For families, Nordica wants to convey the story of progression from learning to ski at the base of the lodge to gaining the confidence to ski higher up on the mountain. Last year they introduced to the ski rental community a program to help ski resorts and rental operator’s promote, grow and sustain alpine skiing by producing ski rental equipment that makes skiing easier to learn and more fun to practice for individuals and families.
As we ramp up for this year’s ski season, we spoke with Sam Beck, Director of Marketing and Communications, Nordica U.S., to learn how the brand’s rental ski program is fairing and the new product we can look forward to seeing at Outdoor Retailer Snow Show in January.
SGB: In the world we live in today, with many people shifting from buying to renting, there is a lot of need for better rental gear. Working with SKI’s Instruction Director, PSIA Alpine Demo Team Coach, and former U.S. Ski Team coach Michael Rogan from ground zero, we started our rental initiative last year with our Drive Ski — specifically designed for the entry level skier. Our goal was, and is, to make sure that the product customers rent is a product that progresses with them and also makes it easy for them to have confidence and move beyond the magic carpet so-to-speak.
This year we are doubling down on that with investments into our 104mm lasted boot category with a new group called Cruise, shown left, and a new junior boot as well.
SGB: Are you working with a core group of vendors this year to create the experience for the customer? Last year we were in the sell-in stage, so this will be the first year that we will have our new Drive rental product in the market. We have a couple retailers that have significant fleets of the new gear in their stores already. Our goal this year is to start collecting data on how that product is doing and getting an understanding of the experiences they are providing to customers in the real-life environment, versus the concept, and start to push that through.
SGB: Is the rental ski program a vertical approach for the retailer/customer? The rental and/or customer experience portion of the program is happening at the store/rental shop level which is not owned by Nordica. We are there to support the equipment. The equipment is the first step to making sure that the customer has good quality gear so that they are not handicapped before they even get out on the slopes. Beyond that, Nordica is trying to educate the retailer so that they can have that touchpoint with their customer on understanding what they might need to go skiing — how to put a ski boot on, what to bring on their first day of skiing, how to stay warm, etc., so that they don’t get out there and feel like they’re on their own.
Those are some of the pieces that we are trying to offer to support retailers beyond the product and then, obviously, doing what we can with our partner resorts to figure out ways to better the process at the store level. Our big focus, since we’re the manufacturer, is trying to bring Nordica products into that equation. That is where the new Tune-In boot project has fallen into place.
SGB: Who are some of your retail partners? We just shipped over 500 Drive 76 rental skis to Welch Village. Norse House is a big advocate and has some of the best rental gear available. Mt. Baker Ski Area, Piches, and Christy Sports all have active programs with us.
SGB: Has the concept changed from last year to this year? The only change is our graphic approach, which we will be presenting at Outdoor Retailer Ski Show in January. We hired the graphic designers that do our inline retail skis in Burlington, VT to help us with building our new rental graphic which takes its inspiration from our Enforcer models — one of the better selling models in the industry and definitely our best-selling model right now.
Our overarching goal is to grow sport skiing and make it more accessible to everyone. We are trying to make rental gear less “rental-like”. In ski shops, often times rental equipment doesn’t look very cool like retail ski equipment does.
SGB: Let’s talk about product for 2019. 104mm Boots are not always the sexiest things to talk about compared to hiking/backcountry trends and technical innovations. But the fact of the matter is that’s what ends up on a high percentage of first time skier’s feet particularly inentry to the sport in the lease and rental business. As a foundation product, comfortable feet are one of the most important things to someone getting out and enjoying their time on the hill. That’s why this category has such an important need for us as a family brand.
SGB: Nordica will celebrate their 80-year anniversary in January. Yes. We are looking back to the brand pillars of who we are to the customer and what people look to us for and are focusing our attention on the family whether that is getting new people involved in the sport — the kids — or whether that is the entire family getting out and enjoying skiing on the mountain.
SGB: Let’s talk about new product for 2019. The new Cruise Boot, shown above, is a project that is inspired by our Machine family of ski boots which are the Pro, Speed and Sport Machine. For the last three years we have invested in these three models.
The Cruise falls under the widest last — the comfort last — 104mm category. The boot is much more anatomical than many of the “budget” boots that are on the market. It’s about 40-percent less bulky and 20-percent lighter than our old Cruise Boot making it much easier for walking around and easier to move your feet back and forth while you are on the hill to get your skis to do what you want them to do.
The most important thing is to be able to get in and out of your boots. With the baby boomers, many are retiring, they have more time and more expendable income to go skiing, but they often have difficulty getting in and out of their boots. We’ve focused on the dual entry, easy step entry in and out, of the boot so that the boot can be put on and taken off with ease.
Another innovation in the Cruise boot that’s comes standard is instep volume control. There is a core piece of plastic built into the boot board that flips over the top that adds 4mm of instep volume for customization. We pride ourselves on fit right out of the box; however, we understand that there are many different foot shapes and therefore if out-of-the-box isn’t comfortable, customers can go to their local retail shop and work on a specific area and not have to compromise anywhere else in the boot during the process.
Right up there with comfort is grip walk compatibility. Grip walk is a technology that we believe will be the new norm. We have a lot of non-grip walk compatible bindings on the market, so we do have to be flexible back-and-forth but particularly for the rental lease buyers. It’s a great feature that allows people to get around in their boots easily.
In the Tweener category, we are offering
a two new skis, the Enforcer 80 S and Santa Ana 80 S which feature a full wood core that is easy to flex and a profile shape that makes the skis easier to turn. And in the boot category, we have two new Speedmachine junior boots with a modern approach to custom flex adjustment, and softer plastic in the instep to make them easier to take on and off.
One of the issues we found in junior boots is when you have two kids with the same size foot but may weigh 50 pounds lighter/heavier than the other kid, their getting put into the same flexing boot. We are introducing an adjustable weight switch on the back of the boot, see diagram left, that allows kids to easily adjust the boot flex according to their weight in three different settings.
One of the biggest thing customers complain about is walking around in their boots. When you’re not comfortable and confident in ski boots, it’s a problem. Making that more accessible is a great add-on feature for the customer and for our retailers. We are encouraging retailers to move forward with Gripwalk technology as another way of making the skiing experience even more enjoyable.”
SGB: What do beginner skiers really want from the experience? They don’t want to carve a turn or do a specific maneuver on skis, they just want to go out and enjoy the mountain with their friends and have fun. With our rental program we’re providing ease, comfort, confidence, and education to “Know Before You Go”. We’re excited to present the new line and to get people out on the hill. Photos courtesy Nordica