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Snowboarding and the Ski Industry

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 
from ny times

December 25, 2004

Snowboard Is Indeed Reshaping the Ski Industry

By ERIC PFANNER


nternational Herald Tribune

Like many people in the Alps, Stéphane Radiguet grew up on skis. And like many skiers, he switched to snowboarding in the 1980's, attracted by its laid-back image and the feeling of floating effortlessly through powder snow, at a time when skis were long, straight and ramrod stiff - and many skiers were, too.

Mr. Radiguet, whose nickname is Zag, became a competitive snowboarder and eventually went to work for Nidecker, a Swiss snowboard brand, as a designer. But as his 40th birthday approached a few years ago, Mr. Radiguet, who is now 43, sensed that the snowboard phenomenon might be losing steam.

So he decided to design a new type of ski that borrows the voluptuous dimensions of a snowboard, allowing skiers to share that buoyant sensation.

"When I tested these skis, it was like, 'I want to go skiing again,' " Mr. Radiguet said. So he started his own company and Zag Skis was born.

Zag Skis operates with three full-time employees from a 270-square-foot office in Bourg Saint Maurice, France, a railhead and pit stop on the way to ski areas like Val d'Isère, Tignes and Les Arcs. Despite its tiny size, it is one of a handful of start-up ski brands springing up in France, Switzerland, Scandinavia and the United States that are giving a troubled industry a shot of adrenaline.

While their sales remain small - Zag Skis, for example, expects to sell about 2,000 pairs of skis this year - they are contributing to a resurgence in skiing, after nearly two decades in which snowboarding, well, ruled.

The global market for skis has held steady at 4.2 million pairs for several years, according to industry estimates, despite tough economic conditions in major markets like Japan and Germany. Snowboard sales, which shot out of nowhere in the early 1980's and reached about 1.5 million by the late 1990's, fell back to 1.28 million during the 2003-4 season.

For now, the newcomers - with names like Boheme, Bumtribe, Armada, 4front, Line, Aluflex and Movement - pose little threat to the titans of the ski industry, led by the German-French sporting goods maker Adidas-Salomon, Skis Rossignol of France and the Amer Group of Finland, which owns the Austrian brand Atomic.

But even the big players acknowledge that the start-ups are influencing design and attitudes.

"These brands are bringing a bit of motivation" that is stimulating the market, said Patrick Werlé, managing director for Europe at Skis Rossignol in Voiron, France.

But Rossignol is not worried about a looming competitive threat, Mr. Werlé said, adding: "In any market, there are examples of brands that identify a niche. After a few years, they usually get taken over or go out of business."

Still, entrenched manufacturers have found it impossible to ignore the niche brands. Rossignol and its competitors have been rushing to develop and market their own skis aimed at proponents of snowboard-influenced trends like "new school" and "freeride," which are championed by the start-ups.

New school, or free style, which involves wearing baggy clothing and performing skateboard-style aerial tricks in obstacle-ridden snow parks, is all the rage in the United States and among young skiers; freeride involves leaving the prepared runs at a ski area in search of fresh powder, and is popular in the Alps.

In the United States, snowboarding is still going strong, with sales rising to 475,000 last season from 458,000. But there are signs that the trend in the United States may also be close to a peak, experts say.

"The key thing is demographics," said David Ingemie, president of Snowsports Industries America, a trade organization. "Most of the new people coming in are getting on snowboards, at least initially. But we're seeing a lot of people who started out with snowboarding who are getting back into skiing."

That is sweet music to the ears of ski manufacturers, who have had precious little good news for most of the past two decades. As a post-World War II ski boom crested in the early 1980's, the industry sold as many as eight million pairs of skis a year. But then snowboarding arrived, along with a succession of dry winters in the Alps in the late 1980's, which cut into sales.

The drawn-out economic downturn in Japan, which persisted through the 1990's, curbed growth in what had been one of the fastest-growing markets.

Rapid inflation in ski ticket and equipment prices in the United States had a similar effect. And many people who used to buy skis now rent them, with the caliber of equipment in rental shops having improved.

While volume has shrunk, winter sports remain a sizable business, with $2.2 billion worth of ski and snowboard equipment, apparel and accessories sold annually in the United States alone, which accounts for about one-fifth of the global market.

The ski industry responded to leaner times with waves of consolidation, starting in the 1980's, as dozens of small, often family-owned companies concentrated in the Alpine countries either went out of business or came under the control of bigger corporations. Skis Rossignol, for instance, acquired Dynastar and the Trappeur and Caber boot brands, along with Look, a maker of bindings.

