When ski manufacturer Völkl was founded in1923 there wasn’t a ski industry in the United States.
In Europe at the time, there were dozens of small ski makers that were also making other items such as wagons and sleds.
That’s also how Völkl got its start, when Franz Völkl converted his father Georg Völkl’s horse-drawn carriage production to ski manufacturing in 1923.
Over the past 100 years, the Bavarian company has survived to become Germany’s largest ski manufacturer.
Jonathan Wiant, president of Völkl, Marker, and Dalbello brands, said in an interview with The Daily that the company is proud that it continues to make its skis in Germany rather than moving its manufacturing to Eastern Europe or overseas. The company supports more than 400 German families with jobs.
“Everything that we do is really embedded in the heritage of the company,” he added. “That’s absolutely how you stay in business.”
Evolving Over 100 Years
Wiant said part of the company’s early success was because it was in the right place at the right time.
As skiing moved from being a form of transportation to a leisure activity and the sport grew, Völkl’s location in Straubing, which is at the edge of a mountainous region, became an additional advantage.
The company also realized early on that to be successful it needed to be global.
It has grown its U.S. business from selling thousands of pairs of skis to hundreds of thousands of pairs over the last 30 years.
That’s particularly remarkable, according to Wiant, since Völkl is a Germanic brand, and consumers trends are different in North America than they are in the Alps, in terms of ski width, weight and how people ski.
The company was able to identify those differences in several markets, including Asia and Norway, “Then have the foresight and wherewithal to take that knowledge and build products for those markets,” Wiant said.
“I think that the global footprint that Völkl has established over the years and having a strong position in all of the key ski markets is a key to the success,” he added.
Specifically with the U.S., the company is looking at how global warming and climate change has affected the regions, with an “amazing” winter west of the Rockies and a “pretty spotty” winter east of the Rockies.
“It’s a good indication that if you want to be successful in North America, you better have skis that the consumer needs west of the Rockies,” Wiant said.
Last year the conditions were good in the Eastern U.S., so it was advantageous to have product that worked well there, he added.
For example, the Eastern U.S. ski resorts typically have harder, more man-made snow, so those skiers will benefit from having a narrower ski that’s more like a racing product, according to Wiant.
Consumers have started to recognize that stiffer, narrower skis might be more fun in hard-snow conditions.
Someone skiing in softer or deeper snow might want wider skis with more rocker on the tip to help them float.
Respecting the consumer in the different regions and how those consumers want to behave in snow and utilize their equipment has been key to the success of the brand and the longevity of the company, according to Wiant.
“Consumers are definitely getting more and more specialized in their expectations,” he said. “Whether they’re looking for that single-quiver type of product or chasing that unicorn, they still have a lot of demands for specific equipment for specific circumstances or conditions.”
Sales in the U.S. market for alpine equipment (bindings, boots, poles, and skis) are down 4%, to $985.1 million, season-to-date (August 2022-January 2023) versus last season.
Last season (August 2021-March 2022), sales were up 12%, to $1.1 billion, compared to the previous season.
Those figures are from the brick-and-mortar retailers and e-commerce websites tracked by consumer behavior analytics firm Circana, formerly The NPD Group.
Völkl skis have become more accessible over the years, according to Wiant, meaning that while the company still produces high-performance products, Völkl also offers skis for a wider range of ages and a broader skill set.
“We really tried to appeal to consumers that have a pursuit of getting better, whether they’re beginners or intermediates or experts,” Wiant said.
For someone who wants to level up their skiing, Völkl offers skis with easy turn engagement, reliable behavior and balance from tip to tail.
Another trend Völkl has been focused on for many years is making alpine skis lighter, where skiers can be more nimble and less fatigued, but the skis are still durable.
Aside from that, the company is continuously working on developing skis with different geometries and improved fibers.
To celebrate its centennial anniversary, the company is putting the finishing touches on an unreleased 100-year ski that Wiant says will show the market the company is not resting on its laurels but continuing to innovate.
Looking toward the future, Völkl is exploring further opportunities to manufacture skis with sustainability in mind, including products based on its ecological principles.
To that end, the 100-year ski will have the most components made from post-consumer materials of any of its skis so far.
Wiant emphasized that the culture of the company is one of continued improvement.
“That’s something that the company does well and will continue to do well,” he said. “To make sure that it’s not only relevant, but that the next 100 years of employees and manufacturing and families are going to be in a position to continue to have pride in what they do and the success of the company and the brand.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.