The Jed Duke Interview Part 2:The Industry and Blizzard // Ski Interviews
Let's start part 2 with a big question. Where do you see the industry going?
I think there's a couple of things going on in the industry. I think it's a great time actually, to be a consumer now. Because even though times are somewhere difficult, I feel that a lot of the brands, if not all of the brands, are trying to bring new, truly innovative products to market; to actually make the sport more fun. And so the consumers are definitely getting the benefits of this. You know, for us for example, this new Flipcore Technology we have, it really makes those rockered freeride type skis or wider all mountain type skis, it just makes them easier to use, which everybody benefits from. So one of the things i see the industry going in the direction of, is really trying to improve the sport by creating and selling products that make it more fun and easier to use. I also see, you know, on more of the business side of it; I think the manufacturers, and retailers for that matter, are getting more consolidated, more efficient, and probably more specialized. I think the days of just kind of getting by are… you know, you've gotta be doing it right now to survive, because it's pretty tough out there these days.
What's the plan moving forward with Blizzard? Where do you guys see yourselves moving from here, in terms of what the future holds?
Well as I mentioned to you earlier, we like to develop products within each category, kind of in a methodical way. We want to bring real products, not just "me too" products to the market. So the group we just worked on it, well let's call them sort of more traditional big mountain skis like the Bodacious, the Cochise, the Bonafide. Those are sidewall, wood core, Titanal, flat tail, but still rockered skis. So then next, we're going to work on our twin tip line of skis. Now I'm not talking about pipe and park, we're not going there, that's a whole different ball of wax in terms of the commitment that you need. The whole package of athletes and marketing and everything that you need in order to be successful there. You'd need to have the whole package. So we're putting that one on hold for now. But the all mountain and backcountry style twin tip skis is our next project that we're working on. These will be like the Gunsmoke, which was the first one that came out this year, 114mm in the waist. That's more of a resort powder type ski. But it's different in philosophy from the Bonafide, Cochise type of ski. It's softer, it's more playful. I wouldn't want to say "youth-inspired," but… kind of youth inspired. It's soft and playful and it's really a ski that anybody could use when they're skiing softer snow. Even an intermediate to an advanced skier. Yes, it's big, but it's soft and easy. And again, it's built in that Flipcore way which really makes it easy. So we're going to work on developing some products in that category. We expect that there'll be 3-4 products in that line. That's kind of the next thing.
Any plans for any new North American athletes to be added to Blizzard?
On the the Freeride side, we added a new female athlete, Keely Kelleher. Keely's multi talented. She was a U.S. Ski Team gal for quite some time, so she's got this ski racing background. And she runs all kinds of women's specific ski racing, and I believe some freeride camps as well, which are going fantastically. She's also becoming a bigger name freeride athlete. She was in the Warren Miller movie. She's an awesome new athlete for us. And we're really working on just a core group. One thing that we sponsor is the Jr. Freeride Tour. That's a good avenue for us to find younger athletes, and we've had some good success pulling a couple of guys. Zach Halverson is one guy out of there. He's a young up and coming guy. We're putting more emphasis for sure on the freeride side. On the racing side of things, we just had a renewed commitment in Europe from our World Cup team, which is fantastic. You will see a bigger, and better commitment from us on the race side from Blizzard and Tecnica for the future as well.
Which segment of skier do you feel drives Blizzard the most?
(LAUGHTER) That question… it's changed a lot for us. If you asked me that question a couple of years ago, it would have been the front side, high performance / race guy. Now, I think we still have those customers, not so much race at the moment, but we'll get back to that one. But with the success of the Cochise and the Bodacious, our big, widest ski that's won the World Freeride Tour two years in a row. It's been very successful at the highest level of competition. The Cochise, the Bonafide, all of those skis really sort of sling shot us up in prominence in the Freeride world. Right now those skis are our best sellers. I wouldn't say that we've lost some of those front side, high performance skiers, but they've gone into the shadows a little bit. But with the new line of Magnum skis we have, we've directly gone back to address and improve the products that we have for those front side, higher performance type skiers. And you're going to see a renewed commitment in the race category from us in the future as well.
Do you feel like the all mountain recreational skier is starting to gravitate towards the freestyle type of skis?
