Let the record show that K2 Telemark is not moving forward as a brand for 2009. But don't assume, as the swirling rumor mill has implied of late, that K2 is getting out of the telemark or backcountry ski business. Instead, the company is consolidating its formerly separate AT and telemark ski brands into one collection that K2 is dubbing BackSide.
During a dealer tour last year to find out what was and wasn't selling, Mike Hattrup, director of the brands formerly known as K2 Telemark/AT, told SNEWS® it quickly became apparent that dealers and consumers weren't making much of a distinction between telemark and AT skis anymore.
"During my swing through 20 top dealers, it was clear that whether I was in an outdoor store or an alpine store, the number one selling ski for AT and backcountry use was the Volkl Mantra with the Gotama right behind it," Hattrup told us. "That's when I realized what we already suspected: That the alpine world was heading into the backcountry, and the outdoor world was looking for more alpine performance it its skis."
It was this realization that inspired Hattrup and the K2 team to look closely at its own ski collection offerings. It didn't take long to grasp that the company had entirely too much overlap, he said.
"We had a lot of overlap when you considered our telemark, alpine touring and alpine collections together," said Hattrup. "The end result of consolidating the lines is that we've been able to create a single collection we're calling BackSide, which will include both backcountry skis and sidecountry models. In this collection, retailers will have everything from lightweight, narrow skis that are suitable for long tours, to fat alpine performance skis with backcountry features to offer their customers.
"We are not dropping anything in terms of performance from our line at all. The new BackSide collection will give retail customers a more understandable and frankly wider offering when it comes to choosing skis. Waist widths will range from 82 to 128. And best of all from a retailer perspective, it will give them fewer SKUs to stock -- down from 14 overall to 10 now," said Hattrup.
When asked if this reorganization would affect Karhu, a telemark and backcountry ski brand also owned by K2, Hattrup said no. "This restructure of our ski collection is focused on the K2 brand only and does not affect Karhu at all."
SNEWS® View: Likely this is a very smart move by K2 as it works to keep itself entrenched in both the alpine and backcountry world. By shifting the focus from two separate brands into one collection that serves two rapidly converging markets, K2 is also able to cut costs in terms of marketing, R&D and sales by creating one focused ad campaign, brochure and message rather than a diluted scattershot approach. That makes sense.
Unfortunately, one of those cost cuts came at the expense of the backcountry/telemark sales forces. Although K2's California rep resigned this summer, as well as the Northwest rep agency with five reps this spring, seven very good reps, Hattrup told us, were let go as K2 opted to go with the existing alpine reps for all territories.
For those doubting whether alpine reps can service outdoor stores, Hattrup quickly pointed out he didn't know much about the outdoor market either when he started 13 years ago. He loves to tell the self-deprecating tale of showing up to Outdoor Retailer Summer Market with a booth to show telemark skis, only to learn that no retailers buying skis went to the summer show, let alone other exhibitors. Oooops. But the point of his story is that by listening, which he did a lot of, and asking questions, which he did even more of, he and his team managed to turn that launch hiccup into a highly successful telemark and AT brand. So, he trusts everyone will give the alpine reps that same chance as they listen and ask lots of questions as needed.
And in the interest of full disclosure: For those who wondered about the Volkl picks Hattrup listed as best sellers in our story, while we don't doubt the popularity of the Volkl, it is a brand owned by Jarden, which also owns K2. As a reminder, the K2 portfolio includes Atlas Snow-Shoe, Madshus, Karhu, Line Skis, Full Tilt, Morrow, 5150, Powder Ridge, Little Bear and Tubbs, along with K2 Snowboards, K2 Skis, Ride Snowboards and K2 In-Line Skates.