No other brand in our sport owes as much to the records and legacy of single athlete as Elan. The athlete, of course, is the incomparable Ingemar Stenmark, winner of 86 World Cup wins, all on Elan. There would be no second act on the World Cup for Elan après Ingemar, but shortly after the indomitable technical master retired Elan found another means to spread its brand far beyond the borders of Slovenia.
The pivotal product that would alter Elan’s fortunes was the SCX, for “Side Cut Experiment.” About the time Ivan Petkov envisioned his “S” ski, Elan floated a few pairs of these hourglass-shaped skis to instructors and influencers requesting feedback. The dramatic sidecut was given a name, Parabolic, that consumers would swiftly adopt. (Only later did yours truly propose the generic term “shaped” in dispatches filed for Snow Country Business. But I digress.)
While the major French brands dismissed the first wave of carving skis as a fad, Elan seized the marketing high ground. The SCX and its immediate successors of the same ilk provided Elan with entré to ski schools and rental shops along with the cachet that comes with a concept that not only elevated the brand to international prominence, it altered the way skis are made forevermore. The term “parabolic” may have vanished from the popular lexicon, but Elan’s identity as an innovator was validated, big time.
Elan wasn’t finished setting the industry on its ear. The SCX was still finding its commercial footing when the Slovenes backed up its success with the launch of monoblock, a new shell construction that closely resembled the monocoque that Salomon was touting in its new ski line. Once again, Elan was in the vanguard of a movement that would require every competitor to re-tool or die.
Elan was a force to be reckoned with in every market sector. It used its cost advantage to grab market share at the first price point, the monoblock innovation to attract the middle of the market, SCX to pull in new rental numbers and the lingering presence of Ingemar to maintain a share of the race market. It cultivated a thriving OEM business making skis for other brands. Elan had the Midas touch.
Innovations that transform the entire market are hard to come by, and gradually the golden touch tarnished. The Stiletto, a 45mm-waisted contrarian folly, never caught fire. Other brands articulated stories about freeride and fun that drew the public away from carving. The culture of carving carried on in central Europe where Elan had established deep roots, but in America carving lost its mojo.
Elan’s Next Big Idea is called Amphibio, a carving-centric concept that assures early connection to the inside edge by leaving it fully cambered, while rockering the outside edge so it doesn’t get any silly notions about hooking suddenly uphill. What the public didn’t grok at first is that Amphibio can be applied to any shape or style of ski, not just fusty old Technical models hardly any Americans skis anymore. The complete Ripstick collection of off-trail skis is Amphibio’d, just like the Frontside family that continues to form the core of Elan’s current collection.
By the way, Elan’s latest Technical Amphibio, the Black Edition, is a revelation. You probably can’t afford it, so don’t ask ($1,400), but if you can get a hedge funder to indulge your carving cravings you’ll discover another way the rich live better than you.