Atomic bought Ess bindings and Koflach boots before it, too, ran into financial difficulties and was acquired by Amer, the Finnish sports equipment maker. Last year, Amer in turn added Volant, a niche United States ski brand.

Benetton of Italy acquired Kästle, an Austrian ski maker, and renamed it Nordica, like its boot brand.

In the mid-1990's, ski makers in Austria, which still has the largest number of independent brands, developed the first effective product innovation in years: the parabolic ski, so named because of its hourglass shape. The wide tips and tails and narrow middle help skiers "carve" turns, rather than skidding from edge to edge, as they often did with the traditional, straighter models, which were fine for World Cup racers but more difficult for the average weekend skier to use.

"The carving is very attractive now," said Ewald Kainz, head of research at Fessel-GfK, a research firm in Vienna. In Austria, where more than 500,000 skis are sold every year, sales are expected to rise by 3 percent to 4 percent this season, he added.

While ski manufacturing remains concentrated in the Alpine countries, some companies are experimenting with lower-cost options elsewhere. K2, the only major United States brand, for instance, has moved production of its skis to China. When K2 recently acquired Völkl, the leading German brand, it started speculation about another possible move, but the company says Völkl will stay in Germany.

This week, Adidas-Salomon said it would cut almost 10 percent of the work force at its French snow sports division as it shifts production to China and Romania.

Some of the start-up ventures also use outside contractors to make skis, leaving them to concentrate on design and marketing. Zag Skis, for instance, are made in Voiron, near Grenoble, in a factory next door to Rossignol.

Movement, based in Vevey, Switzerland, works with a contractor in Italy. It has been one of the more successful start-up brands, expecting to sell more than 5,000 pairs of skis this season, 4,000 outside Switzerland. Like Zag, Movement grew out of a Swiss snowboard brand, Wild Duck, which was started in 1981.

By 1998, the snowboard market was losing promise, said Roch Schenk, who handles marketing at Movement, so the founding partners decided to branch out into skis. A year later, the first skis appeared, and now there are 17 models, sold across Europe, Australia and parts of Asia. Eventually, Mr. Schenk said, Movement hopes to enter the market in the United States.

Like other employees of ski start-ups, Mr. Schenk spends a lot of time on the road - driving 4,000 kilometers, or nearly 2,500 miles, in two weeks is not uncommon, he said.

Because these start-ups lack sizable advertising budgets, marketing is essentially done through sponsorship of "riders" - that is, daredevil skiers who use the skis at freeride competitions and other road shows.

That is how Mr. Schenk started with the company himself.

Can turning out a few thousand pairs of skis be a profitable business?

For now, Mr. Schenk said, the company is breaking even, plowing its earnings back into product development.

"I would be lying if I said we didn't want to make money," he said. "But everyone at the company loves skiing or snowboarding, and that's the bottom line."

*******************************

(P.S. http://www.zagskis.com/ )
post #2 of 25
yeah yeah yeah

utter BS

skiing is and always has been about sliding downhill on TWO planks, not one.

has anyone forgot that snowboarding is a totally different sport?

my skiing is NOT shaped by snowboards, snowboarders, snowboard makers or snowboard tuners.

if the ski companies stopped worrying about skier attrition to snowboarding, they would be just fine.

but then again, the "marketing" people tend to run most businesses anyway, so I don't know why I bother observing these salient facts.
post #3 of 25
Lets Review what the article covered
  • That Zag has starting making skis... too bad he doesn't have much influence outside his own slightly weird designs
  • That snowboarding sales are declining
  • Which Ski companies bought which and where they moved to
  • The names of new companies
  • a few not so accurate definitions
  • More about snowboardings demise
  • how much some guy drives
Too bad I don't see anything about snowboardings influence on skiing.
I think that writer is just a gaper, maybe doesn't even ski.
post #4 of 25
I've only ever been on a snowboard once, hated it completely, but I only ski with snowboarders and in many ways the two are just variations on exactly the same thing. 'Culture'-wise, they're now the same.
post #5 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by contec
'Culture'-wise, they're now the same.
In the beginning, snowboarding was as much about thumbing your nose at "the establishment" (skiers) as it was about sport. Hence: the often observed boarder 'tudes.

Now that grandparents are snowboarding, and twin tips rule the pipe, the counterculture vibe has lost steam. Snowboarding is no longer "rad".

This may be one reason that boarding numbers are leveling.

Boarding still has a flatter learning curve, which is great for beginners. Boards are also better in certain backcountry conditions (unless one has to traverse - which is why Ski Patrollers don't use them)

However, from what I've seen, kids can pop a more air and land more acrobatic stunts on skis than on boards. One anchored platform inherently offers fewer options than two.

