski graphics. We’ll see how long this trend keeps up, but I guess that we’ll see a bunch of skis come out next year that would look as good on the wall as they will on your feet.
More Avalanche Airbag Options
Avalanche airbags have (generally) been in a state of constant incremental improvement for years now. BD’s Jetforce is the striking exception. But generally, it seems like everyone is trying to make slightly less expensive, slightly lighter, slightly less bulky airbag systems than they made the year before. And I’m just waiting for the big tech jump that’s going to bump them to the next level. I hope that a brand, or ideally several brands, figure out how to make either a much, much lighter and smaller airbag system that makes more sense for longer tours with a heavy pack, or a much more affordable system that lowers the barrier to entry significantly. Could next season be the year we see a $300 airbag pack on the market?
More 50/50 Everything
Ugh, I hate the 50/50 designation, but it sure is a hot market segment. And it seems primed to get even hotter. More people are walking uphill in controlled resort environments than ever before, and everyone who’s new to backcountry skiing seems to have been convinced that they need a 1700 gram boot and Shift or Dukes to walk uphill with. I get it, the “one setup to rule them all” is such a tantalizing idea. Unfortunately, I don’t think the perfect boot/binding combo exists yet, and my guess is brands don’t think so either. So I expect to continue to see more overbuilt touring bindings, and more 130 flex boots with tech fittings.
More Retro Gimmicks
This one might be controversial, but I think most inbounds ski gear is really freaking good right now. So I think brands will come up with more marketing gimmicks that might make tiny performance improvements, but mostly just give them an excuse to sell new gear. Case in point, that weird switch on the new STH. What does it do? So far, we haven’t been told anything concrete other than “it makes the boot/binding interface feel different.” Do we need that option? Probably not. Is it a good excuse for a bunch of people to replace their existing bindings? Probably. Does it feel like something that you’d get on a retro neon setup from the thrift store? Certainly.
Atomic is selling rear-entry boots for Pete’s sake. What’s next, a switch on your boots for “groomer mode” or “off-piste mode”? I’m not saying I’m against gimmicks at all, I just think we’re going to see plenty of “innovations” next year that might deserve a little eye roll.
Less Of a Focus on Park Skis
It hurts me to say it, but it sure seems like the current multitude of park-capable 100ish underfoot skis, combined with an influx of new skiers who care more about walking uphill than hitting rails are slowly killing traditional “park” skiing. The big brands will continue to focus on selling full setups to affluent beginners and leave manufacturing true park skis to the indies. And some of that’s on us. Plenty of folks who used to be dedicated park skiers have “taken their tricks to real mountains.” Which is ok. If you give me a choice between a ski that can win X-Games and a ski that’s fun to spin off sidehits the day after a storm, I know which one I’d pick in a heartbeat.
Atomic can sell a BC 100 to dads who mount it at -10 to rip groomers and to park kids who mount it at center to ski the whole mountain. That’s a much better value proposition than trying to sell that same range of people a true park ski, or a true dad ski.
The Return of “Casual” Ski Outerwear
This one is just a gut feeling. Remember when Burton was collabing with Carhartt? Remember when Orage was making jackets that looked like a vest over a flannel shirt? Remember when Full Tilt made the Timberland boot? Sure, the needle has swung pretty far to the “desaturated but still lush color blocking on technical fabrics” end of things, but I think, and hope that we’re on the edge of the revival of “casual” styled outerwear. And this time you won’t be able to convince me not to buy those ski pants that look like distressed jeans.
What I Hope We’ll Be Talking About This Time Next Year
These are just my personal dreams for ski gear. Will they come true? Probably not.
Atomic Bent Chetler 110 (AKA Bring the Blog Back)
You’ve all heard this rant. But whatever: I miss the Blog. Lots of us miss the Blog. Atomic has gotten better at building skis since they last made the Blog. We’ve all gotten into touring since they last made the Blog. Bring it back! Give us that 1600ish gram touring ski. C’mon! We know you can do it! Make it pretty! Sell it to us!
And yes, the Moment Wildcat 108 Tour is basically exactly what I’d want the Blog/BC110 to be, but still, a new Blog would be so cool. And then your athletes wouldn’t have to choose between a just-too-narrow BC 100 and a just-too-wide BC 120. This one won’t happen, but if it did, I’d pay MSRP for a pair, just for old time’s sake.
Full Tilt Classic Fit Touring Boot
This one seems likely, but I still want to advocate for it. I don’t want to do long tours in any pair of Full Tilts, but I do like my inbounds boots to have tech fittings. And the Classic fits so many people’s feet well. It was so frustrating when the only option for Classic inbound boot lovers was to either jump straight to the too-short and too-wide Ascendant, or go try their luck with another brand. You’ve got this Tom, make us something cool.
More inbounds-influenced touring gear
As the touring segment grows, I’ve been surprised by how few brands have made an effort to produce touring gear that feels like a natural extension of their inbounds line. That goes for skis, boots, and outerwear.
Demoing touring gear is really hard. There are a lot of variables that make it a lot harder to evaluate than inbounds gear. So it makes a ton of sense to model your touring gear off of your inbounds gear. I love it when brands make their touring boot fit exactly like their inbounds boot. It takes away a bunch of guesswork. And I wish more brands would make lighter, more breathable outerwear that fits like their inbounds gear.
But really, I want more brands to take Moment’s approach and model their touring skis directly off of inbounds models. It makes everything so much easier. I know I loved the Deathwish inbounds, so it was an easy call to get on the Deathwish Tour as my touring ski. It feels exactly the same, just lighter. It’s so frustrating when brands develop weird shapes and models for touring, instead of putting their inbounds skis on a diet. Not everyone can take the ON3P approach and offer various layups for every shape, but it’s a good direction to look at. If more brands looked at their best-selling all-mountain skis and figured out how to get them down to 15-1800g for touring, the market would make a lot more sense to consumers, and more people could have more fun skiing under their own power.
More SkiMo Influenced Gear
No, I don’t think we should all be skiing in tight pants with stirrups, but on the other end of the spectrum from my previous point, I think the average backcountry skier has a lot to gain by going lighter and taking their influences from the tight pants and skinny ski crowd vs the frame bindings and inbounds boot set. Most of us aren’t hucking our meat and skiing big lines in the backcountry. We could get away with a lot lighter boots and bindings if there were more good, fun touring skis to use them on.
A New Focus on Local Skiing
It would be pretty neat if we as an industry stopped fetishizing the destination trip. It would be good for the planet and would make a lot of us a lot happier if we instead focused on making the most of what we have locally. And yes, I’m privileged to have great skiing locally, but the number of people who live in “destination” areas like Jackson Hole or Big Sky and still put all of their focus on traveling or storm chasing to other locales is mind-boggling. We don’t all need to chase storms and ski a new mountain every week. I want ski movies that focus on how rewarding it can be to make the most of your home hill, even if it doesn’t have the marketing budget to pay for a film crew to come make it look better than it is. Side hits are cool.
This one will never happen, and that makes me sad. But I have yet to ski a sub-1500 gram ski that’s as fun and fluid on the downhill in variable conditions as my ski blades are. And most people aren’t skiing bottomless pow that necessitates real skis in the backcountry. Instead of skiing feathery light, flimsy, hard to drive skis, hop on some skiblades and reap all the rewards with none of the frustrations. Also, they fit in a carry-on bag. Never curse your lost ski bag again.