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Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area

New/upgraded snowshoes from MSR, Atlas, Tubbs, and Kahtoola; lightweight Kahtoola crampons; and a new “sidecountry” ski pack from Osprey.

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by Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl | 2011-01-20 10:19:00-07


Wednesday January 19: rain in Salt Lake City and new powder in the mountains. All-Mountain Demo was held at a new place this year, Solitude Mountain Resort just east of the city. Nature cooperated by providing 10 inches (25 cm) of new powder the night before and more during the day. What an amazing trip it was to leave nearly snow-free Salt Lake City, chain up the bus at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, then grind up the steep narrow canyon to a winter wonderland at Solitude, which has received nearly 300 inches (762 cm) of snow already this winter.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 1
Numerous manufacturers bring their latest snow gear to the All-Mountain Demo for retailers and the media to see and try out - skis, snowshoes, goggles, sunglasses, packs, traction devices, winter sports clothing, and many other items. Hot drinks and hand/foot warmers were among the most popular items this time!

We have not covered snowshoes very much for the past couple of years, so we wanted to catch up in that category. There have been some significant improvements, and we want to highlight several models that struck our interest because of their light weight and innovations. We will first describe the snowshoes in the photo series below, then present our impressions gained from our on-site testing.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 2
Expanding their Lightning line of snowshoes, MSR (a Cascade Designs brand) introduced the Lightning Flash (and Axis shown above) in fall 2010. Weighing in at just over 3 pounds (1.36 kg) per pair, the Lightning Flash is MSR’s lightest snowshoe, yet it provides superb traction and stability. The Lightning series has a wrap-around flat, vertical aluminum frame that is serrated on the bottom, which they call their “360-degree traction frame.” There are also two serrated cross members to provide additional traction for climbing and descending, plus the usual wicked toe crampons under the binding. This snowshoe also features MSR’s SpeedLock binding system, which has one wide strap over the toe secured with a clamp that sets your boot fit- adjust it once and you don’t have to change it (for the same boots). MSRP is US$199; and it’s available in 22- and 25-inch (56- and 64-cm) lengths and men’s and women’s models. Five-inch (13-cm) flotation tails are available for US$50.

The MSR Lightning Axis snowshoe (US$240) has all of the features of the Flash plus the ability to rotate the angle of the binding, so the snowshoes track straight regardless of any problems you may have with your feet angling inward or outward. They also have a heel lift (the Flash doesn’t) for comfort when climbing steep hills.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 3
The new Atlas Aspect snowshoe for fall 2011 weigh 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg) per pair, but they are extraordinary in the amount of features, traction, and durability packed into that weight. These are high-end aluminum-framed snowshoes priced at $270. They are available in 24- and 28-inch (61- and 71-cm) lengths at the same price, and separate men’s and women’s models. The Aspect has Atlas’s Spring Loaded Suspension (which allows freedom of movement at the pivot point), long wicked toe crampons, serrated side frame (for lateral stability), one serrated cross member that provides downhill stability, a lightweight step-in binding that lays flat for packing, and very attractive decking. Overall, the Aspect may not be the lightest snowshoe around, but it would be hard to find a better performing backcountry snowshoe in its weight category.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 4
We reported on the Tubbs Flex snowshoe a couple of years ago. They are an injection molded plastic snowshoe that features a flexible deck that allows the snowshoe to conform to the terrain. The lightweight Flex TRK (pronounced “Trek”) model will be significantly updated for fall 2011, and will feature a one-piece flexible deck (instead of two pieces), lateral serrated traction, a lightweight step-in binding with toe stop, aggressive toe crampons, and a heel lift. They will be available in women’s 22-inch and men’s 24-inch (56- and 61-cm) lengths for just US$140, which is $10 less than the current version. The weight is 3 pounds 14 ounces (1.76 kg) for the 24-inch (61-cm) snowshoes.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 5
We have previously reviewed the Kahtoola Flight System, consisting of an insulated boot (with integrated traction spikes) that clicks onto a snowshoe deck. The current iteration (available now) replaces the Flight boot with the Trail Crampon, a wearable traction device for hiking snow packed trails. The fall 2011 version shown is expandable to fit different width boots.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 6
The Trail Crampon clicks onto the Mountain Series Deck to create a full-fledged snowshoe. The crampon and decks are sold together; the 24-inch (61-cm) length weighs just under 4 pounds (1.81 kg) and costs US$279 and the 28-inch (71-cm) deck length weighs 4 pounds 6 ounces (1.98 kg) and costs US$289. Both weights include the decks and crampons. The beauty of this system is that you get two useful snow travel devices, the snowshoe decks lay flat on top of each other for easy packing, and the crampon attaches/detaches easily from the deck.

