Published in Whitelines Magazine Buyer's Guide Issue, Winter 2010-2011
THE LATEST AND GREATEST PRODUCTS FOR 2010/11
Winter is approaching fast, the long nights are drawing in and it’s getting colder. This might mean months of misery to some people, to us snowboarders it’s pretty damn exciting. And to add to that excitement, there’s a whole load of new kit hitting the shelves. Bright colours are filling shops, innovative board designs are being debated, and new-smelling boots are being unwrapped from boxes across the country. We’ve had a look at a lot of it, got far too excited, and then calmed ourselves down again before sitting down to write this guide to the biggest trends and most impressive innovations you’ll see in 2010-11 snowboarding kit.
Like a Parkinson’s patient holding a snow globe, the introduction of reverse camber has seriously shaken up snowboard manufacturing in recent years. For a while, the sheer number of new shapes, sidecuts and profiles on the market was bewildering. Recently though, the flakes have started to settle. Designs are becoming more standardised, and unlike some previous ‘innovations’ (baseless bindings anyone?) the rocker phenomenon is definitely here to stay. In fact this year many companies are making more reverse camber sticks than they are traditionally built boards, and brands like K2 have abandoned conventional camber altogether – at least for their men’s boards. One of the few exceptions to this trend is Eurobrand Bataleon, who insist that their Triple Base Technology beats rocker boards hands down for feel and ease of ride. Apparently they got so sick of everyone telling them they should produce a rocker board, they just went and made one with the word ‘Rocker’ written in big letters across the base.
Another trend which has been gathering momentum in recent years is the growing use of green materials in board construction. Lib Tech are just one of the brands leading the clean green charge next season, having designed and built several models with a top-sheet that uses no plastic at all – instead (don’t ask me how) they’ve found away to make it out of soya beans!
Several new brands are launching ranges in the UK for the first time this coming season. Weekend Snowboards, which launched in the US last year, has gained a UK distributor and will be available in several shops. The brand, which was started by a couple of former Forum/Foursquare employees, has gone down well in the states so far, and they’ve signed an international team that includes Heikki Sorsa and Eddie Wall. Another super-pro, freerider Jeremy Jones, is also part of a brand new project. Jones Snowboards, which he announced he’d be setting up last season, is going into its first full winter with a sick collection of powder sticks, aimed at the kind of people who’ll be up the hill before you’ve had your breakfast. Like Yes boards, Jones’ high tech big mountain slayers will be built at the Nidecker factory in Switzerland.
Meanwhile another new force in snowboarding has grown up closer to home. Hailing from Manchester, the Contraband Agency are keeping it real by keeping it British. While their dryslope roots may be far removed from the Alaskan peaks favoured by Mr Jones, their boards will tear up any mountainside with the best of them. With three models on sale this season and an ethos rooted in the no-nonsense northern scene, these boys look to be heading for big things.
It might be unfair when it comes to people (and it’s definitely a no-no with books)but when it comes to snowboards a lot of us –shallow, impressionable people that we are – judge a stick by how it looks. The difference is, there’s nothing wrong with that really – because once you’ve narrowed down your choice to a selection of sticks that suit your height, weight, ability level and riding style it gets very tricky to choose between them. This year, as always, there’s a massive range of graphic styles to choose from, with a few notable visual trends coming through.
One of the brands that’s had the biggest switch up, graphically speaking, is DC. The Californian company has replaced the classic interlinking DC logo on their boards with script saying DC SHOECO USA. Word on the street is that this is because the French fashion über-brand Chanel took them to court, claiming that the DC logo was too similar to their interlinking Cs. Turns out that as well as producing perfumes (and adverts starring a semi-naked Keira Knightley) Chanel also churns out the occasional snowboard. Despite that no-one in their right minds would ever mix the brands up (c’mon, who except a rich, tasteless Russian would ever consider riding a Chanel board?) Chanel’s execs were worried enough to kick up a stink about the similarity.
