Over time, incremental innovation results in significant change.(RealSkiers.com)
To appreciate the global trends evinced by the 2018 ski market, one must first comprehend the pressure on major suppliers to renew as much of their product line as resources permit. At a minimum, cosmetics need to change; any model that doesn’t change its stripes, so to speak, risks dealers filling in around carryover, thereby reducing initial orders by 20-30 percent off the bat.
This is the primary reason why ski cosmetics change year in and year out, despite any pressure from the user community to do so. (Remember the Rossi 4SK? Its teal topskin remained intact for six seasons and all the 4SK did over that span was rack up record sales. We live in different times…)
The competition to win the sell-in battle and take command of the most rack space is so fierce that even the strongest brands dare not rest on their laurels. This entails maintaining a pace of innovation that pressures every ski R&D department to keep the new-idea pipeline full at all times. (It takes at least 18 months to incubate even a small change and industrialize it, assuming a minimum of testing is part of the protocol.)
The problem with this business model is that genuinely new ideas are hard to hatch. A major limitation is that the ski industry as a whole is too small to afford its own materials research, depending on NASA to concoct any truly new stuffing and on other industries to adopt it in order to bring the cost down. This means that almost every cook in the ski design kitchen draws on the same universe of raw materials and proven recipes.
That every major brand manages to make so many distinctively performing models from the same basic elements is a testament to how many flavors can be extracted from the same ingredients. The impetus to innovate compels brands to develop a core of differentiated designs that are incrementally improved on a cycle that has shrunk to one or two years.
2018: The Golden Age of Incremental Enhancement
The trick to incremental innovation is having the right bones to build on. The better the original design, the more it lends itself to relatively minor adjustments that contribute palpable improvements.
The 2018 ski market is littered with examples of recently launched models that receive small but significant embellishments. Invisible modifications elevate the performance capabilities of dozens of returning models, from a new, denser wood core in the already excellent Atomic Vantage 90 CTi to an extra glass layer that wraps around the sidewall (3D.Glass) in Völkl models like the all-terrain 90 Eight.
Other examples of returning models that have undergone family-wide makeovers include K2’s Pinnacles (stouter), Head’s Monsters (softer) and Line’s Sick Days (new shapes). Only a year after introducing a significant new design feature (Carbon Alloy Matrix) to its powerhouse line-up of Experience and 7 models, Rossignol has redesigned and redecorated both series, blending a technical tale (more snow contact in the forebody) with attention grabbing aesthetics.
In keeping with this trend, Blizzard tinkered with its best selling Bonafide and Brahma freeride models (also to improve on-trail traction), but their new Rustlers represent a complete departure from the twintip series they replace. The Rustler construction, dubbed Carbon Flipcore D.R.T., will debut in two men’s and two women’s iterations.
The new Rustlers and revised Soul 7’s lead a herd of new models that have collectively raised the performance profile of the Big Mountain and Powder genres. Bucking the trend of subtle twists on existing templates, Head’s Kore series borrows bupkis from the models it displaces. The new Enforcer 110 from Nordica deploys two sheets of Titanal, like the Helldorado of yore, yet weighs no more than the venerable, all-glass Patron it retires. Dynastar’s Legend X 106 headlines a new, full-line series featuring multi-layered sidewalls, a technology descended from their race skis.
At the opposite end of both the waist-width and gender scales, the Women’s Technical category (67mm-74mm) has doubled in size, and all the new entrants, from Atomic, Blizzard, Fischer, Kästle and Nordica, use Titanal in their construction. At Realskiers, we’d love to see more women support this genre, but realistically, the epicenter of the women’s market has shifted to the All-Mountain East (85mm-94mm) category, where advanced to expert women will find the widest range of choices.
Elsewhere in the pantheon of women’s skis, it’s gratifying to see that the same incremental benefits bestowed upon men’s models have likewise infiltrated the women’s market. The tide that raised the performance level for Big Mountain skis for men also elevated the quality of the women’s field. The upshot is more expert women will find their match in the Big Mountain field.