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The future of skis??

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
Phil brought up an interesting topic in a post on buying skis online that I wanted to pursue, but thought it more appropriate to bring it to the gear forum - so, Phil, if you'll excuse my taking the liberty, I'm reposting your comments below, then adding my own post

<< Salomon started it, then Atomic, Head/Tyrolia Rossi/Dynastar, Volkl/Marker and the Nordica binding is in the works. I am talking Ski-Binding-Boot intergration. Manufacturers want to start dealing direct, they are looking for more money in their pockets and less outlay of inventory. Do you know of the number one cost to a ski manufacturer? Ski shops going belly up. Manufacturers are losing so much money in this area it isn't funny, infact its very scary, to them. They are working diligently to minimise their exposure, ski binding combos are the start. It's be cheeper to get a fleet of Betaracers out there to get people on the skis then to risk the financial outlay. We are seeing more and more skis working onlywith certain bindings, this is not a fad, repeat not a fad . Its the start of the new era.
Do not get me wrong, there will still be ski shops, but for soft goods, ski tuning and the independant brands i.e. Volant, Raichle. It will be tough for these smaller brands to compete later on, all the bindings are taken. To own a Volant or K2 will be part of an underground movement. Do you think K2 is kicking themselves for not hooking up with Marker when they had the chance? You bet, but do not be surprised if K2 doesn't come out with a binding of their own.

The newer boots are all good, they will try this online, too. Just look at the snowboard industry, do you think this new soft/hard shell boot is a fluke? Fit, and ease of fit. Full system intergration will be the way in the future, mark my words.

--- Phil >>

To Ski or Not To Ski...

What a stupid question!
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[This message has been edited by Tag (edited March 01, 2001).]</FONT>
post #2 of 25
Thread Starter 
There are two parts to this that intrigue me. First is the notion of the manufacturers trying to become direct marketers. Second is a thought just published in an article in Inside Tracks that questions if skis are becoming too much alike. The gist of the article is that while there is a world of difference between an X-Scream Series and a 9X Pro, there is very little difference between an X-Scream and Rossi's comparable mid-fat (which I'm guessing is the Bandit X). I do quite strongly disagree with this part of the article while agreeing with the articles conclusion that you must identify the type of skiing you do AND what niche ski best suits your needs (i.e. race, carve, mid, fat) when you are ready to purchase skis.

The bottom line to both of these points is simply the ONE recommendation that everyone in this forum seems to espouse: Demo before you buy. How does a direct marketer get you to demo the product? And if the integrated boot/binding/ski is the wave of the future, then demoing becomes even more difficult while at the same time becoming vitally important. This ties into the second point as well that in order to determine your 'niche' requires not only some self-analysis of how and where you ski, but also some time spent again demoing skis to determine if, for example, the 10% off-piste time you spend is better served by a race carver (better on the 90% time spent on the groomed) or a mid-fat.

If ski manufacturers can better do just in time construction of skis, then I could see your local ski shop simply becoming a demo center where they carry no inventory and everything is ordered and built as needed, but I don't think the manufacturing process for skis can handle that type of system. I don't know that for sure, I'm just guessing here.

Finally, after all the work that went on years ago to standardize the boot to binding interface, I would be very surprised to see manufacturers going backwards to a system where their boots will only work with their bindings.
post #3 of 25

Look at next year's Bandit X. It is a Scream Series copy, although I think the core is foam. Sidecut is 106-68-96. A lot of skis are becoming very similar to these dimensions.
post #4 of 25
Interesting topic. I have to agree it looks like boot/binding/ski integration is the target for the future but I believe there will need to be a considerable amount of standardization before it really becomes viable. Consider my current two primary pairs of skis - Bandit XX and Volkl G40 both mounted with Marker SC 9.2. Fully integrated, non-compatible systems would force me to either a single manufacturer "quiver" (XX and XXX or G30 and G40???) or owning multiple pairs of boots as well as skis and bindings. Of course those with multi-ski quivers (I believe the broad majority on this forum fit into this group) are probably a real minority in the overall skiing population.

Standardizations required?

Not only the boot/binding interface but a few unique boot lenghts.

