Black Diamond, Cyberwar and Jornet — Backcountry Ski News July 2014

Post by blogger | July 17, 2014      

Somewhere it is snowing. Somewhere, someone is backcountry skiing. Therefore, we will present.

Cyberwar is depicted in real-time at, prepare to be amazed.

Cyberwar is depicted in real-time at prepare to be amazed. If you look close you can see located over there in Colorado, getting bombed.

First things: You guys wouldn’t believe how much time I’ve been spending on IT work behind the scene. Our beloved internet has changed, folks. It is more than ever the virtual playground for literally millions of criminals who are out to exploit websites in hundreds of different ways. Nothing is immune. Most “consumer” grade software such as the WordPress blogging lashup used by us and about 75 million (not a typo) other websites is in particularly heinous shape when it comes to security. Result, website owners and managers get to spend literally days defending themselves.

At least the cyberwar doesn’t involve guns — but the stress can get so high it as well might. The question, would it be easier to wield a Glock than my brain? Perhaps both? Open for answers.

Just thought I’d let you guys know that I never sleep. Actually, if you want to see the cyberwar in real-time check this out, also this Rather alarming. On to the news.

A big shakeup in employees happened at Black Diamond a few months ago. The layoffs seemed too B-to-B for me to report on back then. But it is worth relating they did let go a bunch of people including Thomas Laakso, the brain who spearheaded the Black Diamond Ski Brand for the past decade. We always liked Laakso, he’s a guy who can engineer stuff for real-world use, while fulfilling roles as diverse as PR and training.

What the Black Diamond changes have wrought for consumers is an open question. In their financial Q1 earnings conference call after, it was related that they’ll be concentrating on their clothing line and some of their more financially rewarding segments (e.g. the POC brand). I couldn’t get much of a read on what will happen with the ski line, other than the obvious notion that changes won’t be too quick and drastic. In my opinion, this is because retailer orders have already been taken and will be filled. What’s on the menu at this summer and coming winter trade shows will probably tell the rest of the story.

According to CEO Peter Metcalf during the earnings call: “…For spring 2014, you will see a very meaningful reduction in the number of SKUs in the Black Diamond gear and equipment line. It will be a very substantial reduction, and we’ll give that number out at our next call, what that is, and when you see at the trade shows, you’ll know…looking at the numbers, we understand that we love product and our teams have allowed us to get too much product and it just doesn’t pay back on itself…we are looking at potentially getting out of, and we’ll announce this I think by the next earnings call, of potentially getting out of a category or 2 that isn’t meaningful to us from a profitability standpoint or a brand standpoint.”

Thus, dear readers, one has to wonder if the somewhat complex variety of BD skis will be simplified, and if their ski boot lineup is slated for something major? Rumors abound, of course. As mature bloggers we will not succumb to link baiting, but speculation in our comments is fair and welcome. Mainly, let’s hope they keep innovating on the carbonized ski side of the equation, as that Carbon Convert is indeed a player.

At any rate, back to Laakso. We wondered where a talented guy like him would end up. A few weeks ago he popped up over at Avatech, the snow safety startup whose website tells you absolutely nothing about what they really do. Perhaps Thomas can help upgrade their site. In the meantime, I’m here to say that yes Avatach is basically a brain trust, and yes they’ve got some good avalanche safety ideas. For example, what appears to be their lead project is development of a mechanical/electronic sensor that can read the snowpack as if you were to dig a snow pit profile. More, they’re focused on any sort of innovative snow-safety ideas they can come up with, especially involving data and the sharing thereof. More here.

Indeed we do have readers living in South America. WildSnow contributors may be down there soon as well so perhaps we’ll have blog posts such as last year. Sounds like Chile is getting a nice series of dumps that may result in a good spring. More here.

