Blizzard Brand Profile
Blizzard’s fortunes began to turn around several years ago when the Tecnica Group acquired the brand and factory in Mittersill, Austria, and pumped a few million euros into an overhaul. It’s often the case in the world of industry that he who builds the last factory wins, as it will have the most modern machinery and latest technical capacities. Tecnica management backed up their bet with the movement of some top design talent from Völkl to Blizzard, and the stage was set for a rejuvenated Blizzard to show what it could do.
Blizzard probably would have done just fine if they never signed Arne Backstrom to ski on their brand, but the world-class big mountain skier did more than just represent the company, he helped transform it. It was Backstrom who first conceived the idea of rockering a ski by simply flipping the core over, so the tip and tail naturally curved up instead of down. The recently anointed Blizzard engineers figured out how to execute the idea and presto, Flipcore was born.
The short history lesson matters because this flipping-the-core business makes a ski with a remarkably large behavioral envelope. In category after category, the Flipcore skis deliver elite performance with all the rough edges removed. Most skis with a limitless top end don’t suffer fools gladly – in our jargon, most great Power skis don’t exhibit many Finesse properties – but the Flipcore skis aren’t finicky. Many models with pronounced front rocker don’t ever feel connected in the forebody, but the rocker on a Flipcore ski blends with the midsection when flexed, so the edge feels engaged tip-to-tail. This intoxicating blend of behaviors has seduced countless ski testers, thrusting models like the Bonafide, Cochise, Black Pearl and Brahma into the first rank in their respective genres.
Flipcore’s most impressive validation came from an unexpected source. A few seasons ago, Blizzard decided to treat its women’s line more seriously, moving away from mimicking men’s construction and developing women-specific lay-ups. Blizzard fostered women’s focus groups to gather feedback and clarify its design objectives. While it continued to use unisex tooling, it switched to Woman Specific Design and the once unthinkable happened: a women’s ski sold more units than any other model in the American market.
The emergence of the Black Pearl as a sales star, when put in historical context, is a case study in brand resurrection that defies probability. Before the Tecnica Group acquisition, Blizzard was flat on its back in the U.S. market and invisible on the women’s front. Women’s skis did not matter, period. The brand was deaf to market input, among other liabilities. Racing was very important, carving the key to the consumer market and freeride was for loonies like the French and Americans.
The ascension of a woman’s freeride ski that leads an insular Austrian brand to prominence and profitability is a less likely scenario than the story of Joan of Arc. Right behind the Black Pearl 88 in popularity is a pair of perpetual star products, the men’s Bonafide and Brahma. The recently introduced Rustler/Sheeva series of freeride models is earning its own small army of adherents, securing Blizzard’s reputation as the current king of the All-Mountain models.
It’s tough to bat 1.000 across all genres, and Blizzard is working to strengthen its presence in the carving categories that are important in the central European market Blizzard calls home. Its Firebird series of race skis enhance a traditional, woodcore/dual Ti laminate sandwich with vertical carbon laminates that boost acceleration through the bottom of the turn. Both the Non-FIS Race Firebird WRC and SRC are fantastic, no-nonsense race skis that are a gas to ski even if they never clip a start wand. The new Firebird HRC (126/75/107) applies the same race-caliber construction to a Frontside version for those who want a little more versatility in a high-velocity package.
2020 Blizzard Season
Whenever a brand launches a model series that succeeds commercially beyond any and all expectations, the natural tendency is to stretch the collection in as many directions as it can possibly go. The danger is that you’ll cannibalize your own line more than you’ll cut into your competition’s share of rack space, but if all your current products are too popular to euthanize, squeezing another model into the family is usually too great a temptation to resist.
This phenomenon helps explain why Blizzard added a Brahma 82 and Black Pearl 82 to these fabled brands-within-a-brand, even though by going this narrow the new skis move into head-to-head competition with Frontside skis that look like they were made on another planet. After all, the freeride design of the new Brahma and Pearl isn’t an integrated system and wasn’t originally made to excel on hard snow.
Another reason Blizzard took this tack is it wasn’t likely to cannibalize its own kinder, as the Quattro series, into whose domain the new 82’s trespassed, weren’t getting much traction. Maybe a little of the Black Pearl’s magic would inspire Blizzard retailers to give the New School kids a chance to succeed where the Old School paradigm had faltered.
Our test confirmed that the Brahma 82 in particular is utterly unlike anything else in the genre, which in no way should disqualify if for consideration. It’s a very rare beast, a definitively Finesse ski in an ocean of Power-mad carvers. If you want a ski that feels like a race ski on Novocain, follow the crowd; if you want a soft, slinky sort of carver that follows terrain fluidly, even in hacked-up mogul fields, you’ll discover the Brahma 82 is much better at this than the stiff rails that predominate in the unisex Frontside field.