Standardization of mounting hole patterns on bindings and dimension from the hole pattern to the boot interface. This would already be very useful to allow single drilling to accomodate a broad selection of bindings.
post #5 of 25
I apologize for being a little askew of topic.

“If ski manufacturers can better do just in time construction of skis, then I could see your local ski shop simply becoming a demo center where they carry no inventory and everything is ordered and built as needed, but I don't think the manufacturing process for skis can handle that type of system.”

Interesting……A year ago Volant announced their plans to introduce a system that would allow authorized Volant dealers to order for customers, via in-store internet connections, skis that they did not have in stock. Volant and the dealer would then split the margin. I didn’t read the agreement completely so I may not be 100% accurate on all of the details. There are folks on this list who can help here.. It wasn’t a universally popular idea among existing dealers. Some dealers that I talked to at Demo Days in Bend were so twisted over this that they cancelled their Volant orders (and reinstated them when Volant backed down). The concern was that with this direct ordering in place, a “dealer” did not really have to make as significant a commitment to the industry or sport in terms of inventory or service and could take business away from folks who had worked for many years to build relationships with you.

From what I have seen as a retailer, though, Volant had no intention of undermining dealers and only felt that it would be a way of supporting us without requiring a larger monetary commitment (risk) in order to service our customers. Their vision would have changed an industry that didn’t want to change (for some good and bad reasons). I personally think that they miscalculated the value of the good will and the image gained by the dealer who commits to the industry, as we have known it, and perhaps the customer base wasn’t ready to change, either. They have given me damn good customer service, though, and I think that we are deluding ourselves to think that the industry will not change with time. And not all changes will be for the good. At least as we perceive it.

How do you think that ordering from demo centers as opposed to buying from committed retailers would effect our industry?
How would pricing be effected?
What about R&D?
Certain skis have consistently sold through. Do you think that supply and demand (hence pricing) would be more effectively controlled by manufacturers?
What would that do to boot pricing?
Would quality bootfitters finally be monetarily rewarded for not going to medical school?

Nice thread, Phil/Tag.


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[This message has been edited by jd (edited March 01, 2001).]</FONT>
post #6 of 25
I have to strongly disagree with Phil’s belief that the integration of skis and bindings is not a fad, sorry, it is a fad and a gimmick which I think will last approximately three seasons before consumers revolt and insist on mutually compatible systems again. I think an interesting comparison is with the step-in snowboard binding fad of about five years ago. Consumers are currently returning to strap in bindings in droves because they don’t like being forced to buy particular brands of boots or bindings that are only compatible with themselves. The convenience benefits were outweighed by the performance costs and everyone finally realised that the revolution was more marketing hype than technical innovation.

The real revolution in bindings happened in the seventies with the introduction of the DIN standards. Until then everyone had their own systems of boots and bindings, none of which fitted any other brands. The introduction of the DIN standard meant that if you didn’t make DIN compatible stuff you were out of business. My point is that the aim of the integrated ski-binding systems today is not to create a new standard to correct the performance weaknesses in the current DIN standards, rather it is to lock consumers into buying particular brands of equipment. As Powder junkie pointed out, if there was a genuine effort to permanently change the ski/binding interface it would have to be a system agreed between all the binding manufacturers but this won’t happen. The touted performance benefits all revolve around eliminating the interference of the boot and binding on the flex of the ski, but none of the systems do anything which cannot be done by any of the current free flexing bindings or plates.

If any of the ski and binding manufacturers made totally mutually exclusive equipment it would mean death for both of them. If Tyrolia and Head made gear which could only be used together, it would kill the sales of both of them, no binding manufacturer will ever give up universal bindings.

Tag is right, the nightmare scenario of integrated boot-bindings simply won’t happen. Differences in the human foot and the fact that no manufacturer will ever be able to have perfect fitting boots for everyone, would mean that your choice of skis would be dictated by which brand of boots happened to fit your feet. Of those of you skiing on Atomics now, how many of you would have bought them if you had had to buy Atomic boots at the same time? The outcasts in a world of system integration won’t be the independents, but the manufacturers who lose sales because they tie their strong products to their weak ones.

