Great gifts for athletes and those who just want to dress like one


November 26, 1995|By Philip Hosmer

Finding the perfect gift for the sports enthusiast on your holiday shopping list is not as simple as it used to be. These days, sporting goods are nearly as complex and high-tech as computers. There are huge warehouse stores devoted entirely to sporting goods. They sell everything from Ping-Pong balls to hunting rifles. Space-age metal alloys, graphite composites and synthetic fabrics have replaced wood, cotton and leather as materials of choice.

Computer-aided design has revolutionized the construction of many items, from baseball bats to sports watches. Today, one can get a bat made of titanium, and a skiing watch that reads barometric pressure and altitude.

Shoppers beware -- if you're buying gifts for the sports-minded person on your list, it helps if you have an engineering degree. But with the following primer on sports-gift ideas, you can walk confidently into your local sporting-goods store, armed with the latest information on sporting-goods technology.

Major-league apparel

There was a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the best basketball shoe you could buy was the Converse Chuck Taylor, made of canvas and rubber. It cost about $20. Now you need about $134 to buy top-of-the-line basketball shoes, like the Nike Air Max Chris Webber model. This black, white and blue shoe features compressed air wedges in the sole, and is extremely lightweight but durable. Mr. Webber, of the Washington Bullets, is one of the National Basketball Association's rising stars, and this shoe would make most hoop fanatics jump for joy.

Nike doesn't just make shoes anymore. Nike apparel (jackets, shirts, shorts, sweat suits) is also a big seller, according to Norm Shortt of Champs Sports. Nike's current line of clothing is in basic earth tones: pine, brown, tan and black.

The black Nike baseball cap with a white stripe is hugely popular. And this fall, Nike introduced its line of sports balls, including footballs, basketballs and volleyballs. They range in price from $29 to $59 and are expected to be very popular also. One suspects that Nike could put its trademarked stripe on a snow shovel and that shovel would become a big seller.

Most sports junkies have a team that they are absolutely rabid over. Hint: Buy them a sweat shirt, jersey or cap with this team's name on it. If they don't have a favorite team, keep in mind that sports apparel touting the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers are perennial best-sellers. With girls, the Charlotte Hornets are the most popular team. The reason, according to Mr. Shortt: purple and teal, the team's colors.

On the ski trail

Local ski enthusiasts are hoping this season is much better than last year's, in which January temperatures soared to 50 degrees, melting any hopes for good skiing in the region. Gift buying for a skier usually centers on clothing, because ski equipment is a very personal decision (there are so many types of skis out there).

As any skier will tell you, clothing is a big part of the sport. Comfort and functionality of ski wear are critical, but looking stylish while you slalom is perhaps just as important. This year's hot new material is fleece. And we're not talking about those old fleece sweat shirts. Fleece these days is highly advanced fabric with names like Polar Tec and Turtle Fur.

Today's fleece has good insulating properties, is highly breathable and doesn't shrink or lose piling when laundered. But just as important, fleece comes in lots of cool colors and designs, including bright, bold, computer-generated prints and patterns.

Skiers like to wear fleece under a nylon shell, to create a layering effect, says Mike Holofcener, owner of Edge Set in Towson. Layering clothing allows more versatility when weather conditions change. Earth tones, especially forest green, are still popular colors in ski wear, he adds.

A popular accessory among skiers is the Footwarmer by Hotronic. This electronic shoe-heating system is battery-operated and provides warmth for several hours. Its two foot pads go into ski boots to keep the wearer's tootsies toasty during those chilly days on the slopes. The Footwarmer sells for about $149.

For skiers who have a technological bent, Avocet makes a ski watch called Vertech that provides temperature, vertical feet, descent rate, altitude and barometric pressure. And for approximately $130, it even tells the time and date. Just don't look at it while you're flying down the expert slope.

For lounging about the ski lodge, or for schlepping around the mall, UGG Boots are very trendy. These plush Australian sheepskin boots, which retail for about $159, are said to be worn by none other than Rush Limbaugh.

Big wheels

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