My prognostications over past years are sounding like a stuck compact disk (remember those?). Let’s break it down a bit for 2016. Sort of an industry overview, hitting things I find interesting.
1. In avalanche safety, competition between compressed gas and electric systems will short circuit what’s been a rather boring few years in gas activated avalanche airbag development. Example of a spark: BCA figuring out an end-user muscle-powered pump refill system using off-the-shelf paintball components. While heavy for traveling at 7 pounds 3175 grams, the Benjamin Pump could grace the luggage of larger groups, as well as being purchased by huts and smaller shops so you could fill your BCA gas cylinder nearly anywhere. We’re using it and we love it, though I can’t pump a cylinder in one session (Louie can).
More on the airbag front: While perusing the ‘net looking at paintball stuff that might apply to compressed air activated avy balloons, I noticed an ever increasing plethora of brilliant carbon-fiber cylinders. They appear to save significant mass, one wonders why they are not more available for avy airbag packs? More, what would happen if you used a slightly larger “tank” with a bit less pressure? Could you thus end up with a superlight canister? Should I predict this will change in 2016? Comments?
2. In ski boots, the trend to more an better “pure” ski touring shoes will continue.
Essentially, the freeriders out there now have what they need with boots such as Tecnica Cochise, Dynafit Vulcan and Salomon Mountain Lab. Specialized ski touring brands such as Dynafit saw a big potential market on the freeride touring side, and I’d agree, only they ended up competing with the biggest ski boot brands out there — brands who could pretty much add tech fittings and a decent walk mode to their alpine boot molds (not to mention copying what other makers have found to work) and thus end up with something powerful, without years of design effort and time.
So, my take is companies such as Scarpa and Dynafit will get 100% behind their core customer base this coming year. They will continue to invest and innovate on the ski touring side. Carbon fiber will make more inroads. Weight will stay on the good side. Persistent problems with durability will be mitigated, but unfortunately not disappear because along with innovation comes poorly tested features, designs and materials. (Enter, consumer testing, yipee!) Look for boots such as Dynafit with trimmed soles, Arcteryx with the “U-joint” cuff, Atomic Backland that just works. It’s a good time to be a ski tourer, but you might want a new pair of boots once a year or you’ll feel left out.
3. Anyone see the news about nano infused magnesium? It’s said this crazy stuff is super strong and ready to industrialize. Nanomag instead of Titanal anyone? Not sure this is a prediction for 2016, but sure, by this coming Q4 2016 we might see some teasers or info leaks about skis made with this stuff. Or perhaps a compressed air cylinder?
4. I’ll climb out on a thin limb and say at some point in 2016 we will find a thermal drink bottle that’s lighter than our vacuum bottles and insulates as well or better. Oh, and does not dent.
5. A DIN/ISO standard will be created and adopted for the shape, position, etc. of tech fittings in a ski boot sole.
6. Snowmobiling for recreation will continue to explode, but at the same time snowmobile access for ski touring in North America will greatly expand, due to the lack of huts and other infrastructure as well as vast amounts of terrain in places such as western Canada. I don’t have to be psychic to predict conflicts between skiers and sledders will continue apace, though the conflicts will be less important than the media and anti-snowmobile organizations make them out to be.
(Hut operators, I do know you exist, I’m just looking at the percentage of land vs huts and see a vast wilderness, awaiting the sled equipped minions.)
7. Ah, skimo racing. Undeniable mass popularity in Europe will continue. Growth in North America is obvious, but a slow burn due to a much smaller base of athletes from feeder sports such as nordic. A trend to enjoy as a spectator is that of famed endurance athletes (trail runners and such) taking up the sport as winter cardio. Some of these guys don’t ski too well but go for it in a big way. Getting the podium in a bigger skimo race has to do with how well you downhill, since you’re climbing in a pack of racers with nearly equal engines. So watch for the “cross over” athletes getting top places as their downhill skills improve.
8. Back to the electric balloon packs, it probably won’t happen next week, but I predict they’ll get lighter due to battery technology as well as options for smaller power supplies. Further, look for electrical connectors allowing you to charge your various portable devices. This will be driven by the advent of USB type-C allowing electron feeds of up to 3 amps, standardizing just one or two connectors (instead of the patently ridiculous “plug soup” we now deal with). Safety engineers hate that kind of stuff, but with a warning alarm against drawing down your power too far, such could be very nice. How do I know? I’m sitting here with a depleted camera and no way to charge it.
9. How about clothing trends? I’m not touching colorways — I’m always wrong on that — you can tell how well I coordinate and pick my own clothing. At least the black pants are timeless. Speaking of which. Indeed, the classic black or dark grey ski shell pant will stay available for those who need something they can wear more than 10 days away from a washing machine.
Regarding insulations: I’ve been high on water resistant down for some time, even before they legalized it in Colorado. For all but constant saturation (as in ski touring a PNW wet snow storm for 12 hours) formulations such as Mountain Equipment’s 725 WR are incredibly useful. I own a bunch of puffies, and my whole stash is gradually migrating towards sporting the chemically treated feathers. Only downsides? The stuff does have a limit, after which it’ll clump and matt. Though it dries faster than untreated down. Also, I tend to get my WR down jackets damper, and leave them stuffed away. All leading to Lisa’s question when I got back from my last trip to the PNW when someone stashed my bag under a dripping roof: “What’s that smell?”
10. In backcountry electronics, I’ve been disappointed in the promise of smartphones as GPS. Tons of good software exists (Backcountry Navigator Pro is our choice), but finding a phone with a screen you can read quickly and easily in bright multi-source sunlight (as on a snowy mountainside in full sun) is nearly impossible.
What’s needed is perhaps a dual screen phone, with normal LCD on one side and something like a reflective monochrome LCD on the other. The hidden trick here is that the reflective LCD uses very little power. You could thus have a phone with a permanent map display and no battery worries. Seems too easy. A few phones exist that show the “dual screen” concept is on the commercial radar. For example the LG-V10. But they all appear to fall short of being useful for GPS backcountry work. I’ll predict that yes, a variety of phones will someday exist that work well in the solar furnace, but predicting them for 2016 seems premature. It’s probably just a matter of demand. Other ideas about our electronics: Beacons will get smaller, and two-way radios will increase in popularity. Perhaps we can look to phones for that as well, for example the Runbo brings out my inner geek like a field of perfect ankle biter powder brings out my bounce.
11. Climbing skins might actually be the biggest arena for disruptive innovation over coming months. Once Fisher figures out how to fix their Profoil adhesive so it doesn’t stick to itself like a science fiction gravity grappler, you’ll see the “snake scales” make inroads. Perhaps more immediate, look for traditional plush climbing skins that save weight. G3 Alpinist Light is available now, a beautiful iteration. Black Diamond is said to have something in the works as well.
12. Let’s close with a harken back to my rants about tech binding development. Over past few seasons I’ve spewed about the coming “year of the tech binding wars,” only to see things blow up because of, well, bindings that blow up. I’m wiping my brow, taking a moment to sigh, and yet again predicting that the next 12 months will be the “tech war.” You’ve got your Kingpins, you’ve got your IONs, you’ve got your Dynafits, you’ve got your Plums. You’ve even got that cool Atomic-Salomon offering you can scare up from Europe if you really want one (and you might). And the ever elusive, ever inspiring Vipec Black will soon be available in all markets. So look out, world domination by two pins and a song is here, now.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.