Another shout out to Kilian Jornet. His Denali speed climb was amazing, then he set a course record at the Hardrock 100 ultra marathon just a few days ago. According to this article, he checked out the course by ski touring on it last winter and also prepped by living in a high altitude “dry” cabin above Silverton. We like his style. Kilian is like the bighorn sheep ram they use for the Hardrock logo; a man comfortable with high altitude, making it all look easy as he prances over rock, ice and snow. Perhaps he’ll come and hang out at WildSnow field HQ if he’s got something to do over here in this part of Colorado? Kilian, you’re always on the guest list.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


28 Responses to “Black Diamond, Cyberwar and Jornet — Backcountry Ski News July 2014”

  1. Tuck July 17th, 2014 11:27 am

    Figures. Garmont was my favorite boot brand, BD is my favorite ski brand. I’m cursed… 😉

  2. Alex July 17th, 2014 1:52 pm

    If BD boots are going I’ll stock up.

    From what I’ve seen from Avatech they have a snow-penateometer, basically a smart probe right now. I

    nstead of being designed for close in searching and remote deactivation like the Pieps iProbe, instead it’s designed for getting snow profiles more often like when you might do a hand pit.

    The one I saw got hardness over the profile, slope/aspect/lat/long of each profile, and temp and grain size were on their list of things coming soon.

  3. OMR July 17th, 2014 5:07 pm

    Aaaahhh, Black Diamond’s free-fall into mediocricy will soon reach terminal velocity, splattering creativity all over the granite of Little Cottonwood Canyon. It happens all the time (loss of creativity) when industry changers go public. Sadly, the outdoor industry is ripe with examples. Simply put, investors demand a return on investment, with no patience for product development, thereby killing the spirit of experimentation and innovation. R.I.P. B.D.!

  4. David B July 17th, 2014 5:08 pm

    Smart probe. How cool is that, no more digging pits, even less exercise!!! I think I would double check the first couple of times, at least.

    Lou, any inkling what lines BD may dispose of?

    It’s interesting; trying to be all things to all people isn’t the way to go for BD, yet other ski companies are still increasing product spread. I wonder if we’ll see this move with any of the others, ie Scott etc. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean more profitable. I have seen this over and over in many businesses both small and large. In fact, I applaud BD for making the move so decisively and so quickly. Many larger organizations wait until it’s too late as their ego inhibits making the right decision for the benefit of the company and it’s employees.

    Tuck, time to move across to DPS. We’ve convinced Lou and from previous reports Lisa as well.

    Check out the new DPS “Powderworks” skis, insane to think we could drop another 10% in weight and make the ski damper at the same time. Powderworks is the future.

  5. Alex July 17th, 2014 5:13 pm

    It’s not designed to replace pits, instead to complement them. Most people dig a pit or two and try to extrapolate those to the whole mountain, I’m thinking the Avatech will be more of a prompt ‘hey, the profile seems different over here than where you dug that one pit, maybe you should take another look’.

  6. Lou Dawson July 17th, 2014 6:58 pm

    David and all, re BD eliminating SKUs, I have no firm listing but much will become obvious in just a few weeks due to summer trade show. I doubt they’d eliminate the ski boots 100%, Factor is an awesome boot and I’d imagine they sell enough of them, perhaps they’ll simplify by trimming some of the other models. I’m just guessing.

    I’d like to say it out loud that Black Diamond has done an amazing thing for past decades, in terms of product innovation in so many categories. But everything changes, that’s the nature of business. If they tried to exist in a static snapshot of their innovation heyday that would be no different than going public and being more profit oriented.

    As for my own self centered needs (grin), I hope they keep going with Jetforce and their elegant lightweight harnesses. Oh, and Whippets still rule.

    According to Metcalf in the conference call, as well as what I hear on grapevine, they’ll continue to make a huge go of their apparel. They recently sold Gregory Backpacks for a good sum, and if I recall correctly they say they’ll use that money for apparel and some of the more successful brands (POC) as well as buying down some debt.

    Getting a bit too B-to-B here, but ok in the comments as much as you guys want to go there.


  7. Kristian July 18th, 2014 8:17 am

    Too bad that Black Diamond and The North Face continue to stray from the hard core congruent functional design days of Alex Lowe.

    In those days, all kit looked, fit, and operated in a no nonsense like predictable manner. My guess is that most actual design is now outsourced to the same offshore sweatshops.

