Meet the New Black Diamond: Winter Product Count Reduced — CEO Metcalf to Step Down


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 12, 2014      

A renamed ski line, CEO Peter Metcalf to step down “no later than June 2015,” and an approximately “25% reduction” in the fall-winter collection. Those are some of the changes at Black Diamond Equipment we’ve learned are coming soon due to what they call a “strategic pivot.”

Is all this just B-to-B blather that’s irrelevant to cold powder snow, or something you WildSnow readers can use as backcountry skiers? We think the latter, as we know you do use gear and use it hard, and need to know what the players in the “outdoor equipment space” are up to. Forthwith:

Chouinard carabiner circa 1970s, root of Black Diamond Equipment.

Chouinard carabiner circa 1970s, root of Black Diamond Equipment. As with many core outdoor companies, BD was founded on passion for a sport and the need to develop modern equipment to support cutting edge progression. That ethos continues, but reality is that a publicly held company will be told at some point by directors and shareholders to maximize profits, sometimes at the expense of development and vision. Will that happen to Black Diamond?

A few days ago I had the golden opportunity for a formal sitdown with four of the main guys responsible for Black Diamond’s ski hardgoods “going forward.” The discussion ranged from marketing to design. Soon after, I listened to BD’s 2nd quarter financial conference call.

Behind the scenes, WildSnow does tend to deal with marketing people more than any other job description. So I was glad to find during our meeting that BD will be running two marketing folks, one for hardgoods and one for softgoods. That might be a little too B-to-B for some of you, but what makes it relevant to blogging (and overall gear infos) is in the case of the ski line we’ll have a go-to person within BD who is focused on the ski line. Combine that with our contacts in Black Diamond’s outside PR agency, and we’ll have more story than we’d ever need, which we’ll of course make every effort to de-spin.

So, in terms of parsing I have some good info that goes beyond the mundane.

In the skiing part of Black Diamond, it was said in our meeting that they’d indeed be reducing the number of ski models. How significant this will be is unknown. During yesterday’s 2nd quarter earnings conference call it was said they’d be doing a 25% “SKU rationalization” of their hardgoods line, weighted to their fall-winter collection.

During the earnings call, CEO Peter Metcalf was asked pointblank by an analyst to be more specific about how this affected the ski line, and he was not forthcoming. So we’ll have to keep reading between the lines.

Bear in mind that each individual SKU (“stock keeping unit”) is unique to every item sold, e.g., every length of a given ski model. Thus, simply eliminating a couple of ski models out of what is possibly an excessively complex variety can result in significant reduction of SKUs — do that with say a few harnesses and ice gear, and your “25%” reduction is complete.

Word at our meeting was they’ll keep the carbon ski versions, and for their more conventional builds they’ll concentrate on ski designs that work well for what they’ll be calling the “boundary,” which in the BD marketing glossary is defined as the interface of ski resorts with the backcountry, the zone that their research indicates is where most backcountry skiing in North America happens. (If you have an issue with this metric, I agree. For example consider the 10th Mountain Huts in Colorado have around 55,000 user nights a year — and consider the Canadian human powered touring lodges/huts. On the other hand consider places such as Whistler and Jackson, feeding skiers to the sidecountry like moving people through the ticket gate to a rock concert.)

My take on this: we’ll be seeing skis that indeed are designed as a quiver of one (or two), but more importantly, the often confusing array of BD skis will become a simpler and tighter line. Yes, it’ll be called the “Boundary Series.”

During our meeting I brought up the fact that from what I’ve seen in Europe most “backcountry skiing” is actually _not_ “boundary” skiing. In other words, the market in Europe for specialized “human powered” ski touring gear will continue to be larger than ours. More, as our North American infrastructure for human powered skiing is developed (huts, lodges, guidebooks, guides, etc.) we will see significant growth that has little to do with ski lifts. This especially true in view of the fact that expanding or adding ski resorts in North America is about as easy as doing a strip mining startup.