The argument that the manufacturers are heading to direct Internet marketing is completely unfounded because there isn’t anything in the supply chain, from factory to consumer, that we are prepared to give up. Firstly I don’t know of any ski shop which is actually owned by a manufacturer so I don’t understand Phil’s argument that ski shops going bankrupt hurts manufacturers. As long as the overall quantity of skis sold is the same, it shouldn’t make a difference to the manufacturer how many shops they sell to. Phil’s point about the manufacturers wanting to avoid financial exposure is absolutely correct though. But the way for them to avoid that exposure is by avoiding direct marketing. Consumers will always want to handle and demo the skis, try on the boots and talk to impartial staff. In the scenario where all gear is sold directly to the consumer and there are no ski shops, manufacturers will have to run their own demo centres, have tuning, fitting and mounting centres, distribution channels and a fleet of reps to talk about the gear to consumers. So any potential savings are lost through having to employ this army of staff and increasing the financial exposure of the manufacturer.

Independent ski shops will not tolerate having consumers coming to them, using their advice and then buying direct from the manufacturer. They will demand a cut of the profits for acting as a rep for the manufacturer, or they will simply dump that brand. Consumers still want everything that the shops provide so the manufacturers will have to start their own shops to reach consumers. The manufacturers need to be sure that they can survive without the shops that currently sell their gear before they can go to direct marketing in earnest.

Let’s just consider the buying process in an integrated ski-binding-boot, Internet and demo centre world. First research on the Internet what you want to demo, read nothing but hype and don’t find out anything useful. Track down a demo centre and talk to a rep paid by the manufacturer to push their brand, and because their skis and boots are integrated, you have to demo boots at the same time. Try this for some time at different demo centres because no centre has two brands of equipment. Make your decision and purchase over the Internet, a bit cheaper than shops but you didn’t really need new boots so you end up paying for more. Wait a week or two for the stuff to be delivered, the season is slipping away. Take your stuff to a mounting/adjusting centre, how much did that cost. Try to get your boots fitted, where the hell is that rep. Then get out on the slopes on uncomfortable new boots and on skis with no performance benefits over non-integrated systems. This simply isn’t going to happen people.

It boils down to consumers wanting choice. We want the boots that fit our feet best, bindings that perform as we demand and skis that suit our skiing style, regardless of brand. We don’t appreciate having to compromise on any of these just because a manufacturer is trying to lock us into their particular brand. We want impartial advice and the gear here and now, not a few weeks, and we want a place to take the stuff to have it fitted or gripe to when it breaks.
post #7 of 25
Not being in the ski manufacturing or sales businesses, I can only make these observations. The first is this: Remember Betamax? Where someone tried to corner the market in video players by having their own non-standard brand? And where is Betamax today? Second is this: Some time ago - say, about five years ago - I was in a focus group for a well known market research company headquartered nearby. The item on the table was internet sales of automobiles. Does it take place? Yes. Do I really believe it's the wave of the future? No. Why? OK, if you already know what ski [car]you want and can get a deal on the internet which is a REAL deal, you MAY go for it. But where do most ski [car] product consumers go first? Not to demo days or demo centers. They go to the store - the real bricks and morter store, with reaL flesh and blood sales PEOPLE - and they LOOK AT the skis there, and the skis have FLEX, and they have GRAPHICS and COLORS and SHAPES which can be seen and felt, and they TALK to the PEOPLE, and they ASK QUESTIONS . . . and on and on. And if they have a BEEF they do the SAME DAMN THING at the SAME DAMN PLACE. I am a passionate skier, but only an average one, and only one of many average consumers. Sometimes, they ought to think about ALL of us average people and how we live - and prefer to live - our average lives. In my own average opinion, I do not see the non-standard Pilot integral binding system - which offers an advantage to Salomon but not to ME -, internaet sales as the main route, or "just in time" inventory management [manufacture upon order] as the wave of the present or of the future. Long live the retailers!!
post #8 of 25
Thread Starter 
I think Phil says it best that the manufacturers have only one thought in mind and that is minimizing costs. In a flat to declining market, a manufacturer has only three ways to increase profits: cost reduction, increase prices, or steal market share from other manufacturers, usually through marketing efforts or product improvements. Again, from my limited knowledge of how skis are made, it is not a process that lends itself to just in time manufacturing, but rather gets economy of scale by mass production. My guess is that the integrated binding/ski has got to be more expensive to produce than a separate binding and ski. However, if you can convince the consumer that this is a technology breakthrough and that it is worth a premium price over buying skis and bindings seperately, then you have a sucess story.

