Now that the SIA Snow Show is officially over, after two days of on-snow demos at Winter Park following the trade show at the Colorado Convention Center, it's hard to imagine the snow sports industry ever got away with having this thing in Las Vegas.
Anovia Daniels, spokeswoman for SnowSports Industries America, says numbers were up across the board at this year's show and that one of the biggest areas of growth was in the on-snow demos: That's a win for Winter Park and for the city of Denver, which just wrapped the second year of its 11-year contract with SIA. Governor John Hickenlooper and other city officials have said they're hoping to see that contract (the single biggest convention contract in state history) extended far beyond the year 2021.
"We've been swamped both days," said Daniels, despite below-zero temperatures on the mountain. "I haven't even had a chance to get a run in yet, it's been so crazy."
This is what the snow sports industry, after its long run in Vegas, had been missing: The chance for ski, snowboard, boot, apparel and accessories companies to show their products in action to the shop buyers who will make or break next season's bottom line.
Over the last two days I tested 2011/2012 snowboards from Colorado companies Never Summer (Denver), Unity (Dillon), and Venture (Silverthorne), including three of our picks of the best boards we saw on the showroom floor, as well as boards from several of their competitors including Arbor, Burton, Bataleon and -- our new favorite company from outside of Colorado -- Jones Snowboards (check out my colleague Britt Chester's interview with Jeremy Jones for more on that company).
My favorites were mountain chargers: Jones Snowboards' Flagship; Never Summer's 20th anniversary edition Heritage, incorporating the Colorado state flag in its graphics, and Venture Snowboards' Odin (the new signature model shaped by big mountain legend Johan Olafsson), a board that got me going faster than I might have been comfortable with on anything less. For park and pipe shenanigans, our small testing crew liked Unity's Origin, Bataleon's Goliath, Never Summer's snappy new Proto CT, and Venture's Helix, a twin tip board that holds its own in the terrain park but can also handle big speed in the steeps, handy now that those lines are increasingly blurry for many Colorado riders.
"For us the on-snow demos are key: You have to ride a board to know that it's better than another board, and why," says Venture co-owner Lisa Branner. She and her husband Klemens have been building snowboards near Silverton Mountain for more than a decade and have seen explosive sales growth in the last two years, partly thanks to the success of their splitboards for backcountry riding ("Backcountry snowboarding -- and splitboards in particular -- continue to develop as a small but relatively high profile category," reports Daniels, in her last press release from this year's show) and partly thanks to new attention on Colorado companies now that SIA SnowShow is on their turf.
"It's a give-and-take, for sure," says Branner. "We're busier than ever, but we haven't been on the mountain this year nearly as much as we're used to, so we're feeling a bit out of sorts. SIA's been great, but we're also looking forward to getting home and getting some snowboarding done!"
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