Yes, Black Diamond is indeed a global brand, especially with their climbing gear, but as far as I know their ski gear has only taken a tiny share of the European market, especially their boots. So their choice was either try to compete in the “pure” ski touring segment, or focus on what’s being done here at home on the “boundary” and translate that to their European marketing as best as possible. Obviously they’re now doing the latter. To clarify, at our meeting the boys did say the ski line would be “less resort oriented,” which after discussion I took to mean they’d indeed be backing off from apparently trying to be an alpine ski company — a goal I always thought was a bit misguided — while at the same time finding a special place (sidecountry) with a need they can fill.

Overall, I think this is a decent strategy for business (at least in the short term) but will have mixed results in how it serves ski touring and human powered backcountry skiing. Clearly, if Black Diamond has chosen to simplify their ski line, doing so requires focus. So it’s basically a question of picking a valid focus and going for it. Sidecountry skiing sounds fine by me and perhaps it’s a niche that could be filled. If that’s strong, I’m sure specialized touring skis will follow.

In terms of you reading this, this all likely means Black won’t be focusing on making cutting-edge touring skis, but on the other hand they’ll be working hard on versatile downhill ski performance. If you’re a sidecountry skier or focus on “freeride touring” they’ll thus have viable and perhaps even exciting choices for you. (And as mentioned elsewhere herein, they claim they’ll continue with their carbon skis, of which we feel the Convert model is a winner.)

To me, Black Diamond’s “boundary” scheme is more problematic when it comes to ski boots. Factor MX is an excellent beef boot in a mature state of design. From what I gathered during our meeting it will be the Boundary Line’s flagship shoe. Yet the trend in our opinion is that even sidecountry skiers are finding they don’t need the biggest boot out there. As they do more and more walking, they often discover that a slight change in technique and attitude results in increased fun on boots that walk easier and lighter, while still doing fine inside resort boundaries. *(This is not always the case, of course, see note at end of this article.)

It did sound like they’ll be keeping the Quadrant ski boot model in the pipeline through this coming winter. While apparently somewhat of an unintended consequence of the mold making and design process, Quadrant _is_ a wider boot, something greatly appreciated by skiers with wide feet who struggle fitting the commonly somewhat to quite narrow offerings from other companies. Thus, Quadrant is more than “just another AT boot.”

Nonetheless, add the fact that in SKU rationalization an easy target is to eliminate footwear, as each model has multiple SKUs due to the size run, as well as male/female versions. Thus, we wouldn’t be surprised by winter 2016/1017 to see just one BD ski boot model (in male/female) on the market. Eventually, even that one boot might be a victim of SKU rationalization — it is incredibly expensive to develop a ski boot model all the way to retail.

To elaborate, as with skis, boot models have a lifespan. As technology changes across the industry, a given model will begin to look dated and perhaps fail to compare favorably with more current models. To remedy that, you have to come up with a new model and that often requires making another full set of molds (one for each size). Skis, on the other hand, can use the same molds and simply get a revamp of materials and graphics, validly creating a new model.

Boot molds are expensive. Rule of thumb is a new boot model costs $1,000,000 just for the molds (one mold for each shell size), not to mention design and development. That million has to be made back, along with profit, within a finite period. In other words, you have to sell quite a few boots. We will thus not be surprised if the Quadrant goes away. And again, depending on the success of this “Boundary” product line story we feel the Factor could eventually fade away as well due to the alpine boot companies entering the fray in an ever bigger way.

My advice to you shoppers? Don’t worry about Black Diamond boots being orphaned. If you like the Factor or Quadrant, enjoy. Black Diamond customer service most certainly has your back and will keep your boots running as long as is reasonable. If the boots do fade away in a few years, by then the choice in AT boots from other companies will be a ridiculous bounty you’ll probably want to sample anyway. In fact, we’re already there.

Continuing on to the overall culture of Black Diamond Equipment as they continue their “strategic pivot.” Firstly, it was obvious from their 2nd quarter conference call that their apparel campaign will be firing all guns, and is poised to be quite profitable. The success of their clothing line is in our view mostly due to Black Diamond’s brand equity, but their clothing does have appeal with a growing emphasis on technical innovation as well as quick response to fit and tailoring for the type of person who tends to be their customer (e.g., a “trimmer, more european” fit going forward).

