THE SKI SCENE Neon takes tumble on the slopes


Neon has taken a nasty tumble as a fashion statement on ski slopes this season.

In its place are colors and styles that are more subdued,in jewel or natural tones such as jade and gold,with a touch of European tapestry or faux fur trim.

The change is good news for all but the obviously young and the impossibly slim, who could wear last year's neon with complete impunity. These new colors don't shout loud enough to start an avalanche. They whisper. And what they say is class, class, class.

This is important because in skiing, it's not how you ski that counts. It's how you look.

"Skiing has a lot to do with sex appeal, if you ask me," says Bill Cole of Troy, Mich. "When you talk about skiing, a lot of people are looking at the opposite sex."

Mr. Cole has chosen to make his mark in a just-purchased, three-quarter-length jacket in emerald and periwinkle blue.

"Personally," he says, "I've never been a fan of neon colors. I just thought it was a fad. The muted colors are much better for me."

Judy McBride of Ortonville, Mich., says she buys a ski outfit once a year, usually by Bogner, a manufacturer of expensive, European-style skiwear. Although she once bought a jacket with neon accents, she won't miss the trend.

"I am not a person who looks great in the neon, maybe because I'm 44 years old. I think the neons look great for younger people. But for my skin tone -- I never quite get fully tan -- they don't look as good on me."

The death knell for neon may be grim tidings if you spent from $200 to $400 on a fluorescent flamingo or lime-green parka last year.

Of course, no one would suggest that you throw away a perfectly good jacket, especially in a recession. But that doesn't stop ski fashion trend-setters from asking you to tone it down a bit.

"For us, neon has been dead for about three years, but for the lower end of the market, it just died this year," says Diane Boyer Irwin, vice president and designer at skiwear manufacturer SKEA Ltd. of Vail, Colo. "The pendulum just swung back the other way. Neons couldn't go on forever."

The newest looks for women are jewel tones, such as ruby, emerald, turquoise and jade, or natural tones of forest green, olive and gold. European looks are often fitted styles in tasteful prints or with a touch of embroidered trim. Fur, when it appears, is often faux.

"Customers come in and say, 'Oh, everything is not quite as bright.' And they like that," says Lynne Bay, merchandise manager for Don Thomas Sporthaus in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Jewel and natural tones are also big in men's skiwear, along with classic colors such as red, navy and black. The look is handsome, not flashy. When you see neon, it's in a stripe or a patch on a shoulder, a boot or a glove. And it's not called neon anymore. It's called a "bright."

Skiwear designers are not only changing the colors, but also the silhouettes. As they turn away from using down insulation, skiwear no longer has the puffy, "Michelin Tire Man" look. Waterproof, breathable microfibers that are tough, lightweight and windproof are meant to keep you warm and show off your lean, athletic silhouette.

A fabric called Solar Alpha contains carbon particles that are said to absorb the sun's rays and retain body heat. You can buy a one-piece Solar Alpha ski suit, for instance, for about $550 and up.

This toning down and slimming up of skiwear is not only fashionable, but smart. Skiers can wear their gear more often, so they may be willing to pay a little more for it. And nonskiers can find outerwear that won't make them look like a "construction zone" sign by the side of the road.

SKEA coined the term "City/Ski" to make just this point.

This year, as in years past, Bogner, based in Munich, is selling its upscale, international style. Don Schwamb, executive vice president of Bogner of America in New York, says that although his company carried a piece or two in neon, it never "fit in conceptually with the Bogner attitude."

Incidentally, that attitude costs $400-700 for a parka.

Currently on the skiwear racks from Bogner are mostly ethnic themes, including Norwegian, Arabian and even Hawaiian-inspired looks.

If you're not ready to scrap your current ski wardrobe and start over, you can still update what you have. If you have neon warm-up pants and a jacket with only touches of neon, you can update your warm-up pants. Or you can add a few understated accessories.

That could mean an embroidered headband for about $20; after-ski boots in shaggy genuine fur with embroidered accents, starting at about $200 in the Technica line; solid-color gloves starting at about $40; or a jewel-tone ear-flap hat for about $28.

Still, the passing of neon is sad news for downhill and cross-country skier Mike McCoy.

"Skiing should be fun, lively, and the neon is fun," he says. "My wife loves it. Will she stop wearing it? Yes, but not for many years."

For a guide to local ski slopes, read this week's Saturday section.

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