Thursday, November 20, 2014

Working in a Winter Wonderland

I met Rossignol Rep, Ian Hunter a decade ago when I was living in Calgary and working as the weekly ski columnist for Snow Scene in the Calgary Sun. One of my assignments was to attend one of his ski demo and technique training sessions at Nakiska Ski Resort in order to try out the (then) new twin tip skis. We had a great day, practicing on the pristine groomers at Nakiska and trying out several different ski models. Ian managed to demolish my 1970s European ski style and get through to my entrenched skiing muscles that the old techniques - including legs glued together at thigh, knee and ankle - just don't work on today's skis! I wrote an article about teaching old dogs new tricks for my Snow Scene column (copied below). 

As you know, I am writing a book about winter sports with my husband, Dr Simon Hudson, so I decided to include a case study on Ian in a chapter all about 'The Winter Sports Product' which includes activities, resorts, slopes and equipment and clothing. Here's an excerpt:

Ian Hunter in action
Ski rep, Ian Hunter has been in the ski sales business since 1979. He started his career working in ski retail for three years before moving onto an in-house position with Norvinca Inc – at that time, the Canadian distributor for Nordica, LOOK and Dynastar. After nine years he left Norvinca to form his own sales agency in order to maximize income by representing multiple brands.

In 1990 Hunter signed with Group Rossignol Canada Ltd and is still in the same role today although he has also represented many other lines during this period. “I’m responsible for sales into retail and rental markets, as well as sell through from retail markets which can involve co-op advertising, staff training, promotion through athletes and ski professionals,” Hunter explains.

Over the past 35 years or so, trends in ski gear have evolved considerably, driven partly by the advent of snowboarding. “Ski designs changed radically starting in the mid 90's,” says Hunter. “Shaped skis started a period of tremendous growth in the ski industry which was suffering at that time due to the popularity of snowboarding.”

Hunter's home hill, Nakiska in Alberta, Canada
In order to compete with the popularity and growth in the snowboard industry, ski manufacturers put considerable resources into designing more user-friendly, higher performing skis to try to regain the “cool factor”. Hunter says that snowboarding’s success, particularly with the younger generation, caused ski manufacturers to re-think their approach to the sport. “It accelerated the development of recreational skis to make skiing more fun, easier to learn, and to provide more performance,” he says.

With skiers increasingly seeking equipment to enhance fatigue-free skiing, it is new technology that is driving sales in ski equipment today. “Wide skis brought skiers into the powder fields allowing intermediate skiers to go where previously only snowboarders and expert skiers could go,” Hunter explains. “Twin tip skis brought the youth back into the sport as freestyle, slope style and half pipe gained popularity.”

Retail staff have a significant impact on what products the consumer chooses, so Hunter works closely with the Rossignol retail network. “Staff training sessions, demo days and casual conversations with the staff are all key components of grass roots marketing,” he explains. He also runs popular consumer demo days but says these tend to be “a bit of a shotgun approach”. Private demo days can be very effective but are cumbersome to orchestrate.

Like many people working in the ski industry, Hunter’s job is synonymous with his passion for the winter sports lifestyle. “I get to get out of bed every day and talk about something I love: snow sports and related equipment,” says Hunter. “I have been fortunate to ski with current, past and future world class skiers. I have been to ski, boot, binding and pole factories. I have seen the evolution of equipment from prototypes to finished products and have been lucky to, in a small way, be a part of that process. I have skied in a number of countries and many resorts all under the guise of working.”

Hunter’s core business remains alpine, Nordic and snowboard hard goods, although he has also represented companies which specialize in goggles, helmets, sunglasses, bikes, cycle clothing, technical outerwear and layering systems. These days a job in his field would require experience in retail as well as wholesale sales. “Experience selling as an agent for smaller brands would be good training in preparation for selling a major brand,” he thinks.





His prognosis for the future of skiing is a bright one: “Ski manufacturers like Rossignol will continue to test new designs and materials to expand the performance and ease of use envelopes. Boots will continue to become warmer and more comfortable and bindings will also evolve or perhaps radically change to offer even greater protection.”

