October, 2005: Lots of great new rando gear is on the way for the upcoming year, but be ready for some sticker shock when you see the prices. As always, the majority of the really tasty items are produced by European companies, and with the dollar at a stagnant low all randonnée gear promises to go up in price for the winter of '05-06.
Let's start with skis, where my favorite mass-market producer, Atomic, has come out with a new profile in its tele/AT lineup, called the Tacora (all the skis in the "tele" series are now named after peaks). This new shape slots in between the old TM:X and TM:22, with a 113-80-104 profile and a new-school blunt tip . If this ski is anything like its brethren and doesn't scrimp on edgehold or stability at speed, it should be a winner. Sizes are 181, 172, and 163 and the weight is a reasonable 3150 grams/pair for the 181's. The new bio-blob graphics for the entire line of tele skis may not appeal to everyone, but IMO the Tacora is one of the more attractive skis in the lineup. The tried-and-true TM:X becomes the Kongur with the 117/84/109 platform, and the wide-body 125/99/117 Teledaddy becomes the Janak . All have new magnesium-cap topsheets that reduce weight by around 15%.
Black Diamond adds the Verdict , a fatty with dimensions of 128/98/116, to the existing lineup of Havoc, Ethic, Mystic and Crossbow, and the Frantic (nice choice of name for a BC ski, huh?) replaces the Nunyo (mixed wood/foam core and slightly stiffer tail).
Ski Trab, long popular with Europeans, will finally have an American presence this year as Salt Lake's Mark Lengel will be importing the dominant rando race line into the US. The popular Sintesi will become a "Duo" ski for '05-'06, meaning that the skis will have a modified swallow-tail and a dual "baby butt" tip like the Duo Sint Aero and Duo Race Aero (sorry, no .jpg picture of the Duo Sintesi, but it will have the same graphics as the Duo Sint Aero in yellow). Weight will be 1160 grams in a 171, as compared with the Sint Aero's 1050 grams, and the shape will be identical (105/102-73-89) - the Duo skis continue to get wider after the tip turns upward, giving them better flotation in fresh snow; rumor has them skiing fresh conditions like a ski 10mm wider, I dunno, there's no substitute for square inches underfoot, but maybe in combination with the twin tip? The Trab Freerando is another ski that looks promising for fast and far winter touring, with a profile I used to think of as "fat" (108/78/93) and weighing in at only 1290 grams in a 171.
K2 manages to further cloud the issue of binding choice by introducing a new line of do-it-all "telemark alpine touring" skis with NW native-inspired graphics (this in addition to their popular Piste/Stinx tele line), adding the Mt. Baker (122/89/108, from the proven Axis AK/AK Launcher mold), the lightweight (1300 grams in a 174cm length) Sahale (102/70/89), and the Chogori (112/70/97, same graphic scheme as the Sahale but red where the Sahale is blue) to the already capable Martin Volken-designed Shuksan (117/78/105) which remains the same save for topsheet design. The new additions were, according to K2's website, developed in cooperation with Andrew McLean.
Sound like the choice in backcountry skis is growing by leaps and bounds the past few years? Could be, but the recent acquisitions by Atomic (Salomon), K2 (Völkl & Marker) and Quicksilver (Rossignol) might give you something to think about. What's next, a bunch of Pilot gear by Atomic? (done deal). Völkl moving production to China? Don't bet against it.
Dynafit's been on the move as well, coming out with a super-light titanium version of its TLT binding that shaves off about 95 grams per ski. The TLT Titan Race or TLT Race Ti appears to have a slightly more minimalist shape to the heelpiece, no heel lifter, and reportedly has even better torque resistance at the toepiece. The weight is 235 grams per binding, down from 330 grams for the regular TLT (now called the TLT Speed). The "cat" graphic on the prototype heel is cool, too, but the projected $600 price? Dynafit has made some minor changes in the rest of the line, too - the TLT has been renamed the TLT Speed and has an all-silver finish, and the Comfort will have a max DIN of 12 rather than 10. If you look closely, the toepiece baseplate appears to have been reworked into a two-part structure with a "fairing" - perhaps to help with the problem of snow getting in under the springs and hampering the function of the jaws. The extra plastic could account for the fact that several overseas sites are reporting the regular TLT to be 5 grams per ski HEAVIER than last year; the picture I have seen of the Ti Race toe appears to use the original, uncovered baseplate.
Note: Telemark Pyrenees has the Race Ti in stock as of 9/21/05 for approximately $504 USD including shipping to North America. Judging by the info on their website, the '05-'06 Comfort does NOT yet go to DIN 12, though they have changed the color of the binding to grey (including the volcano). The TLT Speed apparently does not have a slot in the climbing post to stick your ski pole tip into; you must bend down and twist the heelpiece by hand; also the Race Ti heel appears to use the ultra-small footprint baseplate from the non-releasing race heel and so will not fit the Comfort/Speed hole pattern.
Scarpa has come out with a burly "freeride" AT boot, the Tornado, aimed at the alpine crossover crowd, and a new softer boot that fills the gap between the Matrix and the Laser called the Spirit 3. It's unclear if both boots will make it to the US, but I would bet that at least the Tornado will be available in US shops this winter.
Finally, the popular rando racing F1 is reportedly being revamped, losing its clumsy rear locking latch and shedding weight. It remains to be seen whether these changes will be incorporated into the '05-'06 retail models or if they will go mostly to sponsored Euro rando teams this year (the BD catalog sent the week of September 20, 2005 shows an unchanged version of the F1 for the current model year - seems that Scarpa is waiting until they go independent for NA distributorship in 2006 to introduce the federleicht version).
Black Diamond will be making a dramatic visual change to its skins this year, with the classic purple plush of the standard and ClipFix versions becoming gold (heresy), and the blue-and-white artificial cowhide pattern of the GlideLites becoming a black-and-white tire tread pattern (kinda cool).
"Incoming" covers developments that have personal interest to me (ie. gear I covet, or events I feel may impact the sport of skiing) - it is by no means meant to be a comprehensive enumeration of gear or events in the ski world at large. Feel free to contact me via the randosaigai.com link below with news or images that may be of interest . . .
© 2006 Gregory C. Louie