Perhaps due to this, or perhaps due to a desire to be "different", I've noticed more kids on skis over the past 2 years, espcially in terrain parks.

As Mark Twain once observed "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated". Perhaps the same can be said of skiing.
post #6 of 25
I´m "glad" it´s international.
When there´s a layman journalist trying to cover some specific topic such as ski industry or skiing itself the result most probably is some sort of BS.
The general public might find the info interesting but real skiers of the type posting here know better.
The small brands with their few thousands of specialized skis trying to grasp their niche chance in the global market don´t influence skiing itself.
On the contrary, it´s the skiing trends that make them jump onto the bandwaggon.
Yes, being on the market and on the slopes they help to popularize freeskiing to some extent but IMO their role is as small as their market share.
post #7 of 25
while in the ski shop gettin my boots to fit right, three seperate snowboards came in and bought a complete set of ski stuff, why ? in their words skiing looks way cool now and everyone has a damn board and I'm sick of watching those skiers jump off the chair and go straight to ripping, no worries about doing up bindings sitting on my butt.

I skied for a few years (maybe 5) then being a skateboarder from banana board days, I tried boarding and never even thought about my skis for about 6 years. Then I wanted to Ski patroll and stupidly thought I might fail on the board, so I put on my skies and passed the ski test then I passed the board test.

weird thing is I never use my board anymore, unless at the local hill on a crazy snow dump day,mmmmmm powder on a snowboard. Sorry skiers unless you have experianced this you just will never understand. Pure Heaven

Boarding learning curve is way fast to become proficient but then becomes stagnant. Skiing on the other hand is a biatch to learn but then is progressive with good rewards after every hour on them. then it becomes a technical challenge ever searching for the perfect form and function. This is what keeps me skiing the challenge of it.

Mark
post #8 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marmot mb
Sorry skiers unless you have experianced this you just will never understand. Pure Heaven

Boarding learning curve is way fast to become proficient but then becomes stagnant. Mark
Marmot: I've never boarded, but based upon my observations what you say rings true . Surfing deep powder on a snowboard does look tantalizing. I'm sure it is pure Heaven.

However, at the average resort, how often does one arrive to a "crazy snow dump" day - twice per year? People slide on hard-pack 95% of the time.

As you pointed out, skiing's longer learning curve is also part of the joy. Every time you take your technique to the next level, it feels more beautiful, more perfect.

I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of athletic, adverturesome boarders eventually get bored, especially on groomed slopes.
post #9 of 25
If you want some real insight on winter sports, SIA's Intelligence Report has some killer stats. As for ZAG skis, the writer totally blew that piece. Stephan is a friend and gave me a pair of his boards, which I'm waiting to sink into some deep to really find out what they'll do. Snowboard sidecuts on boards is something different, something new in the evolution of design. The writer should have focused on the tip rocker Stephan developed. It is having a much greater impact on design. Just look at DB skis
post #10 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by gonzostrike
yeah yeah yeah

utter BS
Gonzo: I'm begining to appreciate Utah49's description of you. You are indeed a gentleman of unique flair and insight.
post #11 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain_Strato
Gonzo: I'm begining to appreciate Utah49's description of you. You are indeed a gentleman of unique flair and insight.
dare ye to call me a gentleman? courage beyond wisdom, I'd say.
post #12 of 25
Does anyone really believe that current ski design has not "borrowed" a ton from design innovations first developed for boards? Is it an accident that all the first descriptions of the M:B5 and M:11 (arguably among the most innovative skis of the last few years) were minor variations of the word "board" followed by the word "like"?

I'm a skier. My kids mostly ski, but dabble with boards. I have lots of friends who board. I am utterly confused by the antagonism toward boarders and board technology that is popping up here. There are plenty of excellent boarders out there. Every day I ski, I see both boarders and skiers whose technique I envy. Why put one or the ohter on a pedastal?