Like oboe, I prefer the hands-on method for shopping for skis, but at the same time, I agree with gashw that we here at Epic are the exception, not the rule when it comes to buying skis. I think many more people simply buy without ever demoing a pair of skis, but purchase based on the salesman's pitch. But, I don't know if that "vast majority" of skiers would make for enough of a mass market for skis to become a commodity item that could be sold over the internet. And with the trouble I've had getting a boot to fit properly, I can't even begin to imagine buying a boot (or any shoe) over the internet.

Finally, I look at the integrated binding/ski as being an evolution in the process to eliminate the "dead" zone under foot in the flex of a ski. As noted, the free flex and other bindings have been working on this for years. Frankly, I am just not sensitive enough to really notice a difference between a non-'flexed' binding and my FreeFlex Tyrollia's, and again, IMO, for the overwhelming majority of skiers, this isn't going to make any difference to the way they ski. I am intrigued enough by this process that I just might try to demo some Pilots when I'm out at Copper next week. Call it a fad or a gimmick or a real breakthrough, I think it is pushed to get the consumer to move upscale into a more expensive (and profitable) ski.<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by Tag (edited March 02, 2001).]</FONT>
post #9 of 25
phil, you mau still have a Beta, but you knnow darned well that they are passe'. Try to go to a video store and rent something in that format! Today, Beta is a collector's item. As to the franchise buy-backs, well, sure, that adds to the argument against internet car purchases, and sure, the ski business does not have that same arrangement. My belief stands, however, that for the great body of skiing consumers, the ski shop is here to stay - and I am glad of that!
post #10 of 25
Gonz and Phil are both right, futurism and ski/binding integration is not the way to go but on the surface it looks cool so the marketeers can sell this and sales will go well for a couple of years. Most peoples first reaction to integrated ski/bindings is 'cool' and once there are more high performance skis out there, sales of intgrated systems will climb. The trouble will come when people start breaking the skis or they wear out, the owners will have a perfectly good set of bindings which can only be mounted on a very small number of skis.

The fundamental problem is that there is no need for such a system, skiers are not dissatisfied with the way their bindings are attached to their skis. Rear entry boots and step-in snowboard bindings were filling a need for greater convenience and ease of entry and exit but both of those failed. There is no advantage in an integrated ski/binding system but a big enough marketing effort will convince a significant number of peole that this is a good idea. I predict it will grow for the next two or three seasons before taking about the same length of time to be phased out. The people I feel sorry are those that buy these systems and in a few years when the bindings are still good but they want to replace the skis they will find that there are no skis made for these systems.
post #11 of 25
No feathers ruffled. I think we're all scared.

The inventory reduction, last minute manufacturing scheme is becoming more and more common. Especially in the age of the web. How many web stores even have a warehouse? Not many.

Star Trek replicators anyone? I can hear it now:

"skis please"

Out pops a pair of Rossi Cut Super 10.5 with Rossi bindings.

"no, no...powder skis"

"I have 15 versions of powder skis in my memory banks. Please be more specific"

"Bandit XXX"

"Please specify your height, weight and ability level"

"6', 220#, level9"

"you're lying"

"computer: comply"

Out pop 188 cm Bandit XXX again with Rossi bindings that only fit the Rossi boot.

"computer: I want Rossi Bandit XXX in 193 cm, Marker SC 9.2 mounted for a 325 mm Nordica boot sole length"

"I am not programmed to comply with that request"

And so on.

I'm going to buy some more UPS stock...<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by PowderJunkie (edited March 02, 2001).]</FONT>
post #12 of 25
Phil has a good point here. People want things to be easy. I spent several years in the car buisness in the late eighties and early nineties. At that time they started "value" packages. You know, group together a bunch of options and give you a "value discount" thus doing two things.
1) Ease of maufacturing. More standardization resulting in lower manufacturing costs.
2) Make it easy for the customer to get all the bells and whistles and at the same time sell them on the value.

Integrated ski/binding/boots will do this.

