Salomon’s new BBR: Global brand manager Couput reveals the rest of the story

Salomon is on a nationwide tour to introduce its radical new BBR ski, a product its R&D folks think can re-invigorate the brand...and the sport. Not only did the SNEWS crew get to ski it, we also scored an exclusive interview with Salomon global brand manager Jean-Yves Couput.
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Salomon calls its radical, V-shaped, all-mountain BBR ski a “challenge to conventional wisdom.” It also represents the company’s commitment to return to its roots, reconnect with retailers and re-energize a broad swath of skiers.

In an interview with SNEWS WinterSports, Jean-Yves Couput, Salomon’s global brand manager, said the company has been too focused on the extreme ends of the market with its ski collection and needs to target the meat of the market, while emphasizing the basic values of Salomon as a mountain-sports company. The BBR, Couput told us, aims to provide one feeling on the mountain for a broad group of skiers: “Fun.”

In an early launch for 2011/2012, Salomon is taking the BBR straight to the consumer with the Shape Your Adventure Tour, a nationwide, 40-stop demo tour that kicked off Dec. 10, 2010. The company is also unveiling it to key dealers, including a recent Stratton, Vt., event with 25 retailers.

The ski represents the latest innovation from Bertrand Krafft (aka BeBeR), the designer behind the X Scream Series and Pocket Rocket. Krafft had spent four years away from snow on a surf project, and brought a totally new mindset to the project. “Inspired by the spontaneity and freedom of action found in watersports, the BBR offers the liberty to carve, cruise, float and play,” Salomon said.

With dimensions of 147/89/110, the BBR features a cartoonish tip, rocker and a relatively narrow waist and tail. It’s soft in the forebody and stiff in the tail; the narrowest portion of the ski is actually behind the heel. It’s not aimed at the very best skiers on the mountain, but at those who want to improve their performance -- and enjoyment -- on all terrain and in all conditions.

In seven inches of new snow at Breckenridge on Dec. 16, and despite initial skepticism borne from staring down at the bulbous tip, we found the BBR exceeded expectations. It’s comfortable and responsive in carving through a variety of turn shapes -- though it may not outperform the many superlative frontside skis available today. Where it truly shines is seamlessly crossing over into crud and powder, where the wide shovel provides flotation and the narrow waist and tail offer a huge sweet spot, quickness, versatility and ample confidence. It won’t quite motor through powder like an ultra-wide-waisted ski, but its turn-on-a-dime nimbleness will be more than worth the tradeoff for the majority of skiers. The BBR is particularly adept in moguls and in tight spots, a shockingly pleasant revelation for such a wide-tipped model. Krista Crabtree, gear editor for PEAKS Magazine, deemed it a superb unisex ski.

Here is Salomon’s plan, in Couput’s words.

SNEWS: How is Salomon shifting focus from the extreme back to the middle of the market?

Jean-Yves Couput: We are still going to be in park and pipe, (we are still going to be in big mountain), we are still going to be in Europe in racing, even if we are not in the States. Skiing encompasses a lot of different activities and motivations. But we want to develop products for people who are skiing the whole mountain. I’m not talking about those extreme slopes in Alaska. I’m talking about people who want to enjoy the fun of skiing, the purity of skiing, the freedom of skiing. It’s for people who are just going to ski for the weekend, maybe with their family, and want to ski more of the mountain.

SNEWS: How did the BBR concept come about?

Couput: I think that the industry made a pretty big mistake, all of us, all of the brands, these last 10 years. We talked to people as if they were engineers, scientists. We talked about sidecuts, shapes, dimensions, millimeters. What does that mean? It is just a technology, but a technology for what? (The BBR) is a technology of fun. Your motivation can be to carve, to go through the gates, to go down an untracked slope. This is a tool to access those motivations, and we put the tool first.

We forgot about what people are looking for. Skis have become so technical that skiers feel they need three or four pair to enjoy all the conditions. It’s too expensive, too confusing. And people went away from this wonderful activity. When you have too many choices, you do not make a decision. This is the entire story of the BBR. We said, "Let’s not make a ski that is a powder ski; let’s not make a carving ski. Let’s make a ski that is for total skiing, whatever place you are."

SNEWS: Why the early launch?

Couput: It is linked to what happened (the last few) years. The economy had a nosedive. People everywhere, in every domain of the economy, are now acting differently. They are not taking any risks.

Everything that is a radical innovation has to be presented first, explained, tested, to make sure that the (people) are able to adjust to it, to grab it and to convince them to become advocates. To present this in the booth at the SIA Show would not work. We have to present it on snow to people who are open-minded to test it without any preconceived ideas, from retailers to consumers. This is what we want to do starting now until the end of the season. We believe everything is going to be much better for the retailer (to sell it next winter). It is very difficult to create consumer demand when people are asking, "What is that?" They see something that is unusual and they don’t understand it.

We don’t want to put this ski in the (magazine tests). We want this ski to be tested by the people, because we want them to feel what this ski brings to them. The magazine tests are based on dimensions. If you put this ski in (the category) with its dimension, you would just see 20 percent of its potential. It is a new category. It is a new ski that is going to win back former skiers to the sport.

SNEWS: What would you say to retailers about the new Salomon direction?

Couput: We lost our path after the X Scream Series. We went into very different and diverse areas of skiing. Now we understand. Let’s not try to be anything but a mountain sport company; we live in the mountains, we develop our product in the mountains. It is back to the roots for Salomon. The BBR is all about that.

(In the big picture), we have to learn to become more nimble. We need to be more agile, more reactive, better able to answer the needs of the retailer. The key for us is to get back to an intimate relationship with the retailers. This is about confidence, this is about trust, this is about respect.

--Andy Bigford

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