How Blizzard Tecnica’s program is driving the new female standard
WORDS • Tess Strokes | PHOTOS • courtesy of Blizzard Tecnica
Formulate some female athlete bios for your website, throw a few token shots of said females into the team edit and “shrink and pink” a couple models of skis to market them to women. That was the strategy for many ski company’s women’s programs—if they had one—until recent years.
While Blizzard Tecnica made dedicated women’s products, like the Black Pearl 88, which has been the best-selling female ski in America for the last two years, the company lacked a dedicated women’s program until 2015. Since then, the company’s Women to Women (W2W) program has taken center stage as one of the brand’s main initiatives. Taking a 360-degree approach to designing authentic women’s products, Blizzard Tecnica involves women from every discipline of skiing throughout the entire ski and boot manufacturing process and actually follows through with incorporating their input into the final product.
“The fact that our parent company believes in this project and its importance is what has made the difference for me,” says Leslie Baker-Brown, Tecnica Group’s United States marketing manager and a 30-year veteran of the company. Her résumé also includes NCAA All-American ski racing titles and five years on the Women’s Pro Tour. “They see the impact we can have, not only on the bottom line, but in skiing for women—in creating more female skiers as well as enhancing their experiences.”
After years of conversations among employees, athletes and ambassadors about a comprehensive product collection designed specifically for female skiers, Blizzard Tecnica Director of Product Development, Jed Duke, convinced Tecnica Group to commit fully to the W2W program. Baker-Brown’s European counterpart at Tecnica Group, Maria Elena Rizzieri, a former ski racer, runs the program from Italy. To kick off W2W in 2015, they each gathered a group of women from different environments and backgrounds—not just athletes—who all share a common passion: skiing and the mountains.
Today, participants include Austrian ski guide Angelika Kaufmann, SkiRacing.com publisher Claire Brown, ski patroller Robin McElroy, Ski PNW president and retail leader Tracy Gibbons and big-mountain skier Jackie Paaso, among others. The North American and European focus groups meet at least twice a year to test product, compare lifestyles and equipment needs and discuss tangible topics like industry trends, as well as the indefinable, such as mindsets, passions, behavior and the shared experience of skiing. An ongoing email chain asks for input on everything from model names and graphics to marketing concepts and direction. Rizzieri and Baker-Brown send the same questions to their respective focus groups to gather a global perspective and Rizzieri works closely with the product development and graphics teams in Italy to execute.
“[The focus group] offers direct feedback, then, a couple months later, we see the changes reflected in the product,” says Keely Kelleher, a former World Cup downhiller, founder and director of Keely’s Ski Camp for Girls and a Blizzard Tecnica athlete. “Sometimes programs like this can be futile, and you wonder why you’re helping, but with W2W, the results are tangible.”
One of the most exciting technologies to emerge from the focus group’s work is the women’s CAS Cuff Adapt. When the North American group sat down in Park City, Utah, in December of 2015 to try on boots, they realized the large range of calf sizes among the group, and a discussion arose about the lower leg being a major issue in fitting women’s boots. Many companies size women’s boots to accommodate larger calves, but small calves can pose just as much of a fit problem. Tecnica knew they needed to create a technology that allowed for both an increase and decrease in the diameter opening of the cuff.
The product development team from Italy and members of the P165 group—formed by Tecnica in 2013 from what it considered the best boot fitters in the country—took note. In 2017, the first women’s boots to incorporate the technology hit the market. The CAS Cuff Adapt system consists of a thermal cover activated by carbon fiber resistors that easily and permanently adapt to the shape of any leg. The process takes 11 minutes total, eight of which are dedicated to increasing or reducing volume depending on the leg shape, while the last three are for cooling down the customized boots.
Issues such as warmth, comfort, customization and performance are addressed with the boot collection. With warmth being an ongoing conversation within the focus groups, Tecnica continues to search for the ultimate solution, says Baker-Brown. This year’s boots utilize Celliant, a technology powered by 13 thermo-reactive minerals that converts body heat into infrared energy that increases circulation, oxygen and blood flow.
To truly understand a woman’s anatomy as it relates to the design of skis and boots, Blizzard Tecnica partnered with the Cerism University Research Center at the University of Verona, Italy. Together, they conducted biomechanical research focused on the basic anatomical position of women in their ski boots to figure out the ideal forward lean and ramp angles. In addition, Blizzard tested skis on snow using electronic sensors to examine a woman’s-specific balance point on skis.
“We developed women’s-specific molds to address the fact that the binding mounting point on women’s skis is more forward, but the sidecut does not match up,” says Baker-Brown. “We created all new molds with a more forward sidecut so that the sweet spot of the ski falls under the center point of where women’s bindings are mounted.” The 2018 Alight collection reflects these adjustments with the ideal balance of weight, performance and playfulness, and is sure to be a highly coveted line among women this fall.
With more than $1.4 billion being spent on women-specific gear (according to the Snowsports Industries Association) and accounting for one-third of the market, Blizzard Tecnica’s women’s push is paying off in spades. Preseason orders between 2016 and 2017 on the company’s products for women saw a 24.4-percent increase in unit orders, and from 2017 to 2018, preseason sales jumped 9.8 percent. A Boston University professor recently requested to turn the W2W program into a case study for a marketing course.
Focus group member Tracy Gibbons, president of Ski PNW, which oversees Washington ski shops Sturtevant’s, Ski Mart and SkiBonkers, is one of the few female hardgoods buyers in the industry. Her knowledge from the floor about female buying habits, along with her 20-plus years of teaching women’s clinics, brings invaluable experience to W2W. She’s hosted several Blizzard Tecnica in-store educational events in the last few years with Q&A’s featuring athletes like Kelleher and Paaso.
“Women aren’t necessarily interested in what kind of wood is in the core, but they want to know the characteristics of the skis and boots,” says Gibbons. “At these events, we explain the differences.” One of the biggest challenges, says Gibbons, is women coming into the shop asking for the 106 mm underfoot ski that their brother or husband skis on. “We explain why maybe a women’s ski should be softer or why female boot cuffs should be designed differently.”
And when women hear about ski technology from other women, the passion is generally contagious. Obviously, Blizzard Tecnica wants to grow sales through the program, but W2W also aims to create a community of like-minded, passionate skiers of all ability levels. Numerous studies show women possess the buying power in most households, and it’s no different in skiing. “From my experience with girls’ camps, it’s the mom signing up for camp,” says Kelleher. “If the mom is empowered and knowledgeable, she’s going to bring some brand loyalty to her purchasing decisions.”
Whether it’s a mother buying ski equipment for her family, a 100-day-a-year-skier looking for a new powder tool or a woman trying skiing for the first time, Blizzard Tecnica can point to the W2W program and its wide span of female ambassadors to prove they have the gear for each specific need. Paaso, a big-mountain skier and Freeride World Tour competitor, can charge aggressive lines down steep mountain faces on her setup, but she appreciates that the company truly makes something for everyone.
“They really acknowledge that all women are different and therefore have different needs,” says Paaso. “To create the best products for women, you need to understand all women, and that is what the W2W program is doing. I’m proud to be a part of this authentic strategy that benefits all women who love to ski and even those that don’t know the joy of skiing yet.”
Paaso says that’s important, because women aren’t a niche market in the ski industry. “From hardgoods to softgoods, companies are realizing that women are serious customers with high standards,” she says. “I can only hope that it continues to move forward in this direction and that the rest of the industry takes note.”