2020’s Snowboard Product Tests: Bigger and More Important than Ever…

When it comes to ‘trying before you buy’, snowboard shops in Europe have never had it better. While snowboard tests are no new thing, in the past they would occur once orders had been placed and would serve as training for the sales staff – an important opportunity for sure, but not one that could inform the buying process.

However, in more recent years, we have seen a couple of forward-thinking event organisers flip things around and arrange on-snow product tests in January – before the trade show season begins – thus offering the decision-makers in snowboard retail the chance to get on snow and test the new gear before the likes of ISPO open their doors, and importantly before their order deadlines.

138 was lucky enough to attend both this season: The Rock on Snow Pro in La Clusaz, France and the Shops1stTry in Alpbachtal, Austria. Both are very similar in concept but unique enough to warrant some comparison, so join us as we break the testivals down…

The view from the top of La Balme – the main test area of Rock on Snow – is hard to beat.

Rock on Snow Pro. La Clusaz, France. 12-14.1.2020

We’ll look at the Rock on Snow Pro first because, well… it happened first. Not to be confused with the Rock on Snow, which is a consumer-facing event held in pre-season, the Rock on Snow Pro crew has been holding on-snow products tests since 2002, and for the past few years has based their industry-facing three-day event out of La Clusaz.

Naturally it’s drawn retailers from France and French-speaking Switzerland from the get-go, but recent years have seen a sizeable British contingent take advantage of the super-mellow transfer time from Geneva airport (45-minutes), and this past January also saw several retailers from other territories present. They touted 458 retailers, and a total of 798 testers, from 5 countries

Registered retailers receive a test pass that’s used to track what product has been tested (this info is also emailed to you so you don’t forget what you tried!), plus food and drinks vouchers, discounted accommodation and party passes.

The test village in the Balme car park.

The test area is located a 10-minute drive from the bulk of the accommodation. Here you find a sea of easy-ups stuffed to the gills with new product to test from the 48 attending brands. There is also an indoor area on-site with a bar, where some brands had wall-mounted displays showcasing their flagship product and a couple of non-hardware companies had their displays.

Located at the foot of the infamous La Balme ski area, the terrain you can test the product on is hard to beat. We weren’t blessed with great conditions but the hardpack was super fun nonetheless – however on a powder day this place would be nothing short of insane. In addition to the days’ testing schedule, there is also an industry dinner to continue the product banter, network and test your snowboard trivia skills in the industry quiz.

Rock on Snow’s indoor area, with wall displays of flagship product.

Sundowner after a good day of testing at Shops1stTry.

Shops 1st Try. Alpbachtal, Austria. 19-21.1.2020

Not even a couple of weeks after Rock on Snow wrapped, we were back in the 138 wagon for the much shorter drive from Munich to Austria for the Shops 1st Try.

This event has been a yearly happening for the best part of a decade, and for the last few years has called Alpbachtal home. It’s also expanded from a straightforward product test to also including an evening ‘mini-tradeshow’ component where brands display their highlights and can continue to bend the ears of retailers long into the night.

Its central European location was initially most attractive to retailers and distributors from the DACH region, but for several seasons now they have welcomed shops from across Europa – 2020’s edition saw retailers from 19 different countries join the party. As with Rock on Snow, there are free spots/industry support for retailers, a test pass that tracks what has been taken out, food and dinner vouchers, and great networking opportunities wherever you look.

The test village by Alpbachtal’s Geißkopf lift.

While the number of shops in attendance is similar to Rock on Snow, the number of people from those shops, number of brands, and  number of products tested was higher, and the general feel was that this event was certainly the busier of the two.

Shops1stTry’s test area again is located 5-10 minutes’ drive from the bulk of the accommodation, consisting of a village of brand tents, food trucks and coffee dispensaries. The Alpbachtal area certainly has more than a few fun, thigh-burning runs replete with side hits (this year O’Neill marked a few and had stationed photographers on them, which was a nice touch) and on a powder day there are some epic runs to be had. The crew had also organised Shred Buddies – local pros and legends who know the resort well that would guide retailers around the area and show them a good time.

As mentioned, this was certainly the busiest in terms of sheer number of people in attendance. It also had a more international flavour – there were retailers from more countries, and also many brands had sent their international pros to represent – Jeremy Jones was there, along with Hana Beaman and Marie France-Roy for example.

The evenings’ activities are also stronger – the stands showcasing new gear in the Congress Halle means you have the tradeshow vibe and chance to touch and talk, with the added bonus of having ridden much of the gear a few hours before.

Alpbach’s Congress Halle has an extensive area full of brand booths at Shops1stTry.

In many ways, as they service different markets, comparing the two is an exercise in futility – if your shop is French or French-speaking you’ll go to La Clusaz; the German-speakers will head to Alpbachtal and the rest will hit what’s easiest or where the brands they stock are.

In terms of what they want to achieve, both event crews do a great job. Brands and retailers are given a bunch of data about what was tested to refer back to, retailers are the prime focus and are well taken care of and all of the bigger hardware brands are present at both shows. There certainly were more outerwear and softgoods brands at Shops1stTry though, no doubt due to the evenings’ mini-tradeshow opportunities. We also had the feeling more smaller, niche brands opt for Shops1stTry but equally there were some small companies that showed at Rock on Snow – again, this seemed to correlate where the brands themselves were based.

What’s certain is that both events claim that 2020 was their most successful year to date – more shops than ever reaping the benefits of being able to inform their buying decisions by actually riding the gear that will be filling their shelves the following winter and enabling this experience to be transferred to their staff and customers when it comes time to close the sale.

Hats off to both sets of organisers for pulling these tests together, and for constantly working to improve them year on year!