Snowshoe Testing

We tested each snowshoe on a quarter mile route in fresh powder up a nearby steep mountain side. So how did they perform? Our favorites were the Atlas, Tubbs, and MSR because of their excellent traction. The Atlas Aspect is the Lexus of the group, with its strong construction, full feature set, excellent stability, and superb traction. But they are a bit pricey at US$270 and weigh 4.5 pounds (2.04 kg).

The MSR Lightning Flash is the standout for light weight and reasonable cost. They are strongly built, have superb traction, and the bindings are cleverly designed for convenience and packing. At 3 pounds 5 ounces (1.5 kg) per pair for the men’s 25-inch (64-cm) length, these snowshoes weigh 13 ounces (369 g) more per pair compared to the Northern Lites Elite, which are the lightest snowshoes we know of. They also cost US$26 less. Although the Flash weighs three-fourths of a pound (340 g) more, their superb traction more than justifies the weight. While the Elite has only modest toe and heel crampons, the Lightning Flash is a traction machine; it’s like comparing an alligator with a catfish.

The Tubbs Flex TRK is the sleeper in the group. This snowshoe is injection molded plastic, but it is still very strong (Tubbs says it has had no breakage problems on the current model), quite light at 3.75 pounds (1.76 kg) per pair (9 ounces/255 g more than the MSR Lightning Flash), also has excellent traction (but not quite as good as the Atlas Aspect or MSR Lightning Flash), has a heel lift (which the Flash doesn’t), and costs just US$140. It’s an excellent balance of light weight, durability, traction, features, and cost.

Which leaves the Kahtoola system: The Trail Crampons are a solid and effective traction device, and the system connects and disconnects easily. However, I am not sold on the need for two separate components, Kahtoola’s snowshoes have only modest toe and heel crampons and no lateral crampons, and they weigh 4 pounds (1.81 kg) or more. Their cost is the same as the high-end Atlas Aspect. For my money, I would choose the Atlas, Tubbs, or MSR snowshoes plus a pair of slip-on traction devices to use on snow packed trails.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 7
Kahtoola also makes the lightweight KTS Crampons, available now in aluminum for US$149 and steel for US$159. Their weights are 18.9 ounces (540 g) and 23.3 ounces (662 g), respectively. The beauty of these crampons is their flexibility; they bend to conform with your boot with each step.

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area - 8
Finally, we found out that Osprey does not have enough packs yet! Introducing the Karve, a “sidecountry” pack, which will be available fall 2011. What’s a sidecountry pack you ask? Well, think of the sides of a ski run, where one can get into some powder. The Karve - which will come in 6L, 11L, and 16L sizes for US$79, US$89, and US$99 respectively - has an amazing design. It will carry skis diagonally or a snowboard vertically on the front, it has one zippered insulated shoulder strap (bottom left)for a drink tube, hydration sleeve inside, shovel blade sleeve, shovel handle sleeve, probe sleeve, fleece-lined goggle pocket, electronics pocket (bottom right), and of course a main compartment. The whole pack has a thin profile so it can be worn on a ski lift. And the graphics on the exterior are pretty cool; available in three colors.

Coming Up

Tomorrow is day one of the main show and the euphoric madness begins. We have numerous meetings with our favorite companies, who always come through with lots of new, lightweight, exciting gear. Look for our blog of the interesting gear we find each day of the show, published the next morning.

We will wrap up our OR show coverage with an article on new waterproof-breathable fabric technologies - an update on what’s new from Gore and eVENT (the usual competitors), plus three more new, major players. We are at the beginning a new revolution in waterproof-breathable fabric technologies; look for our article early next week for the details.


"Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area," by Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2011-01-20 10:19:00-07.


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Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area on 01/20/2011 10:29:40 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Winter gear on 01/20/2011 11:36:54 MST Print View

Let the fun begin!

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
skis on 01/20/2011 16:25:51 MST Print View

We (I) want ski beta.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011: The Show Begins With All-Mountain Demo at Solitude Ski Area on 01/20/2011 16:58:36 MST Print View

Are there any new lightweight shovels?

Peter Sustr
(czechxpress) - F - M

Locale: Boulder
tents on 01/20/2011 16:59:42 MST Print View

Yeah! Can't wait for the coverage. Hope they see some great shelters out there

Charles Jennings
(vigilguy) - F - M

Locale: Northern Utah
Crescent Moon on 01/20/2011 22:06:51 MST Print View

Crescent Moon had some changes this year with their bindings...larger bindings for bigger boots or shoes...up to size 15.

