Big Wig Interview: Salomon Snowboards’ David Pitschi

Salomon Snowboard’s David Pitschi has gone full circle with the brand, from pro rider to Global Brand Manager. SOURCE Editor Harry Mitchell Thompson talks to David on a range of subjects spanning Salomon Snowboard’s role at Amer sports through marketing strategy and where David sees opportunities for the industry.

David PItschi. Photo by Vanessa Andrieux

David PItschi. Photo by Vanessa Andrieux

Please tell us about your background in boardsports David – you’ve gone full circle with Salomon, right? Team rider to global brand manager…
I’ve been part of the boardsports industry, more specifically the snowboard industry since 1989 when I started competing in Swiss snowboarding contests. I met the distributors of Billabong and paid for my lift passes by taking orders at the Bespo tradeshow (local trade show in the 90s) for them. Then when Salomon started making snowboards in 1995-1996 they needed to have riders to test their product and I was offered a sponsorship deal I couldn’t refuse, at the time I got to ride with Jason Ford and Aleksi Vanninen, it was like a dream. After that I was hired by Billabong to manage their snowboard team and progressed into being the winter department marketing manager. Then Salomon asked me to manage the Salomon Snowboards brand globally. So yes, it’s full circle indeed, over the course of 20 years and I’ve always been involved with Salomon snowboards. They have always been an inspiration in innovation and product development for me, it’s a real privilege to be working with such a passionate team.

Please tell us about the team you work with and how snowboarding fits within Salomon and its parent Amer sports.
The Salomon Snowboards team is a group of very talented and motivated individuals; from the development and innovation side to the graphics and commercial structure everyone is passionate about snowboarding. They all ride and when powder days happen the whole office tries to make it to the mountains. That’s one of the key points within Salomon as a multisport company; everyone is passionate about the sport they are working in. With snowboarding we have total independence in building our products and stories. We have the advantage of a big structure too. We have the luxury of having so many different engineers and experts in different sports and access to all their technologies. With the Annecy Design Centre, Salomon brings us a lot of technological benchmarks and know-how in pattern making.

We also have the advantage of being part of a solid commercial structure with a good distribution and we can rely on a solid four seasons business to support our structure.

Salomon Snowboards has a younger target consumer than Salomon in general so we are a key element in understanding teenager behaviours and their habits. Salomon Snowboards fits within the brand as the youthful influencer that maintains the interest for the brand as they grow older and engage in different outdoor activities. It’s a real asset for us as a team and for Salomon to have so much expertise to share and take influence from.

What have been the biggest learning curves you’ve faced in the past 10 years?
In the past 10 years there have been so many learning curves; me personally, it was a big challenge to get onto the other side of the business from pro rider to project management – it was definitively a big learning curve. I’ve evolved my understanding of the business in so many ways from understanding the complexity of building an innovative binding that fits the market needs and is safe enough to be sold, to understanding the speed at witch the consumer behaviour changes these days.

For Salomon Snowboards, the biggest challenge is to adapt to the constant evolution of the snowboard industry. Without the momentum of a new sport or the rebellious energy that drove the industry in the 90s, we’ve been obliged to find different ways to make snowboarding attractive to the people.

What opportunities and threats does Salomon face across different territories globally?
We are fortunate enough to be strong in our three major markets, which are EMEA, APAC, and the Americas.

For us it all starts with the USA marketing centre in Portland. It allows us to be at the heart of snowboarding. It’s challenging for a French brand to make a mark in the USA but with our investment in Portland and our team there we have a good opportunity of growth in the US.

In EMEA we count on our good distribution channels and the influence of our US driven marketing.

In Japan we’re fortunate enough to be one of the leading brands there. Salomon is really strong in Japan and even with a hard season last year due to lack of snow we’re seeing promising signs for this winter.

David PItschi. Photo by Vanessa Andrieux

David PItschi. Photo by Vanessa Andrieux

Talk us through where Salomon is at with the rental market.
Salomon snowboards has developed a specific rental system called UNITE. Anyone who wants to rent a board and has no idea on what to get can actually find the perfect set up by answering four simple questions: Gender, Size, Style and Budget. We also developed the rental collection to be proper snowboards that are built to perform for years. Our unique board-to-binding interface is also a great selling point for the rental shop. There is a growing interest in good quality rental for the UK and France. We try and give the consumer a great experience from the first time they step onto a board by giving them easy access and lifting all the barriers to entry. Rental in a general sense is a major part in the future of snowboarding with the young consumer steering away from the classic system of ownership and moving towards sharing and multi-person usage. We will start thinking like magazines, where there are around three different