  8. Lou Dawson July 18th, 2014 8:27 am

    Fair enough, Kristian, considering nearly everything we buy, use, and even eat is produced or packaged overseas. I don’t like that any more than anyone else, but it is reality. Only way to fight it is buy local or at least North America, but doing so is often rather difficult. As always, an interesting and relevant issue. Regarding BD in particular, it was a real mind bender when they jump started a whole ski hardware line made in China, when prior to that virtually all ski boots were made in Italy. Lou

  9. Ryan July 18th, 2014 8:50 am

    Ok Lou and Kristian, I’ll bite. Certainly some design for any brand that produces overseas comes from overseas. That’s partially because some of the best minds in those categories reside overseas. Why do we think German or Italian design or production is equivalent to being touched by the hand of God but for some reason if it’s designed or produced by an Asian clearly it’s a cost cutting measure and if the brand truly cared or hadn’t lost their way they would’ve chosen different? China made a lot of junk over the years. They made this because the US was begging for it. It doesn’t mean that Asia can’t produce great things too. Look no further than the downfall of CCH on the climbing side of things. Aliens were a great product, well designed and everyone’s go to cam in their sizes for years. Small, US based design and production. Then they started falling apart, both literally and figuratively. There’s other close examples (Metolius) of brands that it hasn’t happened to so I’m not saying there’s any universal truth out there regarding QC but we also shouldn’t make the blanket statement that all things from Asia are crap.

    I’ll finish my rant with this- Isn’t buying American made and designed products because they are American made and designed equivalent to giving them a handout? Isn’t it the opposite of capitalism? By not buying the product that truly hits the cost/benefit ratio you’re looking for you’re telling the American producer that you’re willing to accept an inferior product from them because clearly they need the help. If they built a better mousetrap you’d buy it but until they do you shouldn’t enable them to profit off your patriotism.

    Obviously none of this is that simple and I totally hear what you’re saying as well. I just don’t think it’s as black and white as some people would like it to be.

  10. XXX_er July 18th, 2014 9:13 am

    are there problems in the industry and so who is next is the first question that comes to mind?

  11. Kristian July 18th, 2014 9:24 am

    You’ve missed the point.

    Equipment and clothing designed by different inexperienced individuals from different low lying riverine tropical countries and different sweatshops for social media seasonal marketing appeal are very unlikely to effectively function as a whole in serious steep terrain.

    And re: Aliens – I made vain appeals for simple needed changes to him.

  12. Wookie July 18th, 2014 9:31 am

    This may not be a bad thing….the BD Catalog has gotten really large, and with that much product, you have to wonder if it really brings extra value to the consumer. While a lot of skis might sound really great, most people need a fatty, a skinny spring tourer, and something in between. Thats an over simplificatiion of course, but the point is, all those extra models just confuse – and they take up the company that makes them’s time and resources. A few great products is much better than lots of mediocre ones. ….and in my opinion, a lot of those skis, (the ones you never see on the trial) are mediocre.

  13. Ryan July 18th, 2014 9:37 am

    I did miss that point I guess and it’s probably something to think about when said that way. My concern is that perception trend of US/Europe=good, Asia=bad but I think you have a good point.

    As for the Aliens thing, that was a bummer for sure.

  14. Tuck July 18th, 2014 9:46 am

    “Tuck, time to move across to DPS. We’ve convinced Lou and from previous reports Lisa as well.”

    Yeah, I’ve admired every part of your skis but the price tag. 😉 Although I see you’ve got some options that are on par with the completion now!

    They’re on my short list for when my Verdicts go belly-up.

  15. Chet Roe July 18th, 2014 4:40 pm

    My son and I coincidentally skied with Brit and his friends for a week in Alaska this year…impressed as a good guy with some brains and business savy and MIT braintrust backing along with a lot of avi folks connected……….Chet

  16. gringo July 21st, 2014 10:24 am

    It’s not nearly as simple as you like to think.and your example is borderline racist.
    Just because something is made in China does not, by a very long shot, mean it was designed there by an inexperienced worker bee. From my personal experience in this business I can tell you a development team more often than not consists of perhaps the following: a product manager working with a designer, both based in Europe, they work closely with a US based engineer who may travel to the factory in Asia 4-5 times a year. While there he works directly with engineers in the factory who have years of direct and relevant experience with the materials and production techniques to be used on the new product. At the end you get a product with global input and insight, and usually using decades of cumulative design experience.

