expensive_skis_part2

[Continued from Are Skis Overpriced?]

So if manufacturers, distributors and retailers are all laboring mightily just to make a living, why are skis so bloody expensive? Part of the problem has to be that the world market has shriveled over the last 30 years. The US market used to absorb close to 1.5 million new pairs of skis a year; Japan imported or made for their domestic market over 2 million pairs a year. Some estimates would suggest both regions now sell in about a third that many pairs (rental excluded). No emerging market evolved to pick up the enormous slack when the established distribution dramatically deflated.

The only recourse for survival has been to enrich the model mix. What the ski market has done, over the course of one generation, is invert its product pyramid. In the 80’s, every ski maker – and there were many more established brands then – produced a mind-numbing array of package skis, one for every chain channel to market on every continent. If you counted model names and cosmetics, there were dozens of models made for entry-level price points. Almost all of them were truly dreadful.

At the other end of the market, experts had to settle for the only archetype available, a race ski, which came in a slalom, giant slalom or combi format. In 1989, Salomon introduced its first skis and with them the idea of multiplying the number of expert skier types and then tailoring a specific model for each one. Hence they concocted Equipe models for racers (nothing new there), the Force series for the all-terrain elite and EXP models for instructors and technicians.

Once Salomon divided the monolithic expert class into several sects, the search for the next expert skier type was on. Soon we had shaped skis and twin-tips and fat boys and with every new innovation came a new class of expert. Meanwhile, the resort rental market successfully cannibalized the entry-level retail market. The old beginner base eroded to a couple of ex-catalog items while a new expert skier and associated model cropped up for every added centimeter of waist width.

Leaving aside the well populated yet nearly invisible genre of race skis – once the only game in town for advanced skiers – most consequential brands today have at least 10 top-of-their-genre models aimed at some definition of a skilled skier. Instead of sorting skiers by those hackneyed terms “beginner, intermediate and expert,” we now skip over the two awkward stages and categorize customers according to what sort of expert they imagine they’ll become as soon as they step into their new rides.

When you get down to the details, skis really aren’t that expensive. You can rent an adequate ski for $10/day and an entry-level ski/binding package will set you back only $400, hardly egregious in the age of $100 sneakers.

If skis seem over-priced, it’s partly because we’ve distilled the market, filtering out the sub-par and the shoddy in favor of a richer presentation for the skilled skier. It’s easier, cheaper and more profitable to inspire a second (or third) top-end ski purchase from an established skier than it is to create a new participant who might buy a new package instead of rent.

There is one other primal reason today’s skis cost more than they did in the misty past.

They’re worth it.