Secondly in terms of culture, Black Diamond acquired the POC helmet company some time ago. With the addition of a cycling line as well as constant innovation in their helmets (and attention to styling), POC is a _major_ player in keeping Black Diamond profitable. In my view, this means that to a cold-hearted “SKU rationalization” something like a ski boot development project might possibly be less attractive than a new helmet style. Yes, the two business are segmented to some degree — I make this point more in a cultural sense, in terms of management decisions in the future.

And last but not least, Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf. More than 30 years ago in 1989, Peter led another “strategic pivot” that rose Black Diamond Equipment from the ashes of Chouinard Equipment. Along with his management team and a vast variety of passionate employees, he built BD to a 100 million dollar company. His leadership has been critical, and he’s been a very public face for the company. But we’ve all expected for some time now that Peter was close to “retiring.” That’s probably the wrong terminology for what’s going on, as Peter is a workaholic and he’s not going away. But according to his statement and BD press release he’s hired respected executive Zeena Freeman. Metcalf will step down and Freeman will become CEO “no later than June 30, 2015.”

Beyond all the yammering about SKUs and where the Black Diamond ski line is going, in terms of what we’ll see in the future I think this leadership change is the biggie. Metcalf is core. He’s a pioneer Alaskan alpinist and is incredibly passionate about the outdoor industry. While he claims Freeman is an outdoors person (we have no doubt, and web research does indicate she does things such as Himalayan trekking), there is no other Peter Metcalf. He’s been a friend and even a mentor of ours for years. Truly, we are grieved to see him go, and while Freeman will probably do good for Black Diamond as a business, their corporate culture is led by the top and not having a core alpinist as a CEO will have to be different.

Metcalf does claim he will remain in some sort of role with BD. He’s not specific about it, but said in the earnings call that he’d be “championing issues of great importance…advocacy, activism, public policy.” Here at WildSnow we’ve always felt Peter could do a lot of good if he got more heavily into politics — and that he’d be excellent in the public leadership arena. Just thinking out loud, but hey, our crystal ball has been accurate in the past.

Meanwhile, just like many of you readers, we’re fans of Black Diamond. Their continued support of WildSnow is one of the main reasons for our success as a professional blogging endeavor. Years ago, they had faith in my career as an author to the extent of writing a large check for a book tour — something they were not exactly known for at the time. Presently, they’re a customer for our banner advertising and have a nice looking campaign scheduled to begin display in September. Oh, and lest we forget, their gear has ensured mine and my family’s lives countless times during alpine adventures. We are also fans of doing business in a sustainable way — environmentally, culturally and financially. Until shown otherwise, we’re confident Peter Metcalf, Zeena Freeman and all of BD are what it takes to shoot for exceptional performance in those areas, and they’ll continue to be a valued partner for all of us, WildSnow readers as well as bloggers, as we go to the wild and receive the bounty. Thanks BD and we wish you the best with your “strategic pivot!”

Previous post about recent Black Diamond business issues.

Notes:
*Brief theory on why skiers tend to want beefier boots within resorts: In my view, main reason (beyond how good 4 buckles look while having a beer) is simply that the pace of the day is faster when you’re riding lifts, so you tend to want more boot and ski for the kind of performance you trend to (not to mention shoes designed for alpine step-in bindings). Adding to that, on a physiological level, skiing asks a lot from the small and numerous muscles in your feet. A couple of human powered runs in the backcountry or sidecountry don’t fatigue those muscles. Multiple laps in the resort quickly wear out your “micro muscles” and you feel the need for more boot to compensate, that is unless you’ve trained yourself in a style of skiing that works for more vert in softer boots.

Also clarified in our meeting: They claimed Jetforce avalanche airbag project is full speed ahead, with “limited retail” beginning this fall. When I asked for clarification, they said the way this works is as a retail customer you need to get on a waiting list at your favorite retailer. It wasn’t clear how the number of packs being made would balance with demand. Should be interesting. But seriously, if you’re an early adopter and want a fan backpack, get on the list!