Ryan Hutchins
(ryan_hutchins) - F

Locale: Somewhere out there
Side country definition on 01/21/2011 09:51:03 MST Print View

For those who aren't familiar w/ the newer definitions of _______country skiing:

Though the comments below the article illustrate the dis-unifction of actual definitions w/in the ski community.


Slackcountry = Terrain outside of the ski area boundary that is accessed from a lift without having to skin or bootpack. Usually this also bears true with access getting back to the lift as well. For purists, this could also include areas like Beartooth Pass where people ski from switchback to switchback and use a car as a shuttle.

Sidecountry = Terrain that is accesses from a lift with the use of a bootpack or skin track. Areas accessed by long traverses, though with no bootpack or skin track are still covered under the “sidecountry” label. For purists, no matter how far you skin away from the resort, if you used the lift to gain vertical, it’s still “sidecountry”.

Frontcountry = Mainly associated with mountain passes, it’s the areas that require a bootpack or skin track to access the goods, but then you ski right back to the road. For purists, this term could really be pushed to include anything that is a simple skin up…and ski back down to the road.

Backcountry = Ski terrain accessed by your own power, but I’m pretty sure it’s okay to drive to the trailhead. I think long approaches on flat terrain are what make the difference between frontcountry and backcountry…as well as starting from a low point or valley…as opposed to a mountain pass. For purists…this is where they prefer to spend their time…shredding the pow!!

Edited by ryan_hutchins on 01/21/2011 11:02:38 MST.

Ross Bleakney
(rossbleakney) - MLife

Locale: Cascades
Re: Side country definition on 01/22/2011 11:30:08 MST Print View

Thanks for the info Ryan. That link cracks me up. I'm afraid that snow sports are too complicated for our language. Add to that the fact that the language evolved based on what is on our feet instead of where we are, or the experience we have, and you have a linguistic nightmare.

Take, for example, my plans for the weekend. I may snowshoe, or I may ski (depending on the conditions) but I certainly won't pay for a lift (I'm cheap). If I ski, it will be Nordic style skiing. The thing is, it will basically be the same thing. I will head out to the mountains and enjoy the forest, meadows and views. Basically, I will do the same thing I do in the summer, but I'll adjust for the fact that there will be snow on the ground. In the summer I would call this "hiking" (even if I sometimes do some scrambling).

So, what do I call it? "Skiing"? Fine, but people assume lift skiing. "Cross Country Skiing?" Much closer, but people assume groomed. "Back Country Skiing or Snowshoeing"? Getting close, now -- except people assume a much more ambitious, much more dangerous type of skiing than what I usually do. In other words, if they happen to be a "real" backcountry skier, then I'll quickly have to explain that I'm into "light touring" (followed by a few examples). If a friend of mine comes along with a snowboard and snowshoes, it means I need to add even more to the phrase. It is rather weird when you consider that a couple of guys that ride the lifts all day may have to use two words to describe their experience ("snowboarding" and "skiing") even though their experience was very similar. On the other hand, I could use the same word, "skiing" to describe light touring into the wilderness under my own power as the guy who never got far from the noise of the lifts.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of it is there there is no one word to describe "winter travel away from lifts". If there was, I would use it, and let other people ask me about the details (what gear I use, and what type of terrain I like to travel to).

Jim Sweeney
(swimjay) - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Definitions on 01/22/2011 11:57:36 MST Print View

As someone once said when a friend and I were debating the relative worthiness of free climbing and climbing with aid, "You guys aren't arguing about climbing, you're talking about getting laid."

Edited by swimjay on 01/22/2011 13:43:54 MST.

Philip Werner
(earlylite) - F - MLife

Locale: New England
Re: Crescent Moon on 01/23/2011 07:55:26 MST Print View

I've been looking at some of the running Crescent Moon snowshoes - under 3 lbs - and they look like they'll provide ample traction for Northeast conditions. Seems like they're an unsung story...

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
skiin' and climbin' on 01/26/2011 10:54:13 MST Print View

James and Ross: LOL. Good stuff.

It's rather amazing/unfortunate that our predominant understanding of skiing has migrated so far to the (IMO boring) extremes of lift-assisted and groomed track. The other thing that gets to me is how expensive ski gear is. A top flight heavy BC rig runs (for boots, skis, bindings and skins) close to 2 grand! Hard for those who aren't bankers or bro-dealed to afford.

Fortunately, evidence suggests that both of things might be changing at once: