Sales of Black Crows’ touring skis accelerated during the COVID pandemic, but now more people are buying all-terrain, front-of-the-mountain skis, an executive with the company said.
Gene Piccotti, general manager of North America for the independently owned French brand, said the company has faced the same macroeconomic headwinds that most industries have faced – inflation and supply chain issues, to name a few – as well as a slowdown in the touring segment.
“(During the pandemic) we saw increased participation in activities that didn’t rely on resorts being open. People were going off on their own, being in their own space exploring the back country,” Piccotti said.
But once the ski lifts started moving again, sales of all-terrain and big mountain skis increased.
“As we emerged from COVID and resorts opened back up, people were going frontside of the mountain to ski,” Piccotti said. “Getting back out into more all-terrain conditions.”
To capture more of that consumer demand, the company is devoting more resources to developing skis specific to that pursuit.
One product, for example, is the Mirus Cor, which is a freeski that is designed for “air carving,” with a longer rocker tip and tail, the company said. It’s essentially a mix of a freestyle and a slalom ski.
The product is designed for intermediate skiers and above, and it doesn’t require advanced terrain.
Black Crows, based in Chamonix, France, prides itself on putting out a ski that can perform in a variety of conditions, Piccotti added.
Founded in 2006 by pro freeskiers Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet, its skis are segmented into three categories.
Big mountain, which is for playing off-piste. “To surf and attack any snow conditions.”
All-terrain, which is for on- and off-piste. “Everything from early morning, late afternoon, icy, slushy moguls, really all-encompassing.”
And touring, “to get out and explore.”
Starting Young at Black Crows
Rather than focusing on offering beginner-level skis, Black Crows tries to grow its customer base by dedicating resources to its juniors’ program, which runs up to 18 years old.
The company offers extended sizing “to start getting young skiers up on the mountain and acquainted with our brand,” Piccotti said.
“What we’re really trying to do is help them develop their skills then have them become lifelong partners of the brand as they continue to progress all the way up to into our most advanced skis.”
Black Crows is positioned among elevated brands in the ski industry, Piccotti said.
Black Crows skis typically retail for $800-$900.
“Our pricing structure is a little bit on the elevated side and can be perceived as that premium ski brand,” Piccotti said.
“We’ve got that momentum and image right now.”
To keep innovating and find gaps and opportunities in the market, Black Crows puts out new styles every year. Its retail partners vary from national players to regional chains and specialty ski shops throughout the country.
Black Crows appears to be working in a variety of retail environments – buyers at independent specialty retailer evo have mentioned the brand’s growth in recent interviews, as have executives at Christy Sports, a larger regional chain.
The brand has seen success primarily throughout the Rockies, including the Intermountain Region of the United States and up through the Whistler corridor in Canada, Piccotti said.
Some of the skis the company develops are specifically made for the conditions on these types of mountains, so the brand is better-known in this region than other parts of the continent.
Piccotti emphasized that Black Crows is still an emerging brand that isn’t relying on mass appeal.
“It’s more about how deep the relationships are with consumers and how meaningful the brand is in certain areas,” he said.
Piccotti joined Black Crows in 2022 after building an extensive resume working at major industry companies such as VF Corporation, Volcom, and Quiksilver.
He said joining a smaller company such as Black Crows has taught him how to do more with less. Some of the previous brands he worked for had more resources and deeper organizational charts.
“But we accomplish a lot by a lot of collaboration and wearing a lot of hats within our roles,” Piccotti said. “We can bring new concepts to life quickly. The nature of the brand is to be agile.”
Looking ahead, the brand has been growing each year and gaining fans, according to Piccotti.
Sales are up approximately 20% year-over-year, Piccotti said.
Next season’s orders are coming in close to the growth the company has projected at about 20% for the year, and “we still have some work to do as we track toward our final target,” Piccotti said.
Most specialty ski accounts are showing growth with the brand.
“But the overriding message is to continue doing what we’re doing and grow in a natural and organic way.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.