The rising popularity of backcountry riding is driving demand for body protection. Brands are responding with user-friendly products that mitigate the traditional reticence for wearing protectors. This will secure an industry segment that promises a steady growth. By Rocio Enriquez.
The trend, kicked off by helmets a few seasons ago, has extended to other parts of the body. Body protection is not a niche product for rail-hitting park riders anymore. “If you avoid injury, you spend more time on the hill”, says Amplifi CEO Jens Hartmann. Many factors have contributed to this. The growing popularity of backcountry riding brings about the need for the right protection to enjoy it. The effect of climate change on snow conditions is partly to blame. Finding good powder requires off-piste exploration. “The search for great conditions takes more effort than it did in the past”, says Evoc’s Jan Sallawitz. The backcountry is also favoured these days by snowboarders aiming to avoid the risk of infection. Some look at splitboarding as a way of keeping away from lifts. Riders who climb up the mountain and push their limits on the way down want reliable and comfortable protection. “Users will demand their body protection to be truly lightweight and breathable”, says John Lloyd from Koroyd. For Simon van Lammeren, founder of Xion, it is a simple equation. “Reducing the risk of getting injured allows riders to push their limits and enjoy the sport to the fullest”.
Still, body protection is no rider’s favourite piece of kit. “That’s why making it thin and comfortable is important”, says Patrick Lambert of ForceField. Brands are focusing on developing body protection that is easy to wear. “It is now easier to find what you need in terms of balancing comfort and protection”, says Damian Phillips from POC. Alex Sardella from G-Form says: “Soft-shell protection is at the forefront of the market trends”. The key is to offer all day protection without noticing it. “We aim to create flexible, invisible and reliable protection with adaptive characteristics”, shares Amplifi’s designer Tom Howells.
Increasing numbers of kids and women in snowsports have also contributed to the demand for body protection. “Kids and women have more exposure than ever with social media. They encourage younger generations to take up the sport, younger generations who are more prone to wearing protective gear”, says Noah Todaro from Triple 8. They are boosting the sales of gear/apparel with low-key added protection. Still, it is the spine that riders are most keen on protecting. Amplifi, Xion, XBrave and POC report their biggest sales last season in this segment, a trend likely to continue. Protection developers are putting their brains to the matter. “Our new technology improves the efficiency of existing back protectors by up to five times”, announces Thomas Saier from Adam’s Four.
The goal is the same for all brands: to make protective gear that you forget you’re using. XBrave is building on the acceptance of its super light, thermo active underlayer Pro 2+ back protector. It is adding chest and shoulder protection with the Pro 3+ and Pro 4+ styles. Xion focuses on comfort, breathability and flexibility. This has produced the popular D3O Viper Stealth vest, with back protector and adjustable waist. POC is constantly evolving its own Visco-elastic Polymer Dough (VPD), now offered in back, knee and elbow pieces. It moulds to the rider’s shape with body heat and hardens on impact. Evoc is equipping all upper body protection with its LiteShield Plus. This is an extremely lightweight and flexible pad with multiple vent channels for maximum air circulation. Koroyd will launch a new backpack insert. They claim it to be the thinnest and lightest protector meeting the EN1621-1 test protocol for spine protection. Adam’s Four is launching the new RSP (Rotational Spine protector). Expect to see this patented technology featured by many major brands. Amplifi has added a knee protector to its range of MKX injected pieces. “The new MKX is only 10mm thick. It has great shock absorption, is extremely flexible and creates no heat build-up”, says Tom Howells. Amplifi is also investing efforts in sustainability, with the incorporation of Miharo, a fast growing and highly renewable natural fibre. Blended with polyester, it offers the anti-odour and moisture regulating properties that users request.
Snowboarders are becoming more aware and educated about protection. Brands are listening and delivering. The better protective gear is, the more likely it is people will keep wearing it. This is good for industry figures, for user safety, and ultimately for the sport.