'Radical' design awards mark innovations in snow gear

Goggles with an embedded GPS receiver and electronic display? Wearable air bags for avalanche safety? Snow-sports gear designers are turning skiers and snowboarders into finely-tuned snow-machines.
Written by Mary Catherine O'Connor, Contributing Writer

If you've ever skied, you know the albatross that is the conventional ski boot. If not, imagine walking around with a pair of Volkswagen Bugs on your feet.

But cutting-edge snow gear design is on an upward trajectory. From impossibly light ski-mountaineering boots to life-saving avalanche tools, lovers of winter have plenty to cheer about, according to Outside magazine's 2012 Radical Design Awards.

The Italians know a thing or two about footwear, so it's no surprise that La Sportiva has reinvented the ski boot with its Stratos, which shatters the average alpine ski boot weight. Each is about a pound a half, compared to the five-pound average. This is attained through the use of carbon fiber and a hand-crafted design. But note, these sleek boots are designed for ski-moutaineers (read: folks who walk up the slopes as much as they slide own them) with deep, deep pockets. We're talking $3000 for a pair.

Skis look nothing like they used to. Some, designed for powder, are hugely fat. Others are curvy and have grown increasingly short, thanks to the effectiveness of new shape profiles. That's especially true of new models from Salomon and DPS, a small Utah-based ski maker. In fact, ski and snowboard designers alike have started experimenting with wholly new shapes and edge designs in recent seasons. Salomon's designer Bertrand Krafft looked to surfboards and water skis to inform the design of the BBR and make their use feel more like riding waves than snow.

It's no surprise that GPS technology is permeating snow gear. In the case of the Pieps Vector avalanche transceiver, the GPS receiver won't, in the case of a slide, bring you directly to the location where your partner is buried in snow. But when in a group, three of these devices can be used in tandem to zero in on the victim's location, which can greatly improve and hasten the rescue effort.

And in a downright sci-fi twist on goggles, Zeal has embedded GPS into its Transcend GPS SPPX (pictured above), in which the inner lens doubles as a monitor. The user can view a map of the very slopes she on, as well -- thanks to the GPS -- her location therein. And she can call up her speed log, the temperature and other details by toggling a button on the goggle's frame. All this, without having to dig out any handheld devices or watches from many layers of clothes. Fancy.

But perhaps the most life-changing trend in snow gear is the emergence of air bags for avalanche safety. They're not brand new, but they're impressively effective -- increasing survival rates by 98 percent. The design has evolved from relatively simple inflatable vests to the latest models, which are worked into backpacks. If he finds himself in trouble, the skier or snowboarder can deploy the bag by yanking on a handle.

Attempts to bring air bag safety into the sporting realm is happening off the snow, too. In case you missed it when it went viral, check out this quirky helmet-less bike helmet concept video.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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