The typical skier or snowboarder might not have much in common with competitors tackling the giant slalom course or pipes in Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics, but weekend athletes benefit from all the design and technology that goes into gear for top athletes.
Snow-sports designers and manufacturers outfitting Olympians and the rest of us showed their newest apparel and equipment at the annual SnowSports Industries America trade show in Denver last week. More than 470 exhibitors showed 1,080 brands, and an estimated 20,000 people attended.
Styles from such Colorado companies as Skea and Obermeyer were on display, as were highly technical brands such as Spyder. The Boulder-based company showed off the competition uniforms it created for the U.S. alpine ski team. Racing suits are admittedly a specific garment, but the slimmer jackets and pants that are part of the uniform will have wide appeal.
Consumers identify with Olympics suppliers like Spyder because the companies produce authentic, well-designed apparel, says Joan Deck, who buys men's ski apparel for Christy Sports stores. "It's less about the red, white and blue patriotism and more brand-driven," she says.
And often, materials and design innovations that are introduced at the Olympics carry forward. Burton made a splash in the 2010 Winter Olympics with its snowboard pants that looked like distressed denim.
Just as Burton and Ralph Lauren have very different takes on snow apparel, the industry has something for everyone, says Jim Fuller, divisional merchandise manager for outerwear and sportswear at Specialty Sports Ventures, headquartered in Denver. SSV has more than 200 stores all over the country and just bought additional locations in Minnesota and Utah.
"The market influences are vast," Fuller says. Among the big ones, though, is that the dividing line between what is worn on the slopes and streets is blurring, according to the retailer. "It used to be you'd see flashy snowboard or ski wear that was obviously to wear on the hill. Now you're seeing pieces that are beautiful and luxurious but fabricated so they can go back and forth. They work on the mountain but you'll also see them on the streets of LoDo," He cites brands such as Bogner as being at the forefront of that trend.
Also a big influence has been traditionally outdoor-focused makers like North Face and Patagonia, and to a lesser extent labels like Fjallraven and Kühl. Those companies have a "back to the earth" styling aesthetic and rugged appeal that consumers like right now, he says.
Snow-apparel makers are also paying attention to more than parkas, which is bringing newness to the market, according to Fuller.
Lighter layers in the form of down "sweater" layering pieces and vests are new wardrobe additions for consumers.
So, too, are pants that go beyond basic black into different colors and patterns that are meant to be mixed, rather than matched, with a parka. "We're seeing a ramp-up with different textures, colors, lengths and styles," Fuller says, noting that jean styling is hot. Stretch pants also are coming back.
Designers are paying attention to sweaters and base layers, too, going beyond the basics to make fashion-driven pieces.
"You're no longer just seeing a sweater with an edelweiss pattern on it," Fuller says. "Companies like Neve are coming on strong with layering pieces that are hugely driving our business. That helps the consumer make a new outfit."
Color and pattern also are injecting freshness. "I'm still seeing a lot of brights," Fuller says, adding, "In the young women's market, they'll put them together in the same jacket, like pink and orange. Guys will have more muted tones with a pop of green, or fluorescent orange or yellow."
Suzanne S. Brown: 303-954-1697, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/suzannebro