Colour is back on the ski slopes in a big way according to sports and apparel suppliers at the latest ISPO trade fair for sporting goods and sports fashion. And it is not just apparel that has got the colour bug; hardware companies are utilising plastics technology to create eye-catching ranges of skis, boots, boards and the like reports Penny Leese.

Brilliant lime green skis from Elan, orange ski boots by Tecnica and hibiscus painted skis and poles from K2 are just some of the eye-popping tones that co-ordinate and complement other hardware, as well as the clothing and footwear for next winter.

Vivid summer colours like white, silver, orange and lime have been translated into winter wear. Closely following the brights, where green is in the lead, are summery pale pastels - especially baby blue - and white/off white. Colours are often used all-over, alone as separates, or with very subtle tone-on-tone like the rich warm dark orange/yam at Arc'teryx and North Face.

Technology takes off
While colour caught the eye, new technology is constantly in demand from retailers, if not from the markets. Wireless technology is getting off the drawing boards and onto the ski slopes and unexpected collaborations are creating interesting products. Apparel companies are working with technical companies - there are now ski boots with the Rekko system built in so skiers trapped under an avalanche can be found more easily.

Phone company Nokia has joined with Polar Electro so that the new Nokia 5140 connects wirelessly with the top line Polar wrist-worn running computer or cycling monitor. Results can be seen on the Nokia screen right away, with no need to go home and download onto a computer. Training data can be saved and shared.

Nike ACG's 'Commwear' was inspired by a communications vest with built-in walkie-talkie made for the Portland Mountain Rescue Team. The Commwear jacket won the European Ski Award. There is a push button on the front fly flap, and microphone in the storm fly near the mouth and speaker in the hood near the ear. What is new is that it is waterproof (Gore-Tex on the outer layer), very thin and light - it is made with Paclite - and is fully washable (only the microphone and earpiece need plugging off, since the wires are integrated).

O'Neil's HUB jacket blends an MP3 player, a Bluetooth module for mobile phone and functional snowboard jacket into one. The technology was developed by Infineon. The rider can make and receive calls direct into the headset, the wiring is invisible, and it is woven into the jacket. Mobile calls can use hands-free voice recognition, while the control panel to choose music tracks is on the left sleeve. It has a Soft Switch keypad and electronic fabric system.

Fused construction
Fused waterproof, no-stitch seams are common on high level jackets. North Face uses a resistant infused polymer construction to add strength to critical areas like front placket edge, bottom edge and pocket and wrist edges. It reduces the need for additional overlays and patches, creating a cleaner looking garment. The fusion technology is also used instead of metal eyelets around pull cords.

Waterproof fused zippers are much in demand on lightweight technical jackets, but they can be rather stiff as the fabric around them is coated and is part of the zipper. So Arc'teryx developed a new Vislon zipper with YKK for the main front zip where the angle of the interlocking teeth has been changed so that it acts like a tiled roof and the water just falls off. Behind the zip, the placket has indentations to match the zip perfectly, so that it sits tight. The only "problem" with this zipper is that it looks like a regular zip; it's not immediately obvious that it's waterproof.

Soft shells have been a buzzword for a couple of years, but now they are no longer so "soft". Polartec has increased wind resistance in many of its categories, and Hardface technology is a rapidly increasing category. A surface fusion polymer is applied to almost any base fabric to dramatically improve surface abrasion resistance and water repellence without impacting on breathability. It also gives a more sleek appearance to the fabric.

Tight-fitting bodysuits are not just for high speed skiers; they also have a function for active sports people. "Skins", developed in Austria, are moulded compression tights (and tops) made of Lycra and Meryl microfibre. They have a light gradient compression effect to improve blood circulation and also assist in the recovery phase. The support and gentle compression reduces injury as it maintains muscle alignment and reduces stress and strain on muscle, ligaments and tendons.

JetSkins are a spin off, recognised by the Aviation Health Institute, to help avoid the risk of DVT.

Return to natural products
While hi-tech and lightweight are key in jackets, there is also a return to natural products. Simple real down jackets are back on the ski slopes, often in single colours like royal (Salomon) or bright green (Bogner). Green is a popular colour for next winter, often in Jamaican inspired combinations including white, black and yellow (Bogner).

Formula One racing looks carry though to ski wear with chequerboard prints on ski boards, and some red/white/black ski jackets with big numbers and logos (Bogner).

Natural wool and woolly looks appear even from hi-tech companies like ACG which has pull-on rib knit hats. North Face has pretty knitted and fringed poncho sweaters with Nordic intarsia patterns. Fur gets stronger and stronger and appears on many parka hoods, often removable imitation fox.

Ski boots
Nordic walking is a hugely growing sport; it is a summer activity of walking with poles like ski poles for improved cardio vascular activity.

For the winter, Meindl has developed a new ski boot for "Nordic Cruising". It differs from the normal cross-country boots as it has a stiffer and more stable heel cup. The heel cup is also slightly higher giving additional support on longer distance trips. The outsole has profile so it is far more practical for walking around when not wearing skis; and it also fits the Salomon SNS system which is the most common binding. It has Thinsulate in the front and side, and storm tongue.

Waterproof and lighter weight are constant themes for footwear too; shoe companies are working hard with suppliers to develop points of difference.

Montrail's XCR lightweight hikers look like mid-cut jogging shoes for summer - but are designed for all year round use. The single layer textile outer has the Gore-Tex XCR membrane laminated direct to it, where the highly breathable mesh inner layer is totally free standing of the upper. The new technology working name is EXO (exo-skeleton) due to the construction.

The nylon upper is reinforced by a moulded rubber toe which is perforated for lightness and the top eyestay is clear plastic moulded direct onto the nylon, to reduce weight. Summer lightness and wearability are now vital for winter wear; activities are faster and more strenuous in winter and the clothes and shoes have to keep up with them.

Montrail has also been working with Vibram to create a new mountaineering boot sole with removable crampons. The sole is (relatively) soft and flexible - which is not the norm for Crampon soles; normally they cannot flex as the crampons must stay put. Montrail's sole has metal hooks in the centre part, integrated into the sole design, so that the crampon creates its own torsion effect once fitted to the sole. The total sole bottom has channels to fit the crampon base perfectly. It means that the boot is much more comfortable to walk in when crampons are not attached.

Women now demand the same comfort and technical levels as men do in shoes. In fact, women demand even more warmth in their winter boots. North Face has addressed these requirements in the new shell boots, which have just as much (400g) Primaloft as the men's boots.

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K2's children's shoes grow with their feet. The Inchworm system means that the shoes are 3 sizes in one. They have a concertina mid section which can, with a click on the side of the shoe, expand to become longer. The concertina effect is in bright coloured contrast rubber, and is integrated into the design. K2 points out one big advantage is for children whose feet grow at different rates, the left and right can be adjusted for different full or half sizes.

Strong turnout
The winter ISPO is obviously stronger than the summer ISPO where many outdoor product and apparel manufactures prefer to show in the nearby Friedrichshafn Outdoor show instead.

The ISPO Vision event finally took off this year, with a separate hall for high grade wear like Bogner, and separate retro fashion collections from Reebok and Fila (whose main sports collections were on show in the other halls) together with conceptual artists.

Berliner Raum had organised "happenings" with an American graffiti artist hand painting white sneakers from Dunlop Green Flash, Converse. One-off handmade accessories like hats and bags had appliqués and painted decorations.

ISPO Summer takes place from 4-6 July 2004. For more information visit:

By Penny Leese.