Oh, and more news about Jetforce development. It was said that while the backpack worked well in real-world testing, the TUV certification process needed more air pressure from the fan. Luckily a new hire on the Jetforce team just happened to have a Masters degree in aerodynamics. The fan needed more pressure? Done. To say we’re looking forward to the retail launch of Jetforce is an understatement. Fascinating in so many ways. Disruptive to the business, as well as a possible paradigm shift in avalanche safety. Who said writing isn’t fun?!

Comments

23 Responses to “Meet the New Black Diamond: Winter Product Count Reduced — CEO Metcalf to Step Down”

  1. Tim August 12th, 2014 9:41 am

    Sad to see Metcalf go. He is indeed core and got politically involved as needed to keep Utah from pursuing some punishingly stupid legislation. I dearly hope he’ll keep a thumb on the scale at BD.

    That said, BD just ain’t Scarpa or Dynafit or Sportiva, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Better they figure it out now than after a disastrous run. Again, Metcalf seems to be biting the bullet early to prevent his baby from becoming “late” (in the Douglas Adams sense).

    All the best to BD, they’ve been a rock in the outdoor industry. Here’s to decades more.

  2. powbanger August 12th, 2014 10:20 am

    Thanks Lou…that is a good summary of the “new” direction for BD. I wish Pete the best. While going public will increase immediate cash flow, the investors are looking for positive results every quarter. It’s a slippery slope. That said leaner and meaner will let BD focus on specific product for specific markets.

  3. Charlie August 12th, 2014 10:47 am

    Thanks, Lou. Wildsnow’s really grown up, too, getting the skinny ahead of Wall Street.

    BD’s betting the future of the company on the change. Whether this will be regarded as folly or savvy will be up to history.

    The conference-call discussion of bringing some of their manufacturing back to North America was interesting, too. BD QA/testing people are going to get a workout as they keep shifting processes around the globe.

    The Carbon Megawatt is a fun, fun ski. Hope it survives the cut.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 August 12th, 2014 10:54 am

    Charlie, indeed, I was really interested in the talk about “repatriation” of some of their manufacturing. Even so, I couldn’t figure out what they really meant by that, and “made in America” (they didn’t use that term) is such a bunch of B.S. anyway (due to sourcing of parts and materials) I figured it would only be news if it really happens, and if so if it’s truly repatriated to the degree of enhancing local employment etc. So we shall see. Might make a good PR story once it really happens, and a fun thing to blog about as we love factory visits. Lou

  5. Lou Dawson 2 August 12th, 2014 10:57 am

    Regarding getting info ahead of the Street, that’s not going to happen, during meeting I’m sure I was not told anything other than what legal counsel and management okayed, and was already on the grapevine. I’d heard rumors as to other stuff, but try to avoid publishing rumors unless they’re pretty solid. Lou

  6. Fred B. August 12th, 2014 11:03 am

    Of course they won’t say they are canning their boot line yet, boots for this season are not on store shelves yet are they? No need to risk dealers canceling orders and give more business to the true boot companies that are innovating and offering sizes/widths/stiffness choices for all. Makes sense to me for the vagueness. I love my Quadrants but dangit I want a Factor that will fit. No such luck. Their boot line is done moving forward (ie next fall, 15-2016 season). No more boots. That’s what I heard from UT rep. I bet they announce it in a few more months.

    Reducing ski output from a brand new factory? That doesn’t make any sense. Don’t they only have maybe 10 models or so? Wifey was pissed they didn’t offer anything short. Carbon skis are good and give DPS a run for their money, they seem to be more durable. Won’t smaller make them even less relevant in the world of backcountry? Honestly I can’t wear their clothing. Tried on a jacket, too snug and it was the next size up from what I wear. Neck chocked me. Love that they offer bibs but guess what? Can’t fit the pant leg over my quadrants. Do they not have a skier in the design department for clothing? Major fail. No thanks. Maybe it works for others but I am tall and somewhat healthy and I think the fit stinks. Sad to see Metcalf go but I figured politics was at play for him.

    Good news on the Jet Pack considering they also laid off the main designer guy there after many years of his hard work. Yes I walk a fine line on the outskirts of a few winter sport industries, I hear the news. Maybe I can still sell my used BCA pack afterall.