"Mr and Mrs Joe skier all you need is right here in this package" No muss no fuss. Everything is tuned in by the factory.

Ski shops have been selling "package deals" for years. By doing this they are basically telling Joe skier what he should buy and making it easy for him.

post #13 of 25
Thread Starter 
Gonz, just curious, how do you know that Keelty wrote the piece in Inside Tracks? I know he is a contributing editor for the newsletter, but don't find anything in the article itself that attributes it to him. Again just curious....
post #14 of 25
Box stores have not always replaced "little guys", but that aside, the ski shop and Walmart are apples and oranges. I cannot imagine having any fun getting my skis at Walmart, but I have been having LOTS of fun buying my skis from real people who are here and in the ski business. For so long as skiing thrives, the ski shops will thrive. Will some of them not make the grade? Sure, some will fall by the wayside - same as in any other business. But the great shops will go on and on. And considering the demographic, we consumers will be happy campers. I'll bet on it. Of course, I live in Vermont near really great ski shops. Visit the Alpine Shop in South Burlington, Vermont. Check out their services, their programs [kid season rentals, for example], their staff and their marketing mix. Then tell me to my face that the place will be outmoded by the Internet or by inventory reducing "made upon order" ski manufacturing/sales. Go ahead, see the place, consider who the customers are, and then tell me that.<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by oboe (edited March 02, 2001).]</FONT>
post #15 of 25
Gonz, they DO make inroads, I don't want to deny that. The Barnes & Noble mammoth is, in all candor, a really terrific asset - but it has beat the crapola out of the smaller downtown bookstores. We still do have viable True Value stores and a regional small chain, even though we also have Home Depot - and our local lumber and home supply guys are staying in business, too. Not all big boxes are alike, and not all smaller stores are alike. A discount big box sporting goods store that sells skis [among other things] was set up for about a year - right up the street from Alpine Shop! It folded, Alpine Shop survives and prospers. It's just not a good working paradigm. Skis are not two by fours [at least they better not feel that way!]. Long live retail ski shops! [Hey gonz, if you think that's testy, meet me in court when I'm having a bad hair day! Actually, come to think of it, you're on my side, right? RIGHT?! ]<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by oboe (edited March 02, 2001).]</FONT><FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by oboe (edited March 02, 2001).]</FONT>
post #16 of 25
I have to believe that the ski industry has some sort of a 20 or more year plan, and then a contingency plan if the consumer doesn't buy the "quirks" such as ski/binding integrations etc...I've always said this about golf. Look at where it has come from and where it has gone in ten years. Persimmon heads, Taylor Made's metal headed wood around 1990, an influx of graphite shafted drivers, to titanium, and now, half titanium/half steel shafts. Someone thought of these things years ago, and just release enough technology to get us "junkies" to buy the latest and greatest, year after year. I'm still waiting to buy the latest and greatest skis (atomics of course) but took years to learn my lesson with golf equipment. Will I do the same with skis, and maybe hold on to a pair for 3 or more years? That'll probably be the day, but the newest club in my bag is a Cameron Santa FeII putter from 2 1/2 years ago that wins me enough cash to swish a pair of skis every year.
Alot of Red Zinfandel talking here, sorry for the length, but I have to believe that there are a pair of skis in some austrian factory built already that will be on the hill in about 8 years, and they just build enough technology into them every year to get us to "hold out" for a while then splurge on the latest pair with minimal improvements, but enough to make us feel like we've gotten the best. Little tweak here, little tweak there. Look at the new Bandits, and I have no clue, but I will bet my check that whem the X-scream sales slow, they'll change the sidecut by 1mm here and there, and have another best seller. You know what I mean, Divot...
post #17 of 25
Divot, I think you have hit the nail on the head - bless that Red Zinfindel! But how do you think this plays into the future of ski shops?
post #18 of 25
I don't know. Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me. I think you give them too much credit. From my dealings as a ski industry insider for the past 29 years, a twenty year plan would qualify as an urban myth.


