The SnowSports Industries America (SIA) Snow Show recently descended on Denver, showcasing the latest and greatest gear for skiers, snowboarders, and other powder fiends.
The collective mood was cheery, thanks in large part to Mother Nature. In this industry, snow trumps all else: Sales are up about 15 percent this year after a dismal 2009. In fact, December 2010 was the first-ever billion-dollar month for the snowsports market in the U.S.
The show -- the industry's biggest annual gathering -- brought out a wide variety manufacturers of skis, snowboards, outerwear, underwear, hats, socks, helmets, poles, pads, wax, and sunscreen. This season, these 11 top companies are setting the standard for innovation and design.
Icelantic Skis (www.icelanticboards.com, $450-$750) Made in Colorado, Icelantic skis are highly functional works of art. Icelantic's products feature the often surreal artwork of Travis Parr, and come with poplar cores and a two-year warranty. Each year's line has a special theme; the 2010-11 Icelantics have a musical motif.
Ski Logik Skis (www.skilogik.com, $750-$850) Among the most eye-grabbing skis at the show, Ski Logik's skis feature an unmistakable artistic wood veneer, black locust sidewalls, steel edges, and a hardwood core sandwiched between carbon fiber, a recipe that's equal parts durability and creativity.
Jones Snowboards (www.jonessnowboards.com, $400-$600) Pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones' eponymous manufacturer has garnered numerous awards and has become known for a sustainable approach. The distinctive line includes the Flagship, the Hovercraft, the Solution, and the Mountain Twin.
SP3i Skis and Snowboards (www.sp3isports.com; skis $975, snowboards $699.) Featuring a durable iridescent coating that originated in the automotive industry, SP3i's skis and snowboards literally change colors with the light. Best of all, since they were designed for sports cars, jets, and yachts, these coatings are not only cool, they're tough.
QuickPoles (www.quickpoles.com, price TBA) A paradigm shift in ski poles, QuickPoles double as handles for your skis. They tightly snap into any traditional bindings on alpine skis, turning two skis and two poles into something that can easily be carried with one hand.
Zeal Optics Transcend GPS Goggle (www.zealoptics.com, $399-$499) Zeal touts the Transcend as the world's first GPS-enabled ski goggle, featuring a readout that relays your speed and elevation as you cruise down the slopes. After the lifts stop, you can download your day onto your computer and recreate your runs on a satellite map of the resort.
MIPS Helmets (www.mipshelmet.se, price TBA) MIPS claims a revolution in helmet safety with a design that protects against "oblique" falls where one's head hits the ground at an angle, not vertically onto the crown. The Swedish company's Snow Helmet debuted in 2010.
Mountain Approach (www.mtnapproach.com, $795) These trekking skis with permanent skins are aimed squarely at the backcountry snowboarder. You can fold them up to fit snugly in a custom backpack and they'll strap onto any snowboard boot, making them the ultimate uphill vehicle for downhill runs in out-of-bounds powder.
Loki Gear (www.lokiusa.com, $20-$250) Based in Grand Junction, Colorado, Loki is named after shape-changing Norse deity for a reason: Its products change shapes to fit the needs of its user. Loki's hats can be worn as a hat, a hat and neck gaiter, or a neck warmer only; jackets feature built-in hand mitts that retract into the sleeves when not in use.
Slider (www.theslidercorporation.com, $600-$700) Looking like the offspring of a mountain bike and a snowboard, the Slider was one of the more interesting contraptions for getting down the mountain.
Just The Tip (www.oneupsportsgear.com, $15-$25) A customizable patch designed for blown-out fingers on otherwise good ski gloves, Just The Tip is a protective covering that slides over the damaged digit in question, breathing new life into old gear.