    They should ditch Fritschi and the parts bin that goes with it. Did they mention anything or did you ask? Seems like a no-brainer there. Little innovation, expensive product. Three friends bought the Vipec and all three failed. MC Hammer. Can’t touch this. I wont do it. No. Nope. Nope. Thanks for the updates. All fascinating to say the least. I don’t know why I really care other than having friends work for them over the years, some had good experiences, some had bad. I just would like to see them bring more production back to the usa. Only skins I use! Are you listening BD? Corporate bliss.

  7. Lou Dawson 2 August 12th, 2014 11:14 am

    Fred, thanks for your take. I was sworn to secrecy on a few Vipec things but then heard them as rumors and facts by others. Basically, with the permission of hearing the rumors I can say they’ve added some sort of boot toe locator to make the toe entry easier, as it was definitely a pain point. They’ll also have a better way of adjusting and locking the toe pin width adjustment, which will still be necessary but much more user friendly. The BD guys did tell me to relate to our readers that the original and newer toe pin adjustment systems are equally as functional when done correctly. These changes are for retail Vipec shipping this fall. I doubt there will be a retrofit option but don’t know for sure.

    Lou

  8. Andy M. August 12th, 2014 2:02 pm

    That’s a bummer that they’ll likely be dropping boots. Speaking as someone with wide-ish feet (they’re not actually wide, just flat, which means that the forefoot is normal width but midfoot doesn’t really taper down until about the ankle), being stuck with Euro designs (who apparently use ballerinas as their models) is disheartening. Don’t get me wrong, I love the walk mechanism of my TLT6Ps, but the amount of shop work I’ve had to put into them to get them to fit is nuts. I didn’t seriously consider the Quadrant because seemed that the design was somewhat lagging behind the functionality of the Euro Big Three.

    I do like at least some of their clothing (Dawn Patrol softshell coat & pants), but I have a body that apparently matches their design shape well (5’10” 155# for medium). However, none of their stuff is particularly groundbreaking… I like my Arc’teryx Atom LT puffy and Patagonia R1 fleece better than their offerings, and could get the OR Enchainment jacket for the same Schoeller material.

  9. Ian August 12th, 2014 2:34 pm

    BD is repositioning and investing in softgoods and cycling. It looks like BD is reconsidering product lines with low margins and low sales. It seams like there is a lot of ski products that were developed to support the BD ski brand in legitimacy but don’t really add to the bottom line.

  10. John walker August 12th, 2014 4:39 pm

    Is this all about skiing? Seems like all the nail up aid gear they make could be cut from production…

  11. Lou Dawson 2 August 12th, 2014 5:39 pm

    John, no, but they did say the SKU rationalization would emphasize SKU reduction in the “fall winter collection”. I’d agree that in reading between the lines some of the climbing gear will go as well, remember it’s a percentage, not a fixed number, so they have to keep their statement of 25% and if they don’t do that across all the hardgoods to some degree, they’d end up almost totally (or totally) eliminating any one category. The only “category” I’ve even heard a rumor about eventual elimination of is the ski boots, which as I mentioned makes sense due to the cost of tooling for a new model, and to compete with other companies they have to come up with a new model every few years. I have to admire how they pioneered AT boot production in China, and perhaps they’ll compete on price as well as features and keep the boot line going. Frankly, I wish they were more forthcoming but indeed it’s product line suicide if you say “that line of product won’t be available in 3 years due to our SKU rationalization.” Lou

  12. UpSki Kevin August 12th, 2014 6:04 pm

    I’ve only purchased Austrian & French skis… and to me there is something important about a ski being design and crafted in(or near) the mountains by people who appreciate them. I look forward to someday owning a pair of American made skis that compare to the quality, soul, and history of a European ski. Thus, you’ll hear me entertaining the idea of buying BD skis when they start manufacturing them in SLC.
    From my last 12 months traveling I made a few conclusions: if you want to make $$$ building skis and have high volume production- you should start by getting contracts for rental fleets (yes resort skis). If you want to sell to end users- focus on the side-country market – its growing the fastest.
    ps. mysteriously an old pair of BD Arc Angels with Chouinard tele bindings appeared in our garage 2 weeks ago… kindof cool!

