- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

This season will be much like previous winters when it comes to equipment, apparel and snow toys. The gear used by skiers and snowboarders make innovative use of materials both traditional and newly created and are on the leading edge of technology.
But beyond the flash and sizzle that characterize ski and snowboard products, there are some items that can only be classified as unusual. Whether these products are the first indications of trends sweeping the sport or simply attempts by marketers to create a buzz won't be determined for a while
Offbeat items of note that you will find in ski and board shops this winter include bacteria-fighting silver underwear, inflatable insulation and soft, fabric-topped ski boots. But the overreaching raisons d'etre of the new products are warmth, comfort and ease of use. Even skis are easier to lug around because the new, high-performance shapes are shorter than skis of past eras.
Using silver as an anti-bacterial, anti-odor agent in thermal underwear, or base layer, is one of the biggest technological advances of the season. Medalist's X-Static, a performance fabric made with pure silver, is in a number of apparel items.
The silver fabric's anti-microbial properties allow it to be worn longer between washings. In addition to anti-odor and anti-static properties, X-Static has excellent temperature-regulation qualities that conduct and distribute heat away from the body to cool in warm weather and to reflect heat back to the body for warmth in cold weather.
X-Static is used in base layers made by Hot Chillys, Marmot, Medalist, Mountain Hardwear, SportHill and Salomon, and in gloves and hats from Marmot and Turtle Fur.
"Phase change" insulating layers are smart. They use a physical property called latent heat to seek a comfortable stable state just below normal body temperature. In short, these materials cool when you're hot and warm when you're cold. There are two technologies: Outlast, currently used in specialized garments from Columbia, Marmot, the North Face and Kombi gloves; and ComfortTemp, used by Spyder and Hotfingers.
W.L. Gore & Associates, maker of Gore-Tex fabric, has created Airvantage adjustable insulation. The fabric can be inflated or deflated by the wearer to control the amount of air insulating the body. Essentially, Airvantage creates a controllable thermal climate that eliminates layers of clothing. The change of insulation is equal to adding or removing a mid-weight fleece vest, says Gore.
Airvantage fabrics are used in garments by Bogner, Burton, Degre 7, Eider, Rossignol, Schoffel, Tsunami, Marmot and Oakley.
Alpine ski boots are following snowboard boots going to a soft, comfortable, leisure fit that makes easier the tugging on and pulling off phases of wearing ski boots. The hard plastic has been sliced off the top of the boot shell and replaced with soft, fabric-like flaps of waterproof, artificial leather or plastic. Soft boot examples include: Atomic's Soft Tech Series, Dolomite's DC 100, Head's Extra Comfort Technology (ECT) Series, Kneissl's Rail Scandium, Nordica's Smartech series, Rossignol's Soft Series and Salomon's Verse series.
Helmet sales continue to escalate as concern for safety continues. Some established brands report sales growth of 35 percent last year, and new brands appear each season.
Helmets are lighter and more comfortable with better venting this season, and new standards for helmet construction and impact absorption raise the bar on safety.
There is a variety of styles full shell, half-shell, fully vented, fully insulated, with or without a jaw guard. Boeri's Axis uses a temperature-stabilizing Outlast lining so it stays comfortable skiing hard and fast through the bumps or cooling down on the lift.
Motocross inspired graphics are driving ski development. Skis favored by the young and aggressive are generally wider, with more shape, making them easier to carve and more versatile in soft snow.
Many ski models for youngsters are twin-tipped, that is the tails are often turned up to allow for forward and backward motion. These twin-tip skis are narrower and shorter down to skate length ski boards and meant for stunting on firm snow or launching aerials off terrain park jumps. The wider, longer twin-tips, designed to float easily in deep powder, are designed for backcountry bashing, skiing in the woods and flying off the cornice.
Some of the new twin-tips include: Atomic Stomp and Tweak; Elan AMP; Fischer Airstyle NT; Head Mad-Trix; Line Pro Models; Rossignol Scratch BC and Scratch FS; Salomon Pocket Rocket and 1080; the Volkl V-Pro.


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