Snow Skates, Sidewalls, And Surviving The IceRetailers flock to the annual Stratton on-snow demo.

By John Cavan

Neither hard-pack ice nor lingering Vegas hangovers could scare away retailers and vendors from Stratton’s annual on-snow demo. Shop employees from more than 400 shops representing both the EWSRA and the NEWSR converged on Stratton from February 5¿7 to try the latest and greatest gear from snowboard manufacturers.

Unlike last year’s driving rain, it was ice and cold temperatures that this year’s riders had to contend with. As usual, however, Stratton came through with great trail conditions, a super-fun park and pipe, and even slightly warmer temperatures on the last day.

The attendance for the show stayed about the same as the year before with 172 shops (803 attendees) attending for EWSRA and 240 shops (998 attendees) attending for the NEWSR. On the manufacturers side of things, 120 vans and 62 booths were on hand to demo, both of those numbers came in at about the same as last year as well. Of those, a total of 57 vans and 34 booths were in attendance for snowboards. With this many shop employees trying product on snow for the first time, the buzz of product review could be heard from top to bottom of the mountain and all the way up the gondola in between.

“It’s great,” says Airwalk Team Manager Mike Artz who could be seen wearing a different boot on his right foot nearly every run. “Stratton is so important because it lets me talk to so many shop employees as well as consumers face to face. It’s also nice to be able to try everything at one time as well as hang out and talk directly to other companies’ people.”

On the board side of things there was quite a bit of talk surrounding newcomer Rome Snowboards, questions as to just what was up with Forum’s new stepchild Jeenyus snowboards, as well as increased interest in sidewall-construction boards. Herb Grignon, manager of Eastern Boarder in Worcester, Massachusetts, says, “We’ll be going heavy with our big brands like Forum, Burton, Santa Cruz, and Ride, but we’re definitely looking at some of the new ‘it’ brands like Rome, Elevation, and Jeenyus.”

Jong Cherryholmes buyer for Cherry Bone in Stowe, Vermont agrees with Grignon’s sentiments: “We’ll be keeping things mostly the same this year, but I’m looking to add Jeenyus and possibly Nitro.”

Action was thickest at the Burton tent, where all three days lines of retailers waited to grab a board from one of the army of demo workers Burton assembled for the show. “I was amazed at how pumped people were on our new Fish board even though there wasn’t a whole lot of snow,” observed Burton’s New England rep Chris Copely. “They really seemed to dig our stiff boards like the Republic, the women’s Witchcraft series, and the fact that we softened up the Customs a little.”

Across the way at the Ride tent New England sales associate Eric Stevenson recieved similar reactions: “People are really exited about the new design of the Timeless and the ride and affordability of the Exile. I’ll tell you, however, I’m really pumped they finally made the Krypto sack a hard case, now I won’t run into any unfortunate emergencies.”

Other companies stirring things up included Rossignol, which trucked a huge demo trailer in to ensure its new boards were tuned and represented right. Forum and D.C. each had retailers buzzing about its boots, while Marc Frank’s new chrome Technine binding was reflecting quite a few giant smiles from buyers. Santa Cruz blasted heavy metal all day as workers blasted boards out onto the hill. Joe Costanzo the buyer for NOTB Snowboards in Nashua, New Hampshire was especially impressed with the brand: “A lot of boards were really similar, but I really liked how Santa Cruz’s Duo rode, I was also pretty impressed with Salomon’s Mandate.”

Another big product for next season will undoubtedly be the snowskate. Countless retailers were seen bombing down Stratton’s slopes with ear-to-ear grins raving about how fun the new skates were. “Gnu’s snowskate is sick!” raved Okemo Mountain School Head Coach Ian Kirk. “A bunch of us have been taking these things to top all day and just having the best time!”

Stratton also featured almost as much action off the snow as on. Smith goggles and Völkl Snowboards rocked The Bear’s Den on consecutive nights, while many retailers got busy on the dance floor of the Foggy Goggle during the Option party.

Perhaps the most unruly event of the three days was the Hayes Brothers party thrown right inside its South Londonderry factory. Those who were there got to witness Vermont at its finest and even partake in a rather brutal board-breaking challenge. When the warmer weather finally hit on the last day, retailers could be seen enjoying Stratton’s park and pipe right up to the bitter end. Santa Cruz teamrider Eric Kovall perhaps summed up the last day best, saying, “I’m pretty much over trying boards, I just want to ride them!”