Atomic Ski Brand Profile
Atomic can’t help being obsessed with speed. They’re Austrian down to their toes, thereby making it a patriotic obligation to assist Austrian natives in winning World Cup titles. They’ve been very good at meeting expectations, delivering a horde of gold to Austrian athletes. An interesting side development occurred on the way to the podium: non-racers discovered the amazing tranquility at speed that Atomic’s race-room skis exude. At one ski area we frequent, hardly a racing hotbed, there is a knot of very fast, talented skiers who crush the groomers on Atomic GS sticks, and every one of them said “aloha” to their 50th birthday several seasons ago.
Point being, if you understand when and how to tip a ski, if you realize “ski” is an active verb, you may decide to pass over the entire flotilla of Atomic all-mountain skis and attach yourself to their nearest race model. We don’t review true (FIS) race skis here because it lies outside the scope of our expertise and we have too much respect for the coach-racer relationship to pretend we ought in any way to intervene; but, if we did delude ourselves into declaiming on the subject, we’d tell you to try an Atomic.
All that said, gold medal lust is hardly unique to Atomic. The competitive flame burns no less brightly at Head or Fischer. All brands also compete for shelf space at retail and mind space among skiers. In the struggle for sales supremacy, Atomic strives for manufacturing efficiencies that will allow it to compete on price up and down the recreational ski market.
After Atomic’s parent company, the Finnish conglomerate Amer, acquired Salomon in 1998, it adopted some of the French brand’s savvy manufacturing methods. Cost/value relationship and price advantage at retail remain a brand focus that’s most evident in the entry-level and mid-level price points. Atomic offers exceptional value to price conscious skiers with models like the Vantage 75 C system ski, the all-mountain Vantage 86 C and women’s Vantage 86 C W, all of which aim to retail at $399.99 in the U.S. market.
While Atomic enjoys a competitive advantage at the either end of the market, the majority of retail activity takes place between these extremes, where Atomic’s success has been driven as much by price as performance. For the 2018/19 season, Atomic launched a slew of new models based on a new, Lighter-Is-Better technology called Prolite. The Prolite concept begins with the most skeletal ski Atomic can concoct, then adds just enough mass and damping to match the skier’s expectations for performance. The principal damping elements Atomic deploys are Carbon Tank Mesh and new Titanium Tank Mesh, alternating between the two to hit different key price points across the redesigned Vantage and Vantage W lines.
On the race course, precision is paramount and compromise is unthinkable. In the freeride world of buttered turns, imprecision is built into the program, and some compromises better be made or the skier is in for a very rough ride. The proof that Atomic is as adept at making buttery off-trail skis as race rockets lies in the Bent Chetler 120, a monster than moves with balletic grace through terrain that would torpedo a technical ski. Two years ago, Atomic created the Bent Chetler 100, like its big bro adorned with Horizon Tech, tips and tails that are rockered on both axes for maximum swivel-ability. It’s a total gas to ski, with much better technical chops than you’d expect and at $599, it’s still a steal.
The 2021 Season
In December of 2018 an international consortium of financial powerhouses, led by Chinese sportswear giant Anta Sports, announced its intentions to acquire Amer Sports, owner of Atomic and Salomon, among other brands, for roughly $5.2 billion. While the announcement took pains to point out that Amer would retain its own board and management, new owners who have just lightened their pockets by billions are often loath to authorize ambitious R&D investments in year one. Whatever is in the pipeline of immanent new model intros continues on its way to market, but full line overhauls may tread water while new ownership gets its bearings.
Last season, Atomic refreshed its world-beating race collection, a relatively frequent occurrence for a brand that hangs its hat on its World Cup successes. For Atomic, racing isn’t merely a promotional opportunity; it’s the very lifeblood of the brand. Point being, it’s always improving its race skis regardless of who signs the checks.
The first major initiative under the new ownership was a boot-ski-binding package aimed at the entry-level market called Savor. A single-buckle rear-entry boot of the sort that haven’t been seen since the early 1990’s (outside of rental fleets) was paired with a lightweight, narrow-waisted ski designed to assist skills development. Tweaks to its carving ski systems and its Bent Chetler franchise rounded out last season’s suite of product modifications.
In light of how last season ended, it seems logical to assume the brand’s apparent retrenchment in its Alpine ski division going into the 20/21 season was a prescient reaction to a pandemic-driven market implosion. But assuming Atomic is following a 3-year product development cycle, last year it completed a total line overhaul that had begun just two years ago when it created Pro Lite, and with it an entirely new Vantage collection for men and women. If Atomic didn’t deal any new cards this year, it’s because it was already holding a relatively young hand. And there’s a growing boot division to feed, which requires considerable financial resources.