Many in the backcountry ski world were shocked on Thursday when it was announced that the parent company of Tua had filed for bankruptcy protection in Italy. This means there will be no Tua skis available in the United States this season -- and it doesn't bode well for the future.
Gestione Sport Alpini, which translates to Alpine Sport Management, was forced to file for the equivalent of Chapter 11 when some investors pulled out and it could not secure outside financing. The day after the filing, it was announced that Italy is officially in a recession; the country's economy has shrunk for two successive quarters.
Those who have been watching Tua were disappointed but not entirely surprised. The ski company's roots go back to 1946, but it first came to the attention of Americans when Chouinard Equipment became the importer. Since then, Tua has had major ups and downs.
In 1999, Giovanni Manfredini and an investment team purchased the company and began to revitalize the line. It's been an uphill battle for small niche brands like Tua as major alpine ski companies like Atomic and K2 gobble up a large part of the relatively small telemark and alpine touring market. Although ski companies and retailers had a great season here in the United States last winter, it was disastrous in Europe and many retailers there are sitting on excess inventory.
Despite near cult status and consistently favorable reviews, problems with delivery have plagued the line in recent years. This came to a head last season when a brand new factory ran into production glitches. No matter how great a ski may be, it's entirely moot if they aren't in the stores by September. Many stores were ready to drop the line but a strong push by a new sales rep force in the Rockies had convinced them to try one more time.
Steve Hardesty, president of Cima Sports (the Tua distributor), had inklings of trouble from Italy but was unaware of the severity of the situation until it was too late. He described Thursday as "the worst day in my business career" as he called key accounts to inform them they needed to scramble to fill their racks for the upcoming season.
According to Hardesty, "It feels like what I would imagine a divorce would feel like."
Fortunately, Cima Sports has experienced good growth in its line of Vagabond sport sandals and Source hydration products so Hardesty expects to weather the storm. We certainly expect the longtime distributor will find some new lines and will be busy at the trade show this week.
SNEWS View: In all likelihood, this marks the end of Tua skis. At this point, it would take a miracle to convince retailers to open their rack space again. With so many good telemark skis from Atomic, Black Diamond, Karhu, K2 and Rossignol, it's doubtful Tua will be missed other than by a few loyal fans. But they sure did ski nice!