SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Looking for the bright side to all this miserable winter weather?
Bone-chilling cold gives you the perfect -- if frigid -- excuse to pony up for the latest in high-tech cold-weather gear.
These days, cold is definitely cool. Business was brisk at the recent Outdoor Retailer Winter Market here at the Salt Palace Convention Center, the industry trade show for winter shoes, skis, hiking gear and all other outdoor paraphernalia.
Show traffic and displaying companies were both up by about 15% from last year, organizers say.
And if you factor in the whole shebang -- apparel, shoes, gear, travel, suppliers and tourism -- the total active outdoor industry adds up to something like $289 billion, according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation.
The gadget biz can only stand back and gawk at such numbers.
"This is not the dirtbag climbers and ski-bum business it used to be," says Megan Davis, communications manager for the Boulder, Colo.-based industry association, which represents the outdoor sports industry. "Outdoor living is now high-fashion and high-tech."
Here, then, are my picks for hottest outdoor gear from this year's show.
Don't even try to pretend you're buying this sled just for the kids: The Mountain Boy Sled Works
Elegant Flyer ($399) is a nostalgic work of art for adults, too.
Made from curly maple and flame birch (and custom orders are available in other woods), the Elegant Flyer is hand-built in Silverton, Colo. Not only is every plank, bolt and fitting custom-assembled, but traditional metal runners have been dumped in favor of modern plastic skids that give the sled lift in powder and stability on hard pack and ice.
The sled goes faster, and is more stable and versatile, than one with traditional runners.
The only downside is that the Elegant Flyer is not so light. At 12 pounds out of the box, and even more if you go for different materials, functioning weight will certainly get closer to 20 pounds and up as the sled gets loaded with snow and kids looking for the obligatory free pull-along from the nearest adult.
Unless you like hanging out at the chiropractor, that's enough weight to take the fun out of even the very fit. So be sure to park close to where you slide.
Part cleat, part sneaker and part podiatrist's dream, the new Go-Lite
trail-running shoe ($100, available this spring) is a runner's phenomenon.
Go-Lite, which brought super-light camping to the fore -- let's do the Appalachian Trail carrying less than a bag of groceries, why don't we? -- was recently bought by shoe giant Timberland.
Usually this sort of takeover spells doom for the acquired brand.
But not here. Timberland actually invested in Go-Lite by bringing in its own product development team to revamp the trail-running shoe to glorious effect.
The model splits the shoe into two sections: a traditional heel and toe, and a separate area of soft, spikelike lugs that absorb the irregularities of the trail. The shoes look and sound nutty at first, but in my tests, they work.
The shoe's cloglike looks grew on me after I realized how sensible they were for wear. They are soft yet stable, and tight enough to bash around the back country. And with Timberland's patented fit system, the shoe was remarkably comfortable.
When these hit the stores, take them for a run in the woods no matter what the weather. You may love them as much as I do.
Last year Kit DesLauriers, 37, become the first person to not only ski off the cone of Mount Everest, but also off the six other tallest peaks in the world.
You might not be able to follow in her ski tracks, but you can buy the equipment she uses:
Dynafits (approximately $2,000).
European ski maker Dynafit prides itself on super-light skis, poles, boots and bindings that can ride the toughest terrain. Their skis can weigh less than two pounds, or about a third the weight of an average pair.
The company also has a patented binding system that uses spring-loaded rods to connect to special fittings on its boots, which are some of the lightest I have worn -- lighter, in fact, than some hiking shoes I have used.
In my limited testing, the skis worked. They were on par with traditional downhill models, though certainly not as stiff as tough racing skis.
Better yet, you can comfortably -- and I mean comfortably -- walk in this setup. No more silly Frankenstein-style clunking around the lodge. That alone makes Dynafit stand out.
Get ready to have your pathetic old-school vision of a winter jacket vaporized.
New lightweight riffs on waterproof fabrics from makers like Gore, combined with advanced laser milling and improved seams, turn the clunky three-pound outer shell into an unbelievably light wonder garment.
You can expect many uber-light jackets to hit the market this year, but the Arc'teryx is my pick, particularly the
Alpha LT ($499, available this fall).
The LT is a legitimate three-layer laminate coat that can take a fall and not rip. It comes with all the bells and whistles of a full-on winter jacket: a well-designed hood that stays on in a blow but that you can still see out of, chin guards that keep out the frostbite, cuffs that keep out the snow, and watertight zippers that keep your iPod and candy bars dry.
And here's the kicker: the thing weighs less than a pound, or about as much as a knit hat and big scarf. Frankly, it's spooky.
Jackets this light, that are this durable, are a revelation. You'll stay warm without even noticing it.
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Jonathan Blum is an independent technology writer and analyst living in Westchester, N.Y. He has written for The Associated Press and Popular Science and appeared on FoxNews and The WB.