Well I mean, if you look at what the magazines, if you look at the manufacturers, if you look at what everybody pushes, and what's fun and exciting in the industry, it's those types of skis. You know, it's those freeride style, or wider all mountain type skis that have rocker. That's kind of the deal these days.
I mean, it seems like for us in particular, we used to sell more of the Magnums and less of the freeride skis from Blizzard, and now it's reversed itself, we're selling more of the freeride. I wonder if that's in part due to the Cochise and Bonafide, which you've said were just instantly popular, and people just love them. I wonder if some of it is just skiers starting to gravitate towards more freestyle skis.
Well it is. It is skiers gravitating towards these skis, because that's what they see and that's what they read. You know, you're not going to find an ad, or a story about a Magnum 7.6. You're going to find a story about say, a Bushwacker, for that same type of customer. Or you know, a Magnum 8.0 Ti versus a Bonafide. You're going to see the story about the Bonafide. You're going to see the ad about the Bonafide. And so I don't fault the consumer for going that way, because that's what everybody pushes. Us included. And I probably should shut my mouth a little bit, but I do feel like we need to be a little bit careful to get the consumer truly what they need, and what's going to be best for them. Obviously what we're doing with the Bonafide and the Bushwackers and those types of skis, is making those skis so that they work better for that customer. So we're adapting those skis to work well for them, so it's not just the Magnum skis.
What do you see the ski industry doing in terms of trying to bring women to the sport, and keep them engaged?
I think we're just going to continue to do more of what a lot of us are doing already. I mean, at least in the U.S., the women's ski market is still growing. And it's big. I don't know exactly what the percentage is, but you know, it's north of 30% of the market I believe. None of us as manufacturers can shy away from. That's a large part of the market that's extremely important. It's large enough so that we as manufacturers can treat it as it's own specific category. It is cost effect for us to develop specific technologies, and products for women. And so I think we'll just continue to evolve, again, trying to build products that improve performance, but also make it easier and provide a better overall experience for women. Women are definitely different than men in their physiology, and all of that kind of stuff. There are specific technologies that'll improve women's specific skiing experiences.
Where do you see consumer demand going? What do you think the consumer is going to be looking for or demanding next?
I think consumers are looking for products that are going to make them better at the sport. Depending on what level they are, products that will help them keep warm and be comfortable, and keep skiing with their family. Or you know, ski better. "I'm going to be a better ski racer," "I'm going to be a better big mountain skier," "I'm going to be a better teacher, because I'm a PSIA guy. this new boot, or this new ski, is going to allow me to do my job better." I think people are, because of the internet actually, I think people are tuned into what's going on. I think sometimes it's difficult to filter through what's true or not, because there's so much information that it's almost an overload. But I think people, especially people who care about the sport, who are passionate about it, they do their research. They're trying to figure out what's going to make them better, and what's going to have a positive effect on them and their job if it happens to be in the ski industry, and their whole experience really.
The Cochise and Bonafide were hugely successful for Blizzard in 2012. What do you think your breakout ski for the upcoming season will be, and why?
I think that the whole line of skis with Flipcore is getting more acceptance. So those were two point specific models that did well. I think this year we're going to see the entire line of skis with Flipcore do much better because it won't be so point specific. I think people will go, "Oh, this is one of those skis." And you saw it in the magazines as well. Now there's Flipcore down into the Magnum series of skis which is the more All Mountain Type of ski, almost frontside. We just looked at the Ski Magazine that had the "Hard Snow" category, and the Magnum 8.0 Ti: 80mm in the waist, good camber under foot, and a little bit of rocker in the tip and tail; but again built with this Flipcore process, it won the hard snow test. I think it will bring more attention to the technology, I hope. But so far we've seen that the whole group of skis will benefit more from it as opposed to just those two models. I think those two models are going to do very well again this year.
And that's something I've already noticed with a ski like the Bushwacker. It used to sort of be off to the side because all of the attention was on the Cochise and Bonafide. But now slowly here comes the Bushwacker, we're getting more and more calls for it.
Some people around the office have commented that when we take trips out West, we don't see as many Blizzards as we do on the East. Is that just our perception, or is there really a bigger brand awareness in the East?
