Want a personal downhill soundtrack? Download your music to the built-in MP3 player in Oakley's Thump sunglasses.
Want a personal downhill soundtrack? Download your music to the built-in MP3 player in Oakley's Thump sunglasses. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff Photo)

Shades to socks: Gear goes high tech

Email|Print| Text size + By Hilary Nangle
Globe Correspondent / November 13, 2005

When it comes to ski-related clothing and gear, it's all about design and evolution.

''There have been no major paradigm shifts," says Joe Cutts, equipment editor for Ski magazine. Rather, it's all about refinement. Technology is filtering down to the mass market, and consumers are reaping the benefits. Here's what is new this year:

The most popular tech gadget on the slopes is the MP3 player. Manufacturers are creating clothing with MP3 and cellphone pockets, and helmet makers have prewired models with headphones and earpieces. The latest innovation is a helmet system with splitter that will quiet the music from your MP3 player when you answer your cell. Two systems to watch: Marker's Audiorama D1X ($115), which uses wireless Blue Tooth technology, and Giro's TuneUps II (from $50). Or consider Oakley's Thump sunglasses (from $200), which have an MP3 player built into the temple of the glass; you can download music right into your sunglasses and push the speakers into your ears or away from them. The sunglasses come in two sizes with varying amounts of memory.

Speaking of eyewear, new lens technology is making the ski scene much clearer. Smith's Sensor lens with 70 percent physical light transmission (average is 40 percent) means you can see a lot more, especially on flat light days. Entry level for the lens is $80. The Turbo Cam model ($180) has a two-speed fan built into the goggle frame. Marker's Striker with NXT ($72) has an especially strong lens that delivers the highest optical clarity of any on the market.

The last revolutions were the development of shaped skis and the integrated ski and binding. This year, refinements continue, including more niche segments. The biggest news is that skiing is cool again thanks to the X Games, where skiers on twin-tip skis have been getting four to five feet higher in the pipe than snowboarders. K2 is renowned for its ultra-cool graphics; take a look at the K2 MissDemeanor twin tip ($400).

Women's skis: No longer just dolled up versions of men's skis, women's skis are finally coming into their own. Manufacturers are using women in the research and design phase, and the results include different binding mounting points, softer flex, and lighter weight. ''K2 is probably the hottest women's ski in the market," says Chris Leake, vice president of merchandising and hardgoods for Ski Market, adding that Dynastar also is building a fabulous line.

For the expert looking for one ski that will do it all, Erik Anderson, general merchandising manager for American Skiing Company's retail shops, recommends the K2 Lotta Luv ($850).

Go anywhere, do anything: Anderson defines the ''one-ski quiver" as the one model that can handle almost all conditions.

''It's the most recent perfection of shaped ski design," he says. ''The only thing it's not going to excel in is really deep West Coast powder." In general, these skis have a tip dimension of more than 120 millimeters, a waist that measures around 80 millimeters, and a tail width of about 105 millimeters, a sidecut like a racing ski, and as much surface area as the early fat skis had. Among the models he thinks will be hot this season are the Nordica Hot Rod Top Fuel ($1,000) and the Atomic Metron B-5 ($950). Leake likes the Rossignol Bandit series ($450-$700), redesigned from the series of the same name, and the Dynastar Legend series ($700). ''The buzz on the Legend 8000 is rippling down to the city," he says.

Carving skis: When it comes to carving skis, both Anderson and Leake agree that the Volkl All Star ($700) is hot, hot, hot. It's an all-mountain, go anywhere, do anything ski for hard snow. ''It has race ski performance but is engineered for the average weekend warrior," Anderson says.

Telemark: Telemark skiing is seeing phenomenal growth among winter sports enthusiasts who have mastered alpine skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country, and now seek new challenges. ''Now the gear is so much like alpine gear that it's an easy transition," says Leigh Breidenbach, director of the Ski Industries Program at the University of Maine at Farmington. ''It's the marriage of alpine and back country."

Bindings: What's new in integrated ski and binding systems ''are ever-tighter ways to couple the ski and binding. When there's not as much slop, you can get a ski up on edge quicker and more easily, without loss of your energy," Cutts says. What the system does, Leake adds, is allow engineers to design the ski for complete flex, so there's no flat spot. ''You get a cleaner, smoother arc, a tighter bite on the hill, more purchase on snow or ice," he says.

Wax: ''You pay $1,000-plus for ski equipment. Take care of it," Breidenbach says. She compares daily waxing of skis with regularly getting the oil changed in your car. Expect to pay $12-$15 for a tin of F4 wax with a sponge applicator that probably will last a season. Apply it twice daily for best results.

''We're starting to see a bit of a trend away from the super-baggy snowboard look," Breidenbach says. Like skis, the fashion market has become highly segmented, with specific products aimed at the various types of skiers, such as free-ride, women's, sporty, traditional, and racy. All the big ski companies have clothing lines now. Some of Volkl's clothing matches its skis.

Influencing the US market is the introduction of European lines, which are bolder in color and design. ''Skiers have been wearing black pants for a bazillion years, but now we're selling a lot of neutral-colored pants," says Marty Roth, New England representative for Descente DNA. She says neutrals are a ''young look." For women, feminine colors are back: bright pinks, purples, and blues, and the pants have a lower rise. Techy innovations are crossing over from mountaineering and other specialized alpine sports. Hoods are larger, designed so they can be worn over helmets for increased protection against the elements.

Many manufacturers are featuring external taped seams, which improve waterproofing, in a contrasting color. ''It used to be that you had to pay $400 for a waterproof, breathable, seam-sealed garment, and even then it was critical seams only, just the shoulders or chest yoke," Anderson says. ''Now, for $250, you get a full seam-sealed, waterproof, breathable garment from a number of different vendors." Anderson mentions North Face and Marmot as two lines that are taking advantage of these advances.

Softshell, a waterproof and breathable material, feels softer than others and is quiet and flexible. ''It moves with the body," Anderson says. ''It doesn't bind at the knees or elbows."

Waterproof and breathable fabrics are washable. ''Keep it clean, wash it, hang it to dry, and it will look nicer, longer," Roth recommends. Also, look for the refinements that cross skiwear easily over to streetwear. For example, look for hoods that are detachable and have a flap covering the raw edge of the zipper. That way, it won't look as if something's missing when you wear the jacket without the hood.

Handwear: It's all about waterproof, breathable, and lightweight but lofty insulation. The Ultimate Ski Glove by Marmot ($150), Anderson says, is ''worth every penny; it's bombproof." It has a three-layer Gortex insert, and the palm and inside of all fingers are Pittard leather. It's rugged and looks like a work glove on the palm. It has Primaloft insulation and a full gauntlet cuff. ''It's the warmest, driest glove I have ever owned," Anderson says. ''It survives the half pipe and grabs." If the price is beyond reach, do not despair, Breidenbach says. Even less expensive gloves have come a long way. ''If you haven't bought a new pair of gloves in the last few years, it's time to do so," she says.

Socks: ''Sock technology is off the charts," Breidenbach says. She likes the SmartWool brand for its fibers that wick away sweat and dirt.

Contact Hilary Nangle, a freelance writer in Maine, at

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