Despite Rain Retailers Converged On StrattonSandwich boards, straps, and new pro-model companies caught retailers’ attention. By Josh Reid

Despite soaking rains, flat light, and lingering hangovers, retailers from up and down the East Coast turned out in strong numbers for the annual EWSRA/NEWSR On-snow Demo at Stratton Mountain. For three days between January 30 and February 1, the industry’s leading manufacturers opened the curtains on their newest products, giving buyers and shop workers the opportunity to ride the latest innovations in the snowboard world.

Preregistered attendance for the show was about even with last year. This year 213 shops (and 902 people) from the NEWSR and 167 shops (737 people) from the EWSRA preregistered for the event. There were 111 vans and 59 booths signed up to exhibit, just a few more than last year. Of those, a total of 56 snowboard vans and 33 snowboard booths were preregistered and both of those numbers were up just slightly over last year as well. K2′s Luke Edgar pointed out that the numbers were significant when you realize that the East Coast represents at least 20 to 25 percent of most companies business.

While some companies (that we can’t mention here) got busted on by the retailers, a wide variety of other brands got solid props. According to Mike Yuhas, manager and buyer at Pelican Ski Shop in East Brunswick, New Jersey: “Palmer stuff is really good quality and rides well. This is our third year with Palmer and after it sold through 100 percent early in the season, we had to reorder.”

Other retailers are planning to bring in some of the new rider-owned companies like Allian and Supernatural next season. Ted Rice, the owner of 7-Ply Skate Shop in Westerly, Rhode Island, is picking up Allian because, “They have a wicked-ass team and they are owned by Ingemar.”

Brian Hansen, the owner of Concrete Wave in Worchester, Massachusetts agrees: “I’m bringing in Allian because I’m stoked on the structure of the company with the riders owning it.”

Supernatural, the new venture from Dave Lee, is an easy choice for Eric Stevenson, the snowboard buyer for the Bike Barn in Whitman, Massachusetts. “I’ll probably bring in Supernatural because it’s just one more thing to order from my Mervin rep and Dave’s boards have always sold well at my shop.”

Nitro is another brand that caught the attention of a lot of shops. As Rice explains: “Their stuff is tight.”

Adam Valedaserra, the snowboard buyer for the Ski Market group out of Boston, Massachusetts, is also thinking about picking up Nitro for next season.

Above all the other product categories, boards stood out as the main event of the three-day demo. Each year, retailers show up at Stratton stoked to carve, slash, and ollie on the new offerings and this year was no different.

After years of cap proliferation, traditional sandwich construction boards are staging a comeback in 2002. Manager Pete Ferrel at Underground Snowboards in Wellesly, Massachusetts, claims, “Sandwich construction is coming up. We’re seeing a lot more sidewall construction boards this year.”

Though they sit at the top of the bell curve, size 10 and 10.5 riders have often been neglected when it comes to waist width options; companies either design boards around the pro-rider size 9 or the extra-large size 12s and 13s. For the upcoming season, things look to be changing for the better, giving more riders more options to find a board that fits their foot perfectly. Evan Chismark, a shop worker at the Downhill Edge in Burlington, Vermont says, “I’m stoked on boards that aren’t too fat and aren’t too narrow¿the mid-fats with waist widths between 25.5 and 26.2. Boards like the Original Sin Team FS, Salomon Sequence, or the Rossi Premier.”

Chismark is also impressed with what a lot of brands are doing with performance at the more affordable price points. “It’s good that a lot of companies are doing boards that ride really well for under00 dollars. They might be a shade heavier and the bases might be a little slower, but performance is good and the flex is right where you want it,” he says.

There was also an expansion of specific products at the show. “People are getting more specific on women’s, freeriding, halfpipe, and park boards,” said Jami Godfrey, owner of Cool Runnings in Pennsylvania. “We were going to bring only three people, but when I read the new TransWorld Snowboarding Business I said, ‘Holy smokes, there’s a lot of new gear from every company,’ so now we have to bring a woman specifically to demo all that’s out there for them. .”

In the binding world, it looks like 2002 is going to be a big year for conventional strap systems. While some retailers acknowledged the relevance of step-in systems, more were on the verge of writing off the category altogether.

As Valedaserra predicts, “The market is moving towards straps.”

Straight outta central Jersey, Pelican’s Mike Yuhas is more pessimistic on the step-in category: “They’re dead. They only account for about ten percent of our business and I don’t see them going anywhere.”

In northern Vermont, the sentiment is similar. Eric Davis, the snowboard buyer for the Downhill Edge in Burlington explains: “With strap bindings getting better and more convenient, there’s no reason to ride step-ins because step-ins don’t compare for feel.”

However, others weren’t writing them off just yet. “We’re doing well with the highback systems from Clicker,” said Mike Pascale from Danizen and Quigley in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. “In our area there’s definitely the demand. When you have a run that only lasts you 20 seconds and it takes you 40 seconds to put your straps on, people will dig step-ins. Plus, we have a lot of skier crossover. We’re also doing well with straps, they’ll never go away.”

Apart from the strap-on/step-in question, retailers feel that the binding competition is heating up in the shelf-appeal arena. Several buyers were stoked on what companies like Ride and Burton are doing with their binding programs for 2002 and predict those who don’t step up with the details probably won’t fare too well on the sales floor. Chris Kilayko, a shop worker at Pelican Ski Shop in East Brunswick, New Jersey, puts it bluntly when he says: “Shelf appeal is 90 percent of what sells a binding. If a company doesn’t do anything impressive with their bindings, they aren’t going to sell.”

For binding accessories, Ferrel gave mad props to the Palmer Plates. “Try the Palmer Plates even if you have small feet because they make boards so much quicker,” he says, “In the past I could only ride wide boards, but with the Plates, I can ride any board now.”

As retailers laced up the 2002 line of boots, fit and in-store comfort dominated the conversations. And as in recent years, the trend in the market seems to be away from injected liners and towards stitched liners because they fit a wider variety of feet more comfortably.

Dan Brandise, a shop employee at the Downhill Edge comments on the liner question this way: “When some brands put injected liners in inexpensive boots and stitched liners in more expensive models, it’s like they think beginners have fat feet and then their feet somehow get thinner as they get better.”

Despite a great snow year and strong sales, some retailers were remaining conservative and selective with their orders. “Every year we try to make our order a little cleaner and make sure we sell through everything we have,” says Chris Quinn, the buyer for the Ski Stop in New York. “We’ve been going narrower and deeper with each of our key vendors and it opens the door for some new guys to get a chance.”

He doesn’t expect to order too much more product for next season even though this was a good year. “We have to be wise about our ordering,” Quinn says. “We had good snow so we sold everything, but that doesn’t mean we have to order a lot more. But my orders will be up with my major vendors, but no more than ten percent. I’d like to be able to sell though my inventory by Christmas and still be able to reorder.”or vendors, but no more than ten percent. I’d like to be able to sell though my inventory by Christmas and still be able to reorder.”