Primed for global expansion, the nascent winter sports equipment industry in China continues to emphasize inexpensive designs.
The supplier base, albeit small, is widening design selections for the low-end and midrange segments in markets such as the US and the EU where ski resorts abound.
Both areas, together with Japan and South Korea, are also the biggest sources for winter sports equipment. China ventured into the line about three years ago after a number of overseas companies transferred manufacturing operations to established production centers there.
Given the industryâs relative infancy, most makers currently do not specialize in the line, offering other outdoor products and sports equipment as well.
Despite Chinaâs late entry, the continuous focus on lowpriced designs has prompted growth of 30 to 50 percent annually prior to the international credit crisis.
Winter sports equipment from China is mainly made up of ski goggles, sleds and snowboards, with the first two categories representing the bulk of exports.
To sustain market interest, companies are focusing R&D on comfort, aesthetics and safety.
Ski goggles, for example, are designed to accommodate different facial profiles. For one, a V-type nose nog is added to let users adjust the fit on the nose bridge. Wider straps that resist water are also being integrated.
Shatter-resistant PC lenses are used rather than tempered glass, which may fragment on impact. For frames, makers now adopt TPU, as it boasts better performance in frigid environments, and foam. The latter provides extra cushioning.
As regards aesthetics, the latest goggles come in novelty constructions, including butterfly shapes. Some are inlayed with rhinestones or have multiple holes. Various color schemes are also used for the frames.
For added value, new high-end designs feature foam insulation that reduces moisture buildup.
Safety enhancements for sleds, meanwhile, involve the introduction of handles for better control. Designs are printed using nontoxic ink to make products environmentfriendly. Companies also adopt phthalate-free materials to achieve the latter.
Some sled makers, including Shenzhen Reanson Products Co. Ltd, plan to upgrade production equipment to release more designs for the upscale segment.
With nylon and polyester straps, low-end, midrange and high-end ski goggles from China are priced $4 to $6, $7 to $10 and $11 to $20, respectively.
Quotes depend primarily on the lens, which comes in spherical or cylindrical type. The former style offers a wide viewing angle, focusing the light onto a point rather than through a line, as a cylindrical type would. Models with this configuration are considered upscale and are priced 10 to 20 percent higher than those with a cylindrical lens. They target specialty stores.
In contrast, designs with cylindrical lenses are classified as low-end and found primarily in retail stores.
Other than construction, the number of lenses determines positioning. Low-end models adopt mainly a single PC lens, while midrange and high-end designs usually have two.
Regardless of the number and type, most lenses have UV-protective and anti-fog features.
Novelty-shaped goggles are classified under the highend line. Some have decorated frames.
Packaging also affects prices. Upscale models come in a fabric bag and a transparent color PP box. Less-expensive ones are shipped in a carton or with a card.
Most materials used in ski goggles are ecologically safe. Models are sent to Intertek or SGS for testing on impact resistance, smoothness and light transmittance. Most are compliant with standards such as EN 174, 166 and 1836.
China-made sleds are generally suitable for recreational purposes rather than racing. These come in foam, plastic and metal, and in single- or dual-rider design.
Low-priced foam versions are naturally light, allowing for fast speeds albeit with limited control. The core is usually in soft and flexible EPE that provides comfort and better shock resistance. Rigid and slick, the bottom is fabricated from HDPE, which is suitable for ice or snow.
The top layer uses XPE and can be printed with graphics. Plastic variants are commonly constructed from HDPE and are lightweight. Some come with metal runners at the base for fast and smooth rides.
Metal sleds are built for durability and stability. Heavier and more expensive, these have steel or aluminum frames and HDPE seats. The load capacity ranges from 120 to 180kg. Models with 2mm or thicker steel frames can support heavier weights.
HDPE employed in sleds is purchased in South Korea. Costing 40 percent more than domestic counterparts, imported materials have better rigidity, durability and cold resistance.
Sled quotes and market positioning follow primarily the type of material used in production. Low-end models are priced from $5 to $12, while midrange ones are between $13 and $25. High-end designs are available at $26 to $35.
This article "Winter sports equipment: Economical designs buoy emerging industry" is originally posted in Global Sources.
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