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, Samba 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 over 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 new Firebird series of race skis enhance a traditional, wood core/dual Ti laminate sandwich with vertical carbon laminates that boost acceleration through the bottom of the turn.
Also in the carving arena, Blizzard added C-Spine to its top Quattro men’s models and created new women-specific molds for its Alight series of Frontside skis. The Alight 8.2 Ti and 8.2 Ca use a new wood/glass construction with an adjusted sidecut that effectively repositions women slightly forward. Lightly rockered to prevent tip or tail hang-up, the new Alights weren’t evaluated by enough testers to crack our coverage, a shortcoming we hope will be redressed next season.