Monday, November 15, 2010

Equipment (Part II)

After that blatant bit of gear whoring, I wanted to talk about a recent article on focusing on the vast amount of ski gear available, its high price, and the resulting confusion/frustration of many people who would like to get into the sport.  Quote: 

It begs the question of whether or not the ski industry is in a downward spiral, following in the neoprene socks and sneakers of the windsurfing and tennis industries.
Much as windsurfing manufacturers did, ski makers often primarily market gear for hardcore skiers, which can push costs too high for recreational skiers who can be confused or discouraged by too many technical features and jargon. (Ski technology and marketing also play a role in increasing costs.)
 I completely agree.  Unlike the average consumer, I live skiing, and I love gear.  I devour the Powder, Freeskiing, and Ski Magazine gear guides every fall.  My google reader feed follows the TGR forums, where most of the posts are skis, boots and bindings being put up for sale in the Gear Swap section (other posts are decidedly less helpful . . . By the way, an amusing article on various outdoor oriented internet forums here).  Whenever a ski that I don’t know comes up for sale, I research the dimensions, flex and camber profile immediately, to see if I might “need” it someday.

And even I have no idea what’s going on with most skis.  Every time I go into a shop, I see next year’s big thing, the G3 IQ 9.8 Radict FX SLX (or whatever).  What the hell are all of those letters?  It’s no wonder that people get confused.  I’d hate to be the shop tech trying to explain the subtle differences between models to a gear buying novice (“Well, the Prophet Flite is a great ski, but the Prophet 90, with the exact same dimensions and $100 more, has an extra layer of metal that will really take your skiing to the next level”).  Why can’t ski companies just name their skis in the way that they will be used?  All Mountain 85 would be a great name for a ski.  It tells me the waist width and the intended purpose of the ski.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have an entire line like this?  Slalom Race 68, Park Twin 83, Rocker Pow 110.

But that would be too easy.  I think that, in a sense, we kind of asked for this.  As participants in a gear intensive sport, we want to feel like our gear knowledge is superior to the next guy (“Oh, you don’t know the difference between K2’s Speed Rocker and Rossignol’s AmpTek?  For shame!”).  And we have a strong predilection towards the latest and greatest.  For some people, it’s nice to be two steps ahead of the crowd.  But I don’t see gear heads and hardcore athletes ruining skiing for everyone else.

I would guess that the ski industry is less like the windsurfing business, and more like the bike business.  Like bikes, low level skis can be purchased at Dick’s and Sports Authority.  But those skis (and bikes) can only be used for so long.  When you start to get serious about the sport, then you find a specialty shop, become familiar with the staff, make various purchases, get some fitting done, go for tune jobs every once in a while, and refer your friends to the place.  Then, the shop hooks you up with deals, demos, and freebies when they get some schwag.  I suppose that’s the way things should work (save for the random “can’t miss” internet deal).  Ski Shops, Bike Shops, and Shops, in general, need customers.  And if the hardcore participants in a sport no longer frequent the shops that support said sport, what do we have left? 

Plus, there’s something really nice about the feel of a good ski shop.  Ski magazines strewn about, fireplace with real wood burning, shiny new gear perched on the walls.  And when you have a problem with your gear (as I always do), you can talk to an actual person face to face (instead of a goofy photograph popping up in an internet window).  You might even get them to explain what the hell is going on with the AC50 + iPT Wide Ride Bindings.


  1. I think the big problem with the ski industry right now is simply declining total sales. Estimates I've seen have total sales numbers about half of what they were two years ago. Because there is SOME life in the twin-tip market it seems like that is all you can get now.

    Gotta say from a tele-perspective this really hurts. I went in yesterday to a big ski shop we all know, with the intent of buying some skis. On a Sunday in November, there was no one there who knew anything about telemark skis. And it looked like all the stock was from last year. That was my third visit to that shop with the intention of buying skis, with the same result each time. With times being tough, and tele on the fringe, it doesn't look good.

    MC - if you figure it all out let me know!

  2. Not sure I agree. Sometimes I feel that the ski market is actually NOT paying attention to higher level skiers that are gear whores. I WANT a different ski for different conditions. But the ski industry insists on "one ski quivers" and bend over backwards to make carvers perform okay in natural snow and powder boards that perform okay on hard pack. To hell with that crap! I don't want compromises with my gear! But the average skier only wants a one ski quiver. So in that sense, average skiers have captured the majority of ski manufacturers' line ups. There are some truly dedicated skis but they are few and far between.

    Regarding lineup names and jargon, the same exists in almost every industry and it is just a matter of understanding how companies work. Tech/electronics is like this. Brand Name > Type of Item > Family > Product. Say you want a race ski. Every ski brand has a race ski line up be it RaceTiger (Volkl) or RC4 (Fischer). If you are unfamiliar with the industry, you either go to a shop or research online.

    I think the bigger problem entry level folks have is the different between the brands. If you go into a store or go to a company's web page online, you can pretty easily separate out the fat skis, race skis, carvers, and beginner skis... it is spelled out pretty specifically. But what are the differences between Volkl, Fischer, Rossi, Solly, Elan, etc.? I can tell you my impressions from experience, someone who has not tried a lot of skis only has marketing impressions to go on, and perhaps word of mouth, which can be dangerous.


  3. Maybe the industry does have a problem. But it sure is not a new problem. When I first started racing in High School freshman year, I had no idea what type of ski to get but I KNEW I needed to upgrade from my beginner skis. I called the coach and didn't get much help. Ski shop? Not much help. Dad and I basically walked into the used ski shop, looked for something long with a reference to racing, and bought it. We had no idea. And the skis we bought were old pieces of junk when the industry was just starting to launch shaped skis.

    Contrast that to now: we have the internet. I could go online, find a forum, and ask a few questions. I could go to some manufacturer and retail web sites and compare. I can walk into a ski shop as a semi-informed consumer. Nah, I don't buy cognitive disonence from the manufacturers as causing them lost sales. I would instead look to too much production, too many cheap end of season deals, lack of innovation (I am NOT buying a new pair of skis just to have some rocker, F that), better quality, and abundant quality used skis. My quiver that you linked to above is comprised of 3 used skis out of 5. Total cost of those three used skis? Less than $500 and they all included bindings (though I replaced two demo bindings with my own). The other skis? Bought end of season for about $300 each.

    Also, I wonder if boutique skis are under reported in industry numbers. Lots of upper level skiers are going boutique shopping lately trying to find stuff that the big brands don't offer (again, my first paragraph).

  4. Steve, you're definitely right for people like you and me. But like I said, we're not the average person. We go online, find the forums, go to the gear sites, ask the questions, and do the due diligence (whether we're buying skis, bikes, or camera equipment) because that's the kind of people we are. Other people, not so much. I'd imagine tech minded people really get into it, but I don't think a lot of people think that way. Even my wife, Ace, (who's a highly decorated ski instructor) has no idea about waist widths, flex patterns, or camber profiles of various skis. She needed new skis this year and asked me what she should get (and it was up to me to do the research).

    And as far as brand to brand differences (Salomon vs. Volkl vs. K2 etc.), I honestly believe that at that level, you're just comparing apples to apples, and you just have to figure out if you like red delicious or macintosh. Advanced (to Expert) skis across all brands are all going to perform pretty damn well, so I really think that people generally just stick with the brands they like (or whatever they can get a good deal on).