By: Jackson Hogen
Published: January 22, 2019
Last week I dropped by the first regional trade show to retrieve the fresh-off-the-presses 2020 catalogs for most of the mainstream brands. This seemingly sterile exercise gives me an overview of the market that reveals which ski genre is attracting the most investment, which brands are tweaking their lines and which ones are doing major remodels.
Getting granular, it’s notable that the genre with the most new models is Frontside, and it’s not just because the Frontside category (waists 75mm-84mm) reaches from the lowest price point to the highest. The new 2020 Frontside models aren’t of the “kind of new” sort, but the genuine article, new designs that seek to push the boundaries of what a Frontside ski is capable of.
The brand putting the most chips on the Frontside table is Atomic, with four new models, two an extension of its Redster racing franchise and two off-shoots of the Vantage family of all-terrain skis. Dynastar adds a little girth to its Speed Zone series to create the latest generation of Dynastars to bear the 4X4 moniker. Salomon resurrects another name from the misty past with a quartet of Force models meant to dominate any Frontside condition. Völkl is bidding auf wiedersehen to its RTM clan in favor of adding more Deacons to its Frontside phalanx of sweet carvers.
The refreshing focus on Frontside models doesn’t come at the expense of the adjacent All-Mountain East genre (waists between 85mm-94mm). K2, Völkl, Nordica, Fischer, Salomon and Head are all seeking to carve out new turf in this wickedly competitive category.
The prize for the most thorough brand transformation goes unequivocally to K2, where both Pinnacles and Luvs have been put out to pasture, replaced by a comprehensive cohort of Mindbenders spanning every category from All-Mountain East to Powder, both for men and women. Completing the brand makeover in the women’s market is the new Anthem series of Technical and Frontside models, where K2 has always been a major player.
Among smaller brands, Kästle made the strongest move, initiating its first women’s collection, tiptoeing into the kids’ market, adding a product segment or two to its Alpine collection and overhauling its popular FX series. The new FX family has grown to include the genres formerly occupied by BMX models, which fade to black.
Viewed in its totality, new models represent roughly one-third the 2020 Alpine ski market. This is a relatively sane turnover rate given the frequency of consumer purchases, a positive trend. Better yet, most of the new skis aren’t comprised of superficial changes to existing models but tend to be line extensions of successful model families or entirely new.
A closer inspection of the model turnover rate reveals that the percentage of new skis in the women’s market is considerably higher than the overall rate (42.5% vs. 32.2%). Even though nearly a third of the new women’s models came from one supplier, K2, with a long history of a deep women’s collection, the fact that this much investment is going into new women’s molds is a sign of the segment’s burgeoning importance.
On a brand-by-brand basis, the ratio of new entries varies wildly, from K2’s wall-to-wall renovation to Blizzard’s maintenance of its already winning hand. The various approaches to model renewal reflect both different planning cycles and the perception within each brand of its current market needs. In other words, while we may not be living in the best of all possible worlds, at least the modern ski buyer can choose from a rich and varied selection that continues to improve with each impending season.
The challenge for today’s ski consumer isn’t that there’s not enough real choice; it’s that there are too many excellent options. It’s this very predicament that Realskiers.com has been designed to solve. No other information resource provides such a comprehensive understanding of the Alpine market, from what to buy (and why) to how it all works together.
Tomorrow marks a pivotal day in my mid-winter schedule, for that’s when I morph from dryland analyst to on-snow data collector. It’s the best part of a yearlong task that I look forward to resuming with the skin-tingling anticipation of a kid on Christmas Eve. Thanks to all of you who are reading this for helping to make Realskiers an ongoing success story.