  13. Charlie August 12th, 2014 6:48 pm

    Well, Kevin, there’s Voile, PMGear, Wagner, SkiLab, ON3P, Icelantic, and many more building skis right here next to the mountains.

  14. Lou Dawson 2 August 12th, 2014 7:23 pm

    I just got a message from an anonymous source who’s an investment analyst. They said this “repatriation” concept is actually a pretty big deal. Reason being that while at times stuff can be made cheaper in China, your production/testing/retail cycle is difficult to manage and you can end up with a shipping container full of junk — after you’ve had a bunch of retailer orders from folks who’s financial survival depends on you delivering viable product. He wasn’t clear on if they’d actually build a ski factory in Utah, but since they did mention repatriation in the conference call, he said we should fully expect quite a bit more product to be made in the U.S.A. In my view, this could be true for Europe as well. Will we see BD ski boots being made in Montebelluna Italy? Stay tuned.

  15. UpSki Kevin August 12th, 2014 8:27 pm

    …not to mention Meier Skis, Powder Factory, Liberty, Folsom Custom, etc. But – in terms of light weight skis – our friends in the US are a few years behind. (except Voile – they deserve credit for competing in the light weight class)

    BD – Having lots of SKUs may have been major overkill. but it also got everyone’s attention, earned them a market share, and will now allow them to focus their product line to designs with proven sales track records.

  16. Ryan August 12th, 2014 9:29 pm

    Tough news to hear about the changes at BD. I am intrigued about the “repatriation efforts”; I have heard several times that while labor is cheaper in China, the longer lead times and lack of control over finished product can end up costing more than making certain items in the US. I’m interested to see how this plays out.

    UpSki Kevin, when you say “in terms of light weight skis-our friends in the US are a few years behind” I think you’re forgetting about Goode skis as well as the La Sportiva Vapor Nano, and DPS. I’d say we’re not only not a few years behind but in reality leading the charge, at least in the wide and light category. Sure LaSportiva is an Italian company, but when they want to make a truly lightweight wide ski they do it in the US? I think that says something… (end patriotic rant)

  17. Ben W August 13th, 2014 7:03 am

    It seems to me that the idea of a good, light ski has evolved differently in Europe and North America. The European focus has tended to be more on the side of making skis as light as possible, accepting that they will suffer a significant drop in performance, while quite a few large and small North American brands have created more skis that are light (but not insanely so) but don’t ski like it. We’re lucky to have access to both.

    Where does BD fit in? Nowhere, really. They’ve tried both styles, releasing a steady stream of mediocre skis with a few good, but not exceptional skis mixed in. Most successful ski brands make skis that have a recognizable personality, a distinctive feel or characteristics that sets them apart. Although very different in scale of distribution and price-point, Dynafit, La Sportiva, G3, Voile, DPS, PM Gear, Praxis, even K2, have all recently released models of “touring” skis that are downright exciting. These brands have little in common in, but the passion behind their products is evident. No doubt part of this is effective marketing, but the skis themselves are also excellent and often innovative.

    BD has nothing like that, thus refocusing their ski development and branding is a very good idea. Most of all they should strive to build skis that feel and look as if they were designed by a skier who dreams of mountains, rather than a committee who dreams of market share. What if the Whippet or the Alpine Bod harness were a pair of skis? That’s what BD should build.

    Also they should ditch the stainless steel crampons while they’re at it…

  18. KarenMoldy August 13th, 2014 9:41 am

    Great article. Thank you for the info. Also, Thank you for mentioning the quip about the warranty of ski boots. More consumers need to realize that it isn’t a buy 1 (pair of boots, set of skis, pack, jacket, etc.) and they will be warrantied and replaced forever.
    “My advice to you shoppers? Don’t worry about Black Diamond boots being orphaned. If you like the Factor or Quadrant, enjoy. Black Diamond customer service most certainly has your back and will keep your boots running as long as is reasonable. If the boots do fade away in a few years, by then the choice in AT boots from other companies will be a ridiculous bounty you’ll probably want to sample anyway.”