Well, you know, we're young. I would say. I know Blizzard's been around for a long time, but let's call it "Blizzard" (Jed pronounces this as in the winter storm. A 'Blizz-Erd') as opposed to "Blizzard" (this time, Jed pronounces it in a more European style, as in 'Blizz-aard", or the beginning of the word "Aardvark". Finally, some clearance on this issue!) which was kind of in the past. So if we say "Blizzard" (winter storm), which is really the last 4-5 years, we're young. And it just takes a while in each territory for things to catch on. If you went to California, and went to ski at Squaw Valley, you'd be shocked at how many Blizzards there are. It's unbelievable. You go to Colorado, not quite so many. It's a little slower to catch on there. You go to the Northwest, there's lots of Blizzards. You go to New England, there's lots of Blizzards. So it's coming, slowly but surely. It's just different people. Colorado is kind of set in its ways. With those big stores with the Christie's and the SSV's. They believe in their brands. They do well with their brands. So it's somewhat difficult. They don't want to pioneer stuff, you know? And so yeah, it just takes a little bit longer to catch on.
With so many skis available at comparable cost, why should a consumer choose Blizzard over some of the other brands?
I think this goes back to what I said before. Blizzard's foundation is building really high quality skis, using the best materials. So they're high quality skis that perform as best as you can get within that category, but again, they're very easy to use. I think that's the key part. It's that they're easy to use. And because the fact that they give you the performance, and the ease of use, I think that just improves your skiing experience.
How do you maintain affordable price points with keeping production in Austria, and do you feel pressure to move production to China in order to keep cost down?
We don't feel pressure to move to China, and we do our best to keep cost down by making the entire process as efficient as possible. That's transportation, and I mean every little bit counts. But for us, we're committed to making the best skis that we can. Using the best materials that we can. That's what we're all about. And we feel that we can keep costs reasonable by making our whole production process more efficient. And we've been working on programs in our factory, like logistics programs between Europe and us, to make those efficiencies come to life, so that we can keep the prices in a reasonable place. But we're not really willing to compromise on the quality and the way that the skis are produced to save on cost.
What are your feelings regarding the influx of new independent ski companies?
I appreciate the passion that all of these guys have. I think they bring some good excitement, good fun, and a lot of interest to the industry that we need. You know, the ski industry isn't huge. Anything that brings in more life, more energy, and more excitement to it, I think is great. I also think it's challenging. I know what it takes to build good skis, and I think it's challenging for them to say the least. But I absolutely appreciate them and I appreciate their efforts for sure. They're bringing more people to the sport, so you can't really argue with that.
Do you keep up on any of the forums and read what's going on?
I do when I have time, I should do it far more. We have other people in our company that do it a lot. When there's threads that I specifically need to pay attention to, they're certainly brought to my attention if I don't find them myself.
Are you using any of the information as feedback?
You bet, absolutely. Yeah, actually it's a great place for us to see what's going on out there, to see what people are saying, and yeah actually, we get some good information. So it's good.
Ok, last question. What was your one, personal most memorable day on skis?
The most memorable day on skis that I ever had was, well I don't remember exactly what year it was, but myself, and Ivar Dahl, and MC Malbuf who's a Volkl salesman in Colorado, and Mike Curtis. We went helicopter skiing in Cordova, Alaska with Points North. The first year that I went, the first drop off, the first everything. We got there, it had snowed for ten days straight. There was about 8 feet of fresh snow that hadn't been skied. Alaska is like a whole different planet. The snow sticks to things that anywhere in the lower 48, it would be just a bald rock. So us Eastern boys, we could ski it, but we were certainly puckered, that's for sure. Because just looking at it, you're like, "How can the snow stay on it?" We took 7-8 different runs. Kevin Quinn, and Jessica, I guess it's Jessica Quinn now, his wife. It was when I was working for Volkl. They were a part of our team, and we'd known them for a long time and our guide was Jay Mac, who's still a guide up there. He's a Squaw Valley guy, super guy. So they knew how we skied, and I'm sure Quinner said, "Let's scare these boys a little bit and show them what Alaska's all about!" And they did, and it was just over your head deep, skiing 50+ degree, 3,000'-4,000' vertical shots. It was just unbelievable. It was like nothing I've ever experienced.
Have You Been Back?
Yeah, I went again. I went two years later. Again, with some of the guys from Volkl and some of the guys I've mentioned to you. Stefano Mantegazza, the Italian guy who's part of our product team at Blizzard now. He was then at Volkl too, so he came over. And again, we just killed it. Had an unbelievable day of just deep, deep, deep and scary stuff.