    Do you know what the stiffness difference and fatigue test results would be if you increase by 3% the glass fiber content in the hip belt buckle on your favourite pack? Do you know what a 20% change in ambient humidity in the factory will do to any of the following toys: bike tires, seam taped gore jackets, bonded axe heads, etc…

    Things are made where they are for two reasons: they do it well. And you would not pay the retail price if it were made in the EUor USA.
    I appreciate that you probably have a “Think global, Drink local” sticker on your Subaru, but I don’t think you really understand how the global market really works.


  17. Scott July 21st, 2014 10:41 am

    Right on Gringo! I have many years of experience manufacturing overseas and there is definitely the talent over there to make great product. Unfortunately companies like Walmart, who source direct, push the prices down so low that if forces the manufacturers to cut corners to stay in business. It is our lost cost consumer (the Walmart buyer) which creates the problems!

  18. Lou Dawson July 21st, 2014 11:48 am

    So, by buying toilet paper at Walmart I’m creating problems? I knew that stuff was feeling a little odd lately, perhaps it’s made from seaweed or something?

  19. gringo July 21st, 2014 1:18 pm

    Actually, yeah I do think that basically any business with Wal Mart is bad. They are hugely responsible for the ever worse race to the bottom: lower cost at any cost.

    No matter where you are from or what you believe, that’s a race we are all going to lose.

  20. Lou Dawson July 21st, 2014 2:18 pm

    Ok, I’m well aware of the anti Wal-Mart sentiment. But there is a lot more going on behind the scene than just how retailing is done, did you read “Second Machine Age?” To me, blaming Wal-Mart for stuff happening in global economy is like shooting the messenger. Easy target, but there is a whole other level of happening. Lou

  21. Kristian July 21st, 2014 9:18 pm

    Pure BS intentional mis-direction.

    Would I buy electronics, mobiles, computers, or photography equipment made anywhere but in Asia? Of course not. In fact – never.

    I will refrain from pointing out insanely stupid recent product feature offerings from both Black Diamond and The North Face that defy any common sense. But contact me and I will be happy to tell you. I have some insider insight here.

    The bottom line is that latte sipping hipsters who spend most of their time on facebook and think that they know about climbing because they have been to a team building event on a plastic climbing wall or think that they know about backcountry because they once spent a day riding around in a snow cat, yet take credit for offshore design work are not Alex Lowe by a long shot. All of the gear of the Alex Lowe era was brilliant – all that was missing is today’s lighter new raw materials.

    And at least Patagonia has the good grace to admit that they are now primarily a surfing company.

  22. JCoates July 22nd, 2014 4:51 am

    Good topic.

    My first thought is that it’s a shame that a company founded by Yvon Chouinard as a high-quality EQUIPMENT company has morphed into a company focused on profitability from clothing. POC is a fad—a popular one right now albeit—but eventually the market will come up with something different. I mean really…how many shiny-lensed goggles and neon-colored ski helmets can the market support? There is a lot of history at BD, however, and I still have high hopes that some of the designers/engineers there (ie Andrew McLean) still know what they are doing and ultimately I think the company will survive.

    I think one of the reasons the US quality of gear has decreased is our engineering shortage/ability. I had a German engineer friend tell me that “Everyone in American goes to school for a business degree, but Germans go to school for engineering.” In the US we can market the hell out of our brands but there are not as many people per capita, as say Germany or Switzerland, who are designing and tinkering.

    As far as the “sweat shop” debate, I would prefer for selfish reasons (our own US economy) that we keep as much business as possible in the US. However, as long as the supplies and engineering/production standards are maintained, I think any country with a trainable work-force (ie everywhere) can produce good equipment/clothing. Kristian, have you ever seen the effects of a so-called “sweat shop.” Have ever seen or toured a large factory in a developing country (I guess it’s no longer PC to say 3rd world)? I have, and I can assure you that the people working there are very happy to have the work and money and that it is devastating to the families of the people working there and to the local economy when these facilities close.