Nakiska's Monster Glades


Check out my latest ski articles for the Calgary Herald:



and Eat Drink Travel Mag:
http://www.eatdrinktravel.com/hitting-slopes-lake-louise/http://www.eatdrinktravel.com/hitting-slopes-lake-louise/




Snow Scene Article from Calgary Sun 2007:

Expert Hunter helps skiers find the right stuff for the slopes
Twin tips and powder sticks
LOUISE HUDSON 
Sun Media 
 
January 3, 2007  
Talk about teaching old dogs new tricks. Now you can ski the very latest Rossignol racing and powder skis in a demo with a difference - you get personal instruction on how to cure old-fashioned ski habits and get the best performance out of the new technology.

Louise Hudson, Sun Media
I went to Ian Hunter's first Rossi Demo Day of the season at Nakiska. My mandate was to try out skis designed for groomers, powder and bumps. 
Plus, I intended to bite the bullet with those trendy twin tips, which I previously thought were reserved for the young and the reckless. At least, then I could say I have tried them - but they are not for me. 
Like everyone else, I've been demoing various skis over the years from on-hill tents or stores. And by each day's end, I'm usually left wondering how other models would compare. A week later, I try something else and then a third pair but can't quite recall what it was I liked or disliked about the first pair. It's hit and miss when it comes to buying skis, with sales pressure, media hype and gorgeous graphics swaying my decision. 
Hunter's clinic gives skiers the chance to try out six or seven brand new ski types in a whole day of discovery about their own style of skiing, determining what is perfectly suited to individual physique and ski-terrain preferences. 
Refreshingly, he doesn't sell the skis, but with 80% of his participants opting to buy Rossignol, he guides them towards the right model and convenient outlets. 
"During conventional demo tent days, it's only about one-in-20 who actually buy," Hunter said. 
He blames this low conversion rate on people's inability to ski the new technology properly since traditional demos are unsupervised. 
During the demo day, there were six of us trying out skis in the capable hands of Hunter and his partner, Rob Meaney. In the otherwise male environment, I wondered where the women were. 
Hunter says usually around 70% of participants are male. The teacher laments the fact women don't sign up for his demo days despite often being key decision-makers in households. 
"Women think carefully about their purchases, so this would be the ideal opportunity for them to try out all the alternatives before buying," Hunter said. 
The morning revolved around powder skis and twin tips, even though we were skiing on hardpack off Nakiska's Bronze Chair. 
Hunter says you can test softer skis on groomed runs as this medium properly showcases their edge grip, which is necessary even in backcountry skiing, where hard snow conditions sometimes prevail. Ease of steering can be tested on hard pack, too. And it also proves you'll be able to make it down icy groomers after a hard day powder skiing in back bowls or glades. 
Enthusiastic despite the minus-20 C temperature, I tried out two women's Bandits - B3 and 78. Hunter gave us all drills to practice while analyzing our individual ski techniques. Apparently, I'm still a staunch European-style skier even after eight seasons in Alberta. I now have valuable tips to transform my skiing to fit the technology as well as integrate into local ski culture. 
I enjoyed the Bandits but unexpectedly loved the women's Scratch twin tips. I found the fatter skis facilitated a wider stance which enabled me to keep an edge on both skis better. Looks like I'm going to have to eat my preconceived words about twin tips for my age-group being synonymous with mid-life crises. 
After a sociable group lunch in the lodge, we moved on to racing skis, putting the Zeniths (for men) and Attraxions (for women) through their paces. Both Hunter and Meaney skied on the women's versions during the day, saying that although made for women, they are strong enough for men. I actually enjoyed all the skis, including the Mutix and Radical ranges with natty interchangeable bars to alter the stiffness for various terrain. But my favourite afternoon cruiser was the Attraxion V, although I was a little worried the red-flower design on the skis were sub-consciously affecting my decision-making - a bit like Dorothy in the poppy field in the Wizard of Oz. 
The innovative demo series was started by Hunter two years ago, operating out of Nakiska and Norquay. Rossi Demo Days cost $35 per person and are worth every penny, since at around $1,000 a pop, skis can turn out to be costly mistakes. You not only gain the expertise and confidence to buy the right ski, but you get a lesson with customized tips. Even in minus-20 C conditions, the day whizzed by due to the comfortable combination of skiing, instruction, advice and bonhomie. As an avid notetaker, I recommend you jot down what you liked and why. 













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