While DC were busy getting stung by a high fashion house, Nidecker were also dabbling with people from the world of modeling. The brand have produced a board this year which features none other than Pamela Anderson on the topsheet – a smart move we reckon. It’s hard to go wrong with a picture of Pammy really isn’t it? Especially because – although she’s not quite bearing all - the original beach babe’s photo leaves little to the imagination.
Burton have also gone for the tried and tested technique of sticking a scantily clad woman on their board. This year’s Love continues the graphical theme that fuelled so much controversy when it was first started back in 08/09 - although admittedly this year’s sexy nurse is a drawing rather than a photo. Honestly though, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Another Burton graphic that borders on the risqué is the Road Soda, featuring every shredder’s favourite stoner pair, Cheech and Chong. The collage of classic film stills includes Cheech sucking on that tree-trunk-sized spliff right under the front binding. Class! And then, for those who like their ‘erbal entertainment mixed in with some good-time Reggae vibes, there’s the Whammy Marley. A special edition of the Whammy Bar, this sick little jib stick features Bob Marley’s face on the nose, and is covered in photos taken at the historic 1978 concert for peace. There’s also a big old Lion of Judah on the base. Apparently Burton’s designers wanted to put Bob’s own face on the base, but when they showed it to the Marley family they asked for it to be switched, cos Bob was never a big fan of snow on his skin!
Burton aren’t the only ones getting irie with their graphics this winter. JP Walker has channelled the spirit of Haile Selassie and rechristened his Stepchild pro-model the Jah-P Walker. With its rasta colours and lion graphic, it looks pretty damn dope. Not to be outdone, Bataleon have produced a limited edition of the evil twin, which they’re calling the Ganjaleon. They reckon it’s so good, they even got dancehall legend King Yellow Man to produce a little tune celebrating the benefits of ‘Triple Spliff Technology’. It’ll “give you di same high as di highest high grade outta Orange Hill" apparently…
While Burton, Bataleon and Stepchild’s designers have been immersing themselves in clouds of sweet smelling smoke, the graphics people over at Forum have been indulging their darker side. This year the brand’s signature Destroyer boards feature the skulls of real-life murder victims on the topsheets, complete with the gaping wounds that killed them. If you turn each board over, you can see the weapon that made hole – from axes to claw hammers! Of course, if that’s a little dark for your tastes, there’s always the good time graphics of the Forum Contract, featuring the words ‘Sex’, ‘Drugs’, ‘Rock’ or ‘Roll’ on the base, depending on the length. Just to show they don’t take themselves too seriously, the topsheet of each features a sticker saying: ‘This board is controversial’.
Bindings have seen more of an evolution than a revolution this year, but there are still a fair number of new ideas flying around. Burton has released a binding with a graphic on the highback – the top of the range, £250 Mala Vita. Strictly-speaking, this is not a totally new idea, as Mervin used to do something similar on their Bent Metal bindings back in the day, but this is the first time we’ve seen pictures on highbacks for a little while. Meanwhile Mervin manufacturing has decided to pull the plug on Bent Metal. They’re still making Gnu bindings though, featuring the Fast-Tec entry system which proved popular last year.
The Italians over at Union have produced what they claim is the lightest binding ever – for the second year in a row. Seriously though, we think they might be onto something with this one. Their Gigi Ruf pro model uses a spidery web of plastic struts as a highback –supposedly inspired by the alloy wheels on a Maserati – meaning that it weighs about as much as an ant with an eating disorder.
Perhaps the biggest change in highbacks though is the trend forgetting rid of them altogether. TSA’s head honcho Jeremy Sladen made a point of unscrewing his highbacks at this year’s snowboard test, and very publicly throwing them in a bin. Nor was Jez the only rider at the test to try going highback free, with several others also giving it a go. The thinking behind this radical-sounding move is that it allows you greater flexibility around your ankles, so you can get more tweak on your grabs, a la Nick Visconti or LNP. The deliberately untidy tweaked-out style favoured by riders like these two owes more than a little to the early nineties steeze of people like Noah Salasnek – or the young Terje. So perhaps it’s no surprise that they’re trying to alter their equipment to emulate the low-back bindings that everyone used back then.