  19. Lou Dawson 2 August 13th, 2014 9:50 am

    Added thoughts about repatriation, from my sources: You don’t get yer military contract unless the stuff is made in USA. I’m sure the analysts didn’t let that one slip by their thought processes during the conference call — on the other hand it’s not PC to talk about how military contracts have propped up a good part of the outdoor gear industry for a while now, though that’s probably seen a significant reduction (perhaps reflected in overall lack of growth in the segment?). As a whole, the industry still appears healthy though it was interesting at summer OR show to see what we felt was a smaller crowd. I didn’t get run over by a stroller or tangled in a dog leash, which was nice. Lou

  20. XXX_er August 13th, 2014 10:53 am

    there should be some great preseason sales as shops dump discontinued models of BD skis, BD service has always been fantastic IME

  21. Powbanger August 13th, 2014 11:43 am

    The “light weight” side country market is seeing the most attention from large companies which in turn due to marketing and the cubicle effect will make it the fastest growing segment in skis. Looking at last year, the best selling ski in N.A and globally was a ski with a paulownia wood core, full sidewall and light weight tip and tail, similar category design theory but different construction and feel to other companies best selling models. The one thing Europe has over N.A is they have been making skis a lot longer. How long have companies like Volkl, Atomic, Rossi been producing skis? They have tried lots of things failed at most, but they’ve hit some home runs as well. N.A companies have benefited by some of these successes and failures. I would say N.A product managers (most if not all the European companies have N.A product managers on the payroll) are on the front end of camber profile design, but materials and manufacturing falls on the European side.
    BD is in the unfortunate position of many smaller ski brands in that they can spend their dough in marketing or product, but not both. Boots are crazy expensive to produce and it makes sense the money folks at BD want to limit their exposure to those costs. They might be smart to let that category fall away if they can’t compete in the arena, and history has shown they can’t. IMO BD should spend the wad on their carbon models and just make really good skis. Let the product do the marketing. Don’t muddy the water with bindings and boots. The “side country” market is really tough for smaller brands, I believe you’ll see that reflected in shops this year with the company/model distribution you’ll see on the retail walls this fall.
    Ben W is correct in mating the personality of the skis you build to the type of company you are. Though sliding a major ski builder like K2 which has the cash to create ski personalities for each product category they build gwith the likes of DPS, Dynafit, PM Gear, G3, and the other brands he mentioned a little misleading. BD at its core is a mountaineering company, and if they can build skis with that in mind they will come out of this reorganization just fine.

  22. Clyde August 13th, 2014 5:05 pm

    You might want to mention that BD recently laid off 70+ senior management to keep the investors happy on the bottom-line. Backcountry.com also laid off 80 to cut costs for the 1%. So there’s a lot of outdoor folks in the SLC area looking for work now, many with decades of experience. Plus the 80 upper staff lost at REI as part of the shakeup with the new corporate president coming in (BTW he recently bought a $4 million home on Mercer Island).

    In all likelihood, BD can expect a bigger round of layoffs next year once the new team takes over. In 5 years, it will be a mere shadow of what we all knew. More profitable, selling crap, none of us will care. Feel bad for Penn and crew having to sell this s** and make it not stink.

  23. Andy M. August 13th, 2014 5:17 pm

    As others have pointed out, it simply isn’t true that you can’t get lightweight backcountry skis that are made in the US, and not only that, but you can get them at a decent price. Voile’s V8 (and soon the V6) are in the $650, <7.5 lb range and were well reviewed here. I just received my custom Praxis Backcountrys (yes, in white!) which weigh 6.8 lbs (3.08 kg) and only cost me $650 (with spring sale & first time customer discount). Sure they're a bit heavier than, say, G3 C3 Zenoxides, but they also have a nice medium flex instead of being rock hard, were cheaper, were made in Tahoe instead of China, and are white instead of black & red.

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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.

All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. While the authors and editors of the information on this website make every effort to present useful information about ski mountaineering, due to human error the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use. ...

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