Feb. 6, 2002 -- The world of ski design is a bit like Hollywood-cosmetics make a huge impact. Each winter, more than 700,000 pairs of skis are brought into the US, but buying model XYZ stateside doesn't mean it looks the same in Europe or Japan.
"Recreational skis are where graphics mean the most," says Tait Wardlaw, alpine product manager for Skis Dynastar. "Some countries like flowers and bright colors, while others prefer linear, more muted graphics. Japan is the single biggest nation for distribution, selling anywhere from 500,000 pair to 1.5 million annually. Europe sells a consistent 1.1 million each year, but the graphics choices for each market are very different."
Eduardo Guzman, race director for Atomic Skis, agrees. "Usually, with the Asian market, they want the opposite-if we're into earth tones, they want dayglo. They use a lot of characters in their graphics, and they buy shorter lengths. In Europe, there is this huge buying conglomerate called Eurosport-and they order a lot of SMUs or Special Make Ups."
SMUs are simply a fresh cosmetic placed on a popular in-line ski. Wardlaw explains, "SMUs are built for two reasons. First, the manufacturer may see a need in a certain market-maybe a European graphic is a bit garish for the US. So we'll make an SMU with richer colors. Secondly, we may take a big seller in a certain price range and build an SMU for the "big box" stores in a specific area. Then the distribution value isn't harmed in the smaller, specialized stores."
In the ever-popular women's market, Fischer Skis designs models just for the States. International product manager, Gerald Palm describes, "Our strategy is to develop a strong international line meeting special demands for different countries. We have a special line of women's skis for the US with their own cosmetics, a different mounting point and 10% softer flex."
At Dynastar, there is as similar philosophy. Wardlaw says, "We have some women's models for Europe and Asia, but fewer than for the US. The American female consumer is much more interested in an attractive ski, but not a feminine cliche."
And what about the look of the high profile race skis? Will the red, black and white checkerboard made so popular by Austria's Hermann Maier change from country to country? Tait Wardlaw sums it up, "Race graphics are not up for debate."