Of course new-school jibbers are not the first to claim that getting rid of highbacks is the way forward. A couple of years ago when Whitelines travelled to the mecca that is Mount Baker, we met legendary local Mike Ranquet riding without highbacks. He claimed that the stiffness of modern boot and binding combos was actually holding back snowboarding, by forcing everyone to adopt the same robotic riding style. A case of “free the ankle, free the mind" perhaps.
So does the spread of this trend spell the death of the highback? Well, we at Whitelines haven’t cracked out the black armbands just yet. For starters we can’t imagine the likes of Torstein Horgmo or Andreas Wiig boosting off monstrous park kickers without some serious ankle support. But the idea is an interesting one, and we won’t be surprised if it influences binding design in the near future.
With boots, like bindings, technological developments have been more evolutionary than revolutionary this year. One new idea which looks pretty cool is the ‘half-liner’ that DC have put in their Park boot. The thinking is that the backless inner boot gives you more responsive heel edge control by removing an unnecessary layer of padding.
But the big story when it comes to boots this season is the entry into the market of one of the world’s biggest shoemakers – Nike. Whatever you feel about the sports-wear giant’s decision to get involved in snowboarding, on a purely geeky level you can’t deny that the arrival of such a successful trainer company is exciting. Their boots have certainly created a buzz anyway. Not only have they signed up one of the sickest teams in snowboarding, (Danny Kass, Nico Muller and Gigi Ruf have all jumped aboard the Nike train)but the kit looks pretty cool as well –borrowing many of the best bits from Nike’s classic trainers down the years. There’s even a pair that looks like Air Force Ones! Of course wearing Nike’s on the hill might not be to everyone’s taste, but no-one’s forcing you.
As well as their boots, Nike have also launched ranges of outerwear in the UK. Nike 6.0, which has been around for a few years producing apparel and sponsoring the likes of Sparrow Knox and Ben Kilner, has decided to move across into tech kit. At the same time, Nike Snowboarding (the branch of the company that makes the boots) is releasing a full outerwear collection. They’ve signed Nicolas Muller up on a full outerwear contract as well, so you can bet he’s demanded that the whole thing is made according to his exacting green standards. The green outerwear trend is continuing elsewhere as well – West beach have taken the idea literally and produced a jacket made out of… well, green. The BC Bud jacket, made from hemp based fabrics, even comes complete with a little ziploc baggie attached to the inside pocket to keep your stash in!
Another company that takes drive for environmental responsibility seriously is the smaller ‘new kid on the outerwear block’, Bond. When it comes to being green, these guys are the real deal, keeping their whole manufacturing process (“from the loom to the room" as they put it) 100% carbon neutral. Not that they’re a bunch of hair-shirt-wearing hippies or anything– the company is founded by a couple of former Forum/Special Blend employees and goes for a similarly dope look as Peter Line’s brands. They’ve even pinched Eddie Wall from Forum to ride for their brand alongside Heikki Sorsa and TJ Schneider. In the UK they’ve signed up northern jib-monkey Jonny Russell– one of the most talented rail riders ever to emerge from our frozen fridges – to represent them.
What with all the economic shenanigans in 2009-10, prices were a little bit all over the place last year. As the pound rose and fell against the dollar, various brands found themselves caught out. Asking prices for some boards ended up higher than Simon Cowell’s trousers, and ordinary riders found themselves priced out of the market. Thankfully, things seem to have settled down a little bit, and the pound looks reasonably stable. Which means that, assuming Dave and his Tory boy mates don’t screw things up too badly, the UK will remain the cheapest place to buy snowboards – at least for British riders. Which has got to be a good thing really, because it’s not like we really want to be throwing any more cash the way of the Austrians or the French is it? They’ll only end up giving it to the Greeks or something…