Hey, Spike! chats with Frenchman about ski development
Way up here on The Summit we all know — and appreciate — the internationalism of the ski industry.
Nothing proves this more than a French ski racer, living in Switzerland, designing a new niche ski, manufacturing in Poland, and introducing it in the U.S., at two retail shops locally.
Let Spike! introduce Stephane Exartier and his XO skis.
The 46-year-old former French Alpine Ski Team member raced from 1991-98, with quite a few top 20 finishes, highlighted by a giant slalom 10th place in Park City, and a 13th place at the 1992 Olympics in Val d’Isere, France, when the “Italian Stallion,” Alberto Tomba, won the gold.
After his ski racing career, Stephane went to neighboring Switzerland, where he worked four years for Dynastar-Lange Switzerland as a rep, then became the sales manager.
He then spent seven years with Scott International, headquartered in Switzerland, as the European wintersport sales manager.
“It was a great experience to work for such international groups in the ski business,” he comments.
Originally from Valloire, France, Stephane has been able to combine his multi-national business experiences and his speaking four languages — French, English, German and Polish, aided with his family background, to develop the XO ski.
His wife Anna is the daughter of Andrzej Bachleda, a famous Polish world skier in the ’70s. They have three children, Thomas, Mia and Matthieu, and call Lausanne, Switzerland, home.
It was in those high levels of the ski equipment design, production and sales he came to fully appreciate the complexity of the ski business.
“I realized the ski market was becoming more and more complicated,” said Stephane, “with too many models, consumers are getting lost and dealers also.”
For Stephane, it was back to the basics of skiing, putting his experience into the design of the XO skis.
“I started with an analysis of what are the real consumers’ — skiers’— needs and the real dealers’ needs. Simply watching skiers on the hill and talking to shop owners,” he said. ”I tried to think how to match their needs in a very simple way.”
Stephane’s understanding of the ski market led him to identify three important basic un-met needs: Lightness, simplicity and performance.
“Making a light ski which is performing is not easy,” he readily admits.
“I gathered a bunch of guys, a small international team, with years of experience in the ski business — engineers, servicemen (pro ski tuners), designers, and finance guys — all driven by passion. It took us one year to reach our target.”
Stephane’s Exonde AG team was able to deliver its result in September 2012.
“That’s how XO ski was born, on the Zermatt Glacier at 10,000 feet,” he said.
All XO engineering, development, ideas and proto-typing are done in Switzerland, with product testing in Zermatt.
The skis are produced in a “secret” factory in Poland, where Burton used to make its high-end wood-core snowboards, the Frenchman says.
The target niche market for the “only in black” XO is 40-plus-year-olds, who are good to very good skiers.
“We do not make skis for Kitzbuhel World Cup slalom or for guys who jump 100-foot cliffs,” said Stephane. “We make skis for good to very good skiers who are looking to have fun, improve their technique on and off-piste, not being tired after one hour of skiing because of weight of equipment. With XO you can have fun skiing all day.”
The XO skis come in one model, with five sizes, ranging from 148cm to 172cm and two flex levels.
“We make the XO light and simple,” he said, “that’s what all people were asking for. We made it light, but we add performance into it because we are Swiss and come from racing.”
“We ended up with our XO Swiss secret recipe, which is based on a very traditional racing construction of wood with a core-glass fiber, but without metal inside, without plates between binding and ski,” Stephane explains.
The XO ski does not come with a binding, but the company recommends Marker Squire, reportedly the lightest binding in the market, and provides high performance.
Another XO factor is the tuning at the factory and in shops offering the ski line: Switzerland’s Montana Sport International Crystal Glide Finish. The firm is headed by Joe “Sepp” Poletti, a frequent visitor to Frisco.
“Switzerland has been always the home country for ski tuning, Swiss precision,” Stephane adds. “Montana Crystal Glide Swiss Finish is an ingredient that magnifies the XO on-snow experience. All XOs are factory Crystal Glide finished on Montana’s Saphir II Pro grinding machine, this is part of our ski.”
“We sell skis only to pro shops, who know their customers and are able to address the right size and the right flex to each skier,” he said. “They are also able to re-produce the Crystal Glide Finish.”
A big part of selling a ski line is getting into the shops to sell to their customers.
“We are able to deliver XO skis from our own operations in three days to pro shops anywhere in France, Switzerland and U.S.,” notes Stephane, adding that the XO organization mirrors the ski itself: Light, simple, performing.
XO currently is offered in 80 shops in Switzerland and 30 shops in France, and at the recently opened XO USA base in Park City, Utah.
Locally, you can demo XOs at Frisco’s Precision Ski and Golf; in Breckenridge at A Racer’s Edge; and Gorsuch Ltd., in Beaver Creek.
Elsewhere on top, Spike! offers congrats to Clarke Davis, who has retired from City Market after 28 years.
Summit Public Radio and TV is hosting its all-you-can-eat breakfast on Sunday, Nov. 15, at the Elks Lodge in Silverthorne, 9 a.m. to noon.
You’ll be helping fund the airwaves, and satisfying your craving for the Elks’ world-renown bacon.
Breakfast is $12 at the door or $10 if purchased in advance. Children under 12 are $5 with a paying adult.
Miles F. Porter IV, nicknamed “Spike,” a Coloradan since 1949, is an Army veteran, former hardrock miner, graduate of Adams State College, and a local since 1982. An award-winning investigative reporter, he and wife Mary E. Staby owned newspapers here for 20 years. Email your social info to firstname.lastname@example.org
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