BTW - the "dude" who almost took my head off by doing a blind jump off a cat track today had two planks on his feet...
post #13 of 25
an exaggerated sidecut is tied to snowboards?

then please explain, from what design did the first snowboard take its cues?
post #14 of 25
I never said it was a strictly one way street. However, to my knowledge board companies started to play with major sidecut way before ski companies did.
post #15 of 25
I think you would be wise to research the WHOLE history of ski design before you start saying that snowboards have preceded skis in ANY aspect of ski technology.
post #16 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by gonzostrike
I think you would be wise to research the WHOLE history of ski design before you start saying that snowboards have preceded skis in ANY aspect of ski technology.
Yet you say it is an entirely different sport. Snowboarding is a member of the skiing family, a very disfunctional family from what I've read in numerous threads on this forum. Snowboarding is a much closer relative of alpine skiing than any other form of skiing except telemark. Certainly closer than cross-country or ski-jumping. Zag and Movement skis sound almost hip, alpine needs brands like that and Line, Armada, etc. The article was written for the general public but it was well written and had a lot of interesting information about the ski industry.
post #17 of 25
Is it possible that the deep sidecut of a snowboard and it's ability to carve so beautifully influenced the design of shaped skis and revolutionized the whole ski industry?
post #18 of 25
I have nephew who switched from boarding to skiing. When I asked him why, his comments are a lot like Marmot's. More of a challenge and being able to do a greater variety of tricks on skis than a board. His friends who also used to board, have switched to skis. What's made it so popular lately? The new crop of twintips out there.

He also said that nothing compares to riding powder on a board, but then I don't think he's had a chance to try any of the super fat skis out there nowadays.
post #19 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by rcahill
Is it possible that the deep sidecut of a snowboard and it's ability to carve so beautifully influenced the design of shaped skis and revolutionized the whole ski industry?
I think float came ahead of sidecuts, but I can't imagine what might have influenced the desire for more float.
post #20 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by rcahill
Is it possible that the deep sidecut of a snowboard and it's ability to carve so beautifully influenced the design of shaped skis and revolutionized the whole ski industry?
skis had sidecut well before snowboards.

skis were designed with deep sidecut before Burton made his first board.
post #21 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sluff Vertigo
I think float came ahead of sidecuts, but I can't imagine what might have influenced the desire for more float.
the dread demon -- "off piste" is its name, methinks
post #22 of 25
I don't think the Elan shaped skis (the first widely available I can think of with deep sidecuts) predated snowboards. Gonzo can you back up your assertion? I remember when some of our friends first started snowboarding and being amazed the how much tighter they could carve than I could on my 203 cm Rossi 4S boards. I think a lot of skiers including myself were inticed to try shaped skis by watching our friends carve on their snowboards.
post #23 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by rcahill
I don't think the Elan shaped skis (the first widely available I can think of with deep sidecuts) predated snowboards. Gonzo can you back up your assertion? I remember when some of our friends first started snowboarding and being amazed the how much tighter they could carve than I could on my 203 cm Rossi 4S boards. I think a lot of skiers including myself were inticed to try shaped skis by watching our friends carve on their snowboards.
I don't recall saying it was the Elan shaped ski.

I said that ski designers have been playing with sidecut for a long time.

Snowboards did not have exaggerated sidecuts at first, but the designers learned that for 180cms max length, you have to exaggerate the sidecut to gain turning ability.

This is no great design breakthrough, as Clif Taylor's GLM was doing it before Burton conceived his first snowboard.

lastly, your own inability to carve a then-current SL ski says NOTHING on this issue.
post #24 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain_Strato
Boarding still has a flatter learning curve, which is great for beginners. Boards are also better in certain backcountry conditions (unless one has to traverse - which is why Ski Patrollers don't use them)
Cap'n, I think that flatter learning curve (in my limited experience on a snowboard, the curve is wicked steep for a couple of days before it flattens out dramatically) is at the bottom of a lot of skier/snowboarder "culture" conflicts which, as you noted, are disappearing as snowboarding is becoming more of a sport and less of an alternative lifestyle.

My inner Old Fart grouses at the fact that my learning curve didn't start leveling off until I'd been skiing for about 30 years. This is probably as much a function of the level of ski technology when I started skiing in 1964 as it is a measure of my learning ability, but you approach a sport differently when the learning curve is measured in decades instead of months. And "approaching a sport differently", for me, sometimes gets reduced to "most of those f*cking snowboarders probably haven't been doing this for more than a few months, so how can they possibly have earned all that fun that they probably think they're having?" How nuts is that?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain_Strato
As Mark Twain once observed "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated". Perhaps the same can be said of skiing.
I hope so!
post #25 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gnarlito
Cap'n, I think that flatter learning curve is at the bottom of a lot of skier/snowboarder "culture" conflicts!
Gnarlito: I suspect you're right! A lot of these kids haven't had the time to learn skills, respect for the mountain, or others on it.

Good snowboarders, people who've been around awhile, seem less prone to running in "posses", violating on-hill etiquette, and copping 'tudes. To them, it's a sport, not an alternative lifestyle.

P.S. That's a spiffy equipment combo you've listed on your profile. It takes me back to the days I'd drool over that stuff as a kid.
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