    End of rant…

  23. Peter July 22nd, 2014 9:46 am

    BD trimming SKUs does not come as a surprise to me. They still have 2011 Quadrant boots available on their website! And can anyone tell the difference (while skiing!) between the Slant, Prime, and Quadrant?

    Similar product overlap (for the mass market) with the Stigma/Current/Aspect skis.
    The differences between a Zealot and an Amperage is probably lost on all consumers except the type of nerds who read Backcountry Skiing blogs in the summer time.

    The glut of BD products has been AWESOME for us nerds, because ot all the cheap closeout gear. But, I don’t worry about trimming some SKUs. BD’s lineup is plenty strong enough to survive some pruning.

    My one wish: BD revamps the Quadrant into something that competes with lighter options from LaSportiva/etc. A boot better paired with the awesome Convert Ski.

  24. Peter July 22nd, 2014 9:58 am

    re: US vs Asian manufacturing and design.

    Saying that Asians don’t have the same passion for their product as US, Italian, or German manufacturers is just plain racist, and wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time in Chinese factories (and US and Spanish and Dutch). The work I see in China is a lot better than what I’ve seen in the US. I’ll be heading to China next week again. My current company does business there even though it’s often more expensive (shipping & tariffs), because the quality and timelines are so much better.
    The low-level engineers employed by the factories (not even the design houses and agents) are often better skilled, and always more experienced, than the engineers we can hire in the US.
    I went to a top 10 engineering university in the US. I learned jack-squat about how to actually mass manufacture a product. I learned it all on the job, in China. In China and Taiwan even the bad engineers know how to optimize a plastic injection molding machine, or test the quality of metal fittings…..pretty good skills for someone making ski boots…..

    Boots made in Italy (or Tunisia, shhhhh italian secret!) are no less foreign than those made in Shenzhen.

  25. Kristian July 22nd, 2014 10:22 am

    I cannot find anywhere on this posting where someone has said that Asia manufacturing is inferior. Asia produces the world’s most complex items with extreme precision and consistency.

    There is an almost total break down in the now greatly distributed design process where executives, accountants, marketing types, posers, and remote offshore designers all now combine to crank out gear based on seasonal trending social media schedules instead of what is best needed in the backcountry.

    Boeing recently found this out the hard way with its dreamliner design outsourcing failures and consequent multiyear delays and massive cost overruns.

    Examples include expensive carbon pole straps that are sewn together so that you must fight to put them on each time and cannot be easily slipped out of when the pole gets stuck on undergrowth. Expensive bib overalls with no effective venting options and that require you to almost wholly undress when nature calls, etc.

  26. ptor July 23rd, 2014 1:32 am

    Thomas is a genius.

  27. Lou Dawson 2 July 23rd, 2014 7:17 am

    Peter, good stuff, thanks. I’d agree about the Quadrant, I was always expecting some real design innovation to come out of Salt Lake with regard to a touring boot with unique features that could compete with things like the Dynafit Ultra Lock cuff system. Instead, they obviously focused on their beef boot, Factor. That’s understandable as beef boots had a run in North America and freeride touring is a viable segment, but building a big heavy alpine ski boot with tech fittings is not rocket science. Making a lightweight touring boot that skis well down hill is rocket science. Dynafit and La Sportiva are killing it in that segment at this time. Fun to watch and we do indeed get the bounty as consumers.

  28. Chamonix July 27th, 2014 6:07 pm

    Sad to hear this. I climbed with BD gear for years, still have a mini rack of BD Lost Arrow pitons..which I carried on my harness.

    I bought my first pair of BD skis last season, 185 cm Amperage mounted up tele (Freedoms) . A fun (if heavy) ski, really for the resort or sidecountry. . I liked the ski so much I bought a second, newer pair at a blow out price end of season. Still not mounted yet, probably put Verticals on the new ones.

    When I scored a day of heli skiing last January in Revelstoke, I took the Amps for the day.. We skied with Greg Hill and did some steep lines with exposure (for me!). So they make some good skis. I would like a pair of the Carbon Converts next.
    I heard BD had had some ski QC problems in China so they built their own factory over there?

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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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