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Skiing ahead of the Joneses in Sin City

Bob Berwyn

LAS VEGAS — Some skiers and boarders have yet to make their first turns of the 2003-04 season, but the industry was already rolling out the Next Big Thing for next year at the annual SnowSports Industries America (SIA) shindig recently in Las Vegas.Aaah, Las Vegas the first place that comes to mind when you think of awe-inspiring peaks, powder-filled cirques and snow-frosted trees, right?Well, maybe not, but hey, what better place to present the illusion of winter than a city that thrives on make-believe, from the just-out-of-reach promise of instant wealth to hotels made to look like Paris, Venice, New York and even the Luxor, built to resemble an Egyptian pyramid.In fact, that’s where this snowsport journalist has been ensconced for the last few days, trying desperately to find the exit, any exit. Just let me out. I need some fresh air – now!Somewhere down the maze of corridors filled with stale smoke and even more stale dreams of slot-machine payoffs, the grand hall is filled with cheerful purveyors of hats, gloves, wax, underwear, outerwear, bindings, goggles, poles and every other bit of paraphernalia associated with this wonderful industry that makes the Rocky Mountains hum in the winter.Besides that, it’s all about gangster beanies and trucker baseball hats at Vegas this year, so many of them make me feel like I’ve wandered into Shoneys rather than a ski trade show.And while it’s easy enough to make fun of a place like Vegas, the show is actually a key link in the industry puzzle. It’s a cyclical, seasonal business, and ski shop owners in Vail need to have some idea what might be coming down the road next winter so they can anticipate styles, trends and consumer demand. Many retailers are placing their orders for next winter at the show, and the products they choose will wind up in local shops.Anybody who has been inside The Bag and Pack shops in Vail and Avon has probably met J.T., a local sporting goods guru who has seen trends come and go, then come back again.”A lot of the things in the industry tend to go full circle,” he says. “The use of wool is back we’re seeing that in a lot of different weights and colors.”Merino wool is the big reason behind the comeback. This quasi-compressed form of wool is softer to the touch and easy on the eye. It makes a great mid-weight layer for a ski day, or an outer layer for casual wear.Soft-shell parka technology is another clothing realm that has caught skier’s and snowboarder’s attention.”It’s a fabric that doesn’t have the stiffness or the rustling that a hard-shell presents,” J.T. says. “These came onto the market about three years ago but it took a while to gain acceptance.”J.T. also says that the warmth and feel of down jackets has come back into fashion. Patagonia, he says, will be coming out with a down sweater next year that should sell well to outdoor adventurers.Performance Sports’ Karin Pellerito recently returned from the Vegas ski show, and she agrees wholeheartedly with J.T.’s down-jacket review.”Puffy (jackets) are huge this year and Oakley is even doing a printed puffy,” she says. “It’s like a little joke around here ‘All puffies all the time.'”Pellerito says girls will see a rainbow of sherbet colors next year, but guys will probably stay mellow with blues, reds, and other primary colors.And the hardware that comes part-and-parcel with the puffy revolution is almost always twin-tip. The X-Games revolution continues to draw the attention of young kids, Pellerito says. Riding switch (or skiing backward, if you prefer) is the best way for kids to stay cool.”Twin tips for kids are really a big deal,” she says. “They just want to jump off everything and turn around backward. We have a lot of 10-year-old kids coming in and asking for Pocket Rockets. Skiing is as cool as snowboarding you don’t have to be a snowboarder to be ‘a dude.'”And perhaps the most surprising new trend in skiing: the return of the one-piece.That’s right, you heard it here first. The one-piece has gone from trendy to embarrassing in the past 10 years. But the very first images of cool dudes in one-piece suits have made their way onto the airwaves this year as certain X-Gamers have come out wearing new variants of the old-school one-piece.”Some of those guys are wearing one-piece suits that look like overalls for a mechanic,” Pellerito says. “That’s exactly what’s going to bring ski suits back big, baggy ski suits.”– Tom Boyd contributed to this report


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