post #19 of 25
You're probably right, jd, but I am of the belief that the manufacturers know exactly what they are doing, and have known, by only releasing so much technology every year. Sure, there are exceptions such as the popularity of shorty slaloms, that probably surprised all of the manufacturers. But I'll stick to this, make X-screams 107-69-96, paint them another shade, say , oh a grey poupon, and you've got another best seller for 2 years. Yeah, maybe not a 20 year plan, but a plan none the less.
Good Zin, bad hangover!!!
post #20 of 25
I see what you're saying. I think, though, that the "tweak the shape, paint it and rename it" process is usually done out of desperation rather than design. And it is done every year by someone. K2 has been trotting out the venerable K2 4 under different names and paint jobs for years. While the K2 4 chassis is sound, successful and tweakable there have been at least a couple of years where cutbacks in R&D left them with nothing else to sell. Sure, they had some specialty skis but they didn’t manufacture or sell enough of those to pay the rent. If they had the ability to release the MOD skis two or three years earlier they wouldn't have hung their hats on the K2 4 legacy while they lost market share. Thank goodness that their line-up for next year is really strong.

All of these makers want to blow away their competitors and while you don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water you do have to dump the water before it gets cold.

post #21 of 25

Spoken like a true retailer and ski shop owner. How do you determine the line you are going to invest in to put on your rack? From you're post you have a strong K2 bias. What about other lines? Rossi, Atomic, Volkl, Volant, etc.?
post #22 of 25
Great thread !

The Volant situation was one of them "shooting themselves in the foot" because they took away too much gross profit margin from the retailers. Buying skis on line that don't have bindings that you can adjust, has limited possibilities. It's like buying a suit of clothes on line, you will have to find someone who only does alterations for a living in order to make the final fit work, and the same is true of boots and skis. You need either a good ski shop, or someone that only does service work on skis and boots. Are there any independent boot fittters, who don't care if you buy your boots from them ???

In Michigan, there are no ski retailers that sold Volant skis this season, except maybe one or two obscure independents. Volant is now making a serious effort to correct this mistake by trying to win these retailers back.

As to equipment, the conceptual keys will be user friendliness, and simplicity. Easy to use, wonderful to make progress on, and less complicated to use and get used to.

Skis will continue to become shorter, but there will be a point of maximum efficiency as to how short the skis can become.Skis will become even more versitile, being able to do the whole mountain in just about every snow condition, but also be competitive in a NASTAR race.

Boots will be warmer without the need for heaters, and continue to be more comfortable,also much easier to put on, take off, and adjust. Alignment issues will get more attention with more adjustments being built into the boots and binding platforms, so making these alignment adjustments will not require under the binding shims.

The incorporation of these concepts expressed as new "features," will be perceived by the ski industry is "significant value added." Therefore the prices for skis and boots, will continue to rise at a much higher rate than inflation.

This will partially negate the ski industry's strategy of trying to attract and keep skiers. They will feel that the price increases are justified, since they will be making things so much easier to use. But people will be turned off as to how expensive everything is.

So that's the downside. Better equipment, but it will be over priced thus turning a lot of people, especialy families, off because of price.

Of course Disney World isn't cheap either, but summer clothes are a lot less expensive than investing in ski clothing and equipment.

Because of ever increasing equipment prices, ski and boot rentals will increase, except for those that ski more than 10-15 days a year. The rentals will have to be reasonable and the best of equipment will have to be available for rent, and be right there at the place you are staying. You will give the ski rental company your boot sole lenght, and what type of skier you are along with height and weight via email or fax. Your equipment, if not at your condo upon arrival, will be delivered by a van, so any adjustments or minor ski tuning can be done right at your condo in the mini shop that is in the van, the evening before your first day of skiing.

They may even deliver your ski passes as well at the same time.<FONT size="1">

[This message has been edited by wink (edited March 04, 2001).]</FONT>
post #23 of 25
2nd resurection of the day. I thought this 4 y/old topic would be fun to delve into again.
post #24 of 25
It is a great topic. I recall in the mid-90's reading an article in SKI or SKIING magazine predicting a market dominated by intergrated skis/bindings/boots complete with a futuristic drawing of a single piece set up. I thought then nah, it will never happen...
post #25 of 25
1. skis/boots/bindings are extremely expensive to produce.
2. K2 is NOT kicking themselves-LOL
i'm not sure anyone understands how much power they have in the industry. they are a giant entity inside and outside of skiing. infact, volkl/k2 is but a small portion of it all.
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