It begs the question of whether or not the ski industry is in a downward spiral, following in the neoprene socks and sneakers of the windsurfing and tennis industries....Much as windsurfing manufacturers did, ski makers often primarily market gear for hardcore skiers, which can push costs too high for recreational skiers who can be confused or discouraged by too many technical features and jargon. (Ski technology and marketing also play a role in increasing costs.)
I completely agree. Unlike the average consumer, I live skiing, and I love gear. I devour the Powder, Freeskiing, and Ski Magazine gear guides every fall. My google reader feed follows the TGR forums, where most of the posts are skis, boots and bindings being put up for sale in the Gear Swap section (other posts are decidedly less helpful . . . By the way, an amusing article on various outdoor oriented internet forums here). Whenever a ski that I don’t know comes up for sale, I research the dimensions, flex and camber profile immediately, to see if I might “need” it someday.
And even I have no idea what’s going on with most skis. Every time I go into a shop, I see next year’s big thing, the G3 IQ 9.8 Radict FX SLX (or whatever). What the hell are all of those letters? It’s no wonder that people get confused. I’d hate to be the shop tech trying to explain the subtle differences between models to a gear buying novice (“Well, the Prophet Flite is a great ski, but the Prophet 90, with the exact same dimensions and $100 more, has an extra layer of metal that will really take your skiing to the next level”). Why can’t ski companies just name their skis in the way that they will be used? All Mountain 85 would be a great name for a ski. It tells me the waist width and the intended purpose of the ski. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an entire line like this? Slalom Race 68, Park Twin 83, Rocker Pow 110.
But that would be too easy. I think that, in a sense, we kind of asked for this. As participants in a gear intensive sport, we want to feel like our gear knowledge is superior to the next guy (“Oh, you don’t know the difference between K2’s Speed Rocker and Rossignol’s AmpTek? For shame!”). And we have a strong predilection towards the latest and greatest. For some people, it’s nice to be two steps ahead of the crowd. But I don’t see gear heads and hardcore athletes ruining skiing for everyone else.
I would guess that the ski industry is less like the windsurfing business, and more like the bike business. Like bikes, low level skis can be purchased at Dick’s and Sports Authority. But those skis (and bikes) can only be used for so long. When you start to get serious about the sport, then you find a specialty shop, become familiar with the staff, make various purchases, get some fitting done, go for tune jobs every once in a while, and refer your friends to the place. Then, the shop hooks you up with deals, demos, and freebies when they get some schwag. I suppose that’s the way things should work (save for the random “can’t miss” internet deal). Ski Shops, Bike Shops, and Shops, in general, need customers. And if the hardcore participants in a sport no longer frequent the shops that support said sport, what do we have left?
Plus, there’s something really nice about the feel of a good ski shop. Ski magazines strewn about, fireplace with real wood burning, shiny new gear perched on the walls. And when you have a problem with your gear (as I always do), you can talk to an actual person face to face (instead of a goofy photograph popping up in an internet window). You might even get them to explain what the hell is going on with the AC50 + iPT Wide Ride Bindings.