Photo by Snow Press News

Walking the aisles of SIA, the Snow Industries of America, trade show last week January 27-29 in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay, you’d think that the snow industries including skiing, snowboarding, alpine touring, and even snowskates had no idea there was a recession going on. Booths were seemingly packed with buyers’ appointments and reps from top snow brands showcasing bright, fresh lines in hardgoods, outerwear, and accessories for Winter ’09-10. New advancements in wearable technologies were apparent in outerwear, gloves, helmets, and even knitted caps. And celebs such as Gene Simmons, Snoop Dogg, and Perry Farrell were all present and ready to perform at what was to be the last trade show for the industry in Las Vegas before it moves to Denver for 2010.

According to SIA, there were an estimated 20,000 attendees, 100 top world athletes -most of them just coming off of big wins at the Winter X Games 13 in Aspen, and 800 brands totaling 3,479 booths. Yes, it was a very good show.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg News was announcing that Fortress Investment Group had halted funding to the builder of the athlete’s village in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, putting the city in even more debt as it prepares for the Games; news broke that Fortress had lost most of their value or 96% in hedge funds which has affected Intrawest, owners of Whistler Blackcomb resort; and Mammoth Mountain, in early-season no less, announced they were laying off 101 employees based on 21% drop in pre-season revenue.

There’s always been a debate in winter sports of whether the industry is more affected by the weather (snowfall) or the economy. Back in Vegas at the SIA show, you’d definitely think it was the weather. And even though we were in a desert, there was snow falling everywhere, or at least in our heads.

Here’s a recap: Circe Wallace launched an excellent high-end women’s snow collection called Circe Snow with one-piece ski/snowboard suits, Mission Six launched a new hardgoods line of snowboards, and Lib-Tech, Thirty Two, and Signal all debuted new outerwear lines.

Snoop Dogg showcased his collaboration with SkullCandy with the Skullcrusher headphone, Danny Kass’ new Nike snowboard boot captured the attention of fans of brightly colored graphics and comic book motifs, and 686 showcased that they are still on a roll of creating leading-edge outerwear and making the right choices in collaborations such as Levi Strauss and others, and stretching the brand into the realm of upper street fashion.

Rome’s booth kept the energy flowing and has become the new “Volcom” of winter shows, especially with their cool graphics with old poster motifs, and a very rad mummy themed snowboard boot; and Capix revealed a snowboard/ski helmet that looked like a hard New Era baseball cap.

Ride’s collaborations with 7th graders in Seattle to create a graphics series drew loads of attention, while Salomon kept the core/purists stoked with their revolutionary new technology in board designs. As did Burton. The Burton booth was beautiful, open, and a gallery of what’s next in snowboarding in general, from hardgoods to apparel. While many people are hating on Burton for several reasons (they’re still at the top and people tend to go for the leaders), when you see the presentation they put on at SIA you can’t help but think they’re still leaders in many ways for a reason.

Speaking of people hating on others, no matter what anyone says, the Ed Hardy Snow collection was a showstopper and will attract Europeans for sure, not to mention high-end resort visitors like Deer Valley types to both their board graphics and tiger striped and white one-piece suits.

Personally though, I was more into the Capita graphics which always showcase the best artists in the industry -this time coming out with a tabloid graphic theme, and Monument Snowboards with their psychedelic. Signal’s trees also were interesting. Overall, board graphics were the big news -as well as with freestyle or freeskiing fat skis which in many ways copy their brethren snowboarders. Outerwear from The North Face, Sessions, and Bonfire also attracted serious amounts of buyers.

One thing that was also very apparent is how science plays such a roll in winter sports. This is something that ISPO winter show, which starts Sunday, February 1-4th in Munich, Germany, does a great job at showcasing. For example, Swany’s G-cell gloves which retail for a whopping $495 have this “Red Dot” technology whereby you can feel your cell phone vibrate on your wrist, and coupled with a Bluetooth system and when synched with your cell phone, you can control the volume in your thumb and talk into your palm. Now that’s one bad-ass glove.

Bula came out with stereo headphones, which isn’t all that original but still cool. Perhaps the real winner was Rossignol’s Pure Mountain Station all in one jacket. It has a barometer, temperature sensor, weather forecaster via atmospheric pressure readings, altimeter to determine your vertical drop calculations, and a compass. It seemed that many of the top jackets out there had various aspects of science, from Recco avalanche transceivers to compasses, iPod compatibility, and even solar panels.

On the down side, about the only thing we heard was that telemarking or free-heeling had taken a hit, but it already had in Europe so we knew it was coming. What’s replaced it is the crossover of AT or Alpine Touring. K2, for example, created a consolidated telemark and AT line called the Backside line to take care of this change in trends in backcountry skiing. Also, word was that more snowboarders are turning to skiing again, but snowboarding still ruled the house. Travis Rice was named Top Rider of the Year during the Transworld Snowboarding Poll Awards and delivered a compelling speech, which Quiksilver is stoked on as they released various Travis Rice signature products. Then the party got started -Mix Master Mike, Snoop Dogg -in a Transworld/SIA farwell bash to Vegas.

So is there a recession in snow sports? Yes, but based on last week’s showing, it just hasn’t really hit yet.