Rottefella has long dominated the cross-country ski binding market with commanding market shares in every category from track to telemark. Last week, the Norwegian company announced it had acquired a 62.5 percent stake in the Swiss alpine touring binding company NAXO. Rottefella also has the option to purchase more shares in the future.
Started in 2001 by former managers of Fritschi (the current leader in the AT market), the Switzerland-based NAXO has made tremendous inroads in a short time. The company predicts a 20-percent global market share for the 2006-07 season, primarily due to the growth of the free-ride market. As the agro ski crowd has moved from the resorts to launching from cliffs in the backcountry, they have demanded burlier bindings than what was typically offered for genteel ski mountaineers.
According to Ulf Bjerknes, president of Rottefella AS, "We have noticed for a long time now that alpine touring and 'free ride' is becoming a fast growing new trend. This is also the reason why Rottefella is focusing so hard on launching a new telemark system (New Telemark Norm). The idea behind NTN and the development of this product will coincide nicely with our investment into NAXO. The market of alpine touring is today almost twice the size of Telemark and is expected to grow fast in the coming years. NTN will have a lot of similarities with alpine touring. Among many new features, the new NTN boot will have the same geometry as an alpine touring boot and will also fit into alpine touring binding."
Daniel Waldburger, president of NAXO, said, "Becoming a part of the Rottefella organization, and receiving the synergies represented by their strong brand name, worldwide distribution and product development capabilities, will definitely be an assurance to our continued growth."
While Dynafit and Silvretta have captured the lightweight AT market, Fritschi and NAXO have taken nearly all of the market for gonzo skiers who require burly equipment before weight-efficiency. Though it is doubtful that AT bindings will ever reach the level of sophistication of state-of-the-art alpine ski bindings, it's increasingly common to see skiers using them at resorts. Many deem AT bindings "good enough" and like the aspect of having one binding that works just as well riding lifts as it does heading into the backcountry. This crossover market has been a key element behind the continued sales growth of the heavier AT bindings.
SNEWS® View: There are several advantages to this acquisition by Rottefella. It gives the Norwegians access to engineers who have spent a lot of time working on releasable ski bindings, an asset that may be valuable as the NTN binding moves forward. In part due to lackluster telemark bindings in recent years, the AT market has been growing like gangbusters.
This purchase also helps Rottefella prepare for the upcoming battle with Black Diamond, which is expected to introduce a new line of telemark boots -- quite likely with its own new binding system -- about the same time that NTN finally reaches the U.S. market. Black Diamond had once been involved with the NTN development but pulled out several years ago. It has since dropped the Scarpa boot line so it can develop its own products. As the longtime U.S. distributor of Fritschi bindings, and co-developer of the failed Skyhoy releasable telemark binding, Black Diamond has the know-how to deliver a new telemark system that could be serious competition for NTN.
Both the NTN and (assumed) new Black Diamond telemark systems are geared toward the same hard-charging, weight-doesn't-matter skiers who purchase Fritschis and NAXOs. While AT technology is probably reaching its zenith, telemark is actually ready to take off after years of sputtering along. Since NTN boots will be compatible with AT bindings, it makes sense for NAXO to prepare for this merger of two worlds (compatible doesn't mean ideal). Working with Rottefella gives the Swiss a head start on resolving issues.
At present, Rottefella has three U.S. distributors -- Alpina, Garmont and Rossignol -- while NAXO is distributed by Backcountry Access. Though no changes have been announced, it's likely that there will be consolidation at some point -- perhaps even a Rottefella USA.