Black Diamond puts an ACE up its sleeve - SNEWS

Black Diamond puts an ACE up its sleeve

The recent acquisition of Anker Climbing Equipment (ACE) by Black Diamond Equipment is the latest and hopefully final home for a brand that was once known as A5 Adventures.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

The recent acquisition of Anker Climbing Equipment (ACE) by Black Diamond Equipment is the latest and hopefully final home for a brand that was once known as A5 Adventures.
 
In the climbing world, the smallest niche is big wall climbing: It's gear intensive, relatively dangerous and scary (that would be the appeal too). It is likely that only high-altitude mountaineering has fewer participants willing to take bigger risks and spend more money. Thus, companies supplying aid equipment to the big wall market segment have always been tiny or very small departments within the umbrella of a much larger company.

In 1986, John Middendorf founded A5 Adventures in Flagstaff, Ariz., manufacturing equipment such as haul bags, portaledges and a rock hammer. In 1997, Middendorf sold A5 to The North Face. As a result of the sale, several employees lost jobs and Middendorf moved to TNF's headquarters in San Leandro, Calif., to oversee design and production. Insiders told us then that it was a bad marriage and it was no surprise when Middendorf moved on a couple years later.

It did not take TNF long to realize it could make more money selling apparel under the A5 brand name, and in short order, A5 morphed into an urban lifestyle collection for wannabe climbers. That shift left some nifty designs for haul bags and portaledges homeless.

Longtime TNF employee Conrad Anker, a well-known climber, convinced the powers that be to let him start up ACE as an independent hardware division within TNF. That division eventually spun off into a separate office and production facility in Bozeman, Mont., with a couple of employees.

Anker took the previous A5 designs for ledges and haul bags and updated them with newer technology and some of his own design improvements. While the ACE ledges were arguably the best around for severe weather on big walls of remote corners of the globe (think Baffin Island and Baltoro Glacier), they were very expensive and overkill for big wall adventurers heading to Yosemite and Zion.

SNEWS® was told that it didn't take too long before ACE sales numbers no longer made sense to TNF and as a result, ACE was cut free, losing its space at Outdoor Retailer inside the TNF room in the process. Thus, with limited marketing resources and limited demand, ACE has been in limbo for a couple years -- until Black Diamond decided it would be the perfect addition to its climbing quiver, landing ACE in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Under Black Diamond's ownership, Anker will continue to develop products from Bozeman through 2008. Manufacturing and marketing will move to Utah and eventually the line will likely consolidate. The ACE line will be shown at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market with delivery scheduled for April 2006.

SNEWS® View: This is a win-win for both Anker and Black Diamond. For Anker, he gets to stay in Bozeman and keep playing in the mountains. He is a devoted husband and stepfather of three great kids and active in promoting the legacy of Alex Lowe, his deceased climbing partner, and operating a charitable trust that teaches Sherpas safe climbing techniques.

Although Black Diamond already has a line of decent haul bags, it has not offered a portaledge since production of the SkyLounge stopped a couple years ago. From this acquisition, Black Diamond gets one of the best ledge designs around, along with some other good products, and will once again be able to compete head-to-head with Metolius (the other premier big wall company) and Fish (which owns the "best value for the buck" category) in this niche market.

Black Diamond also gets to take advantage of Anker's considerable expertise as a climber and gear tinkerer, and in our view it'd be remiss not to listen. The company's harnesses and gear slings for big wall climbing are very dated and could use some of Anker's input to spruce them up. And the ACE rock hammer is a superior design to anything yet offered (no word yet if it will go into production).

Big wall climbing is never going to be huge. But for the real core climbers, and companies that sell to them, it is an important part of the game and Black Diamond just became a very serious player, as it should be.

Related

Black Diamond Equipment wins case against Black Diamond Sportswear

Finally bringing to close a legal tussle that had been ongoing since 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit on Oct. 5, 2007, ended the appeal of Black Diamond Sportswear regarding the summary judgment awarded Black Diamond Equipment on Aug. 25, 2005, by the U.S. ...read more

Access Fund bestows Black Diamond with its Sharp End award

Black Diamond has received the Access Fund's Sharp End Award for 2002. The Sharp End Award is presented annually to outstanding individuals or organizations that demonstrate remarkable leadership and commitment to the cause of preserving climbing access and the climbing ...read more

BD_Gregory_Acquired-051010a.jpg

Black Diamond, Gregory acquired by Clarus Corp.

Clarus Corp. (OTC: CLRS) announced it is acquiring Black Diamond Equipment and Gregory Mountain Products in two separate but related transactions. Under the terms of the agreements, Clarus will pay $90 million in cash for Black Diamond and $45 million for Gregory, both subject to ...read more

Black_Diamond_logo.gif

Black Diamond 1Q revenue up, reports first profit

Black Diamond Inc. (NASDAQ: BDE) reported higher revenue and a profit for the first quarter 2011 as it completed the merger and integration of its two brands, and moved forward with its apparel initiatives. The Salt Lake City, Utah-based parent of Black Diamond Equipment and ...read more

BD_C4_Camalots.jpg

Black Diamond Camalot C4

Gearheads pouring over catalog specs may not be all that impressed, but get some of the new Black Diamond Camalot C4's in hand and you'll understand why this is the best upgrade yet. While the original U-stem Camalots left much to be desired (retire any you still have), the ...read more

Black Diamond and Scarpa part ways after 18 years

Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. and Scarpa have announced the termination of their 18-year working relationship effective at the end of 2005. "I have a philosophy of life and business," Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond, told SNEWS®. "In business, business paradigms, business ...read more

Black_Diamond_logo.gif

Black Diamond 3Q sales up 24 percent, swings to profit

Black Diamond (NYSE:BDE) reported higher revenue and swung to a profit in the third quarter 2011, primarily boosted by strong international sales. The Salt Lake City-based parent company of Black Diamond Equipment and Gregory Mountain Products reported third-quarter revenue up ...read more

BlackDiamondPiepsLogo.jpg

Black Diamond to acquire winter safety brand Pieps for $10.4 million

Black Diamond Inc. continued in its acquisition mode, announcing plans Monday to acquire Austria-based Pieps, best known for its avalanche transceivers, probes and other winter safety gear. “It’s an iconic company when you think of the history of avalanche transceivers,” ...read more

Black Diamond raises $30,000 for the Utah Avalanche Center

Black Diamond Equipment successfully raised more than $30,000 to help fund the Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) by organizing and hosting the ninth annual Black Diamond Fund-raiser for the Utah Avalanche Center. Considered by many in the close-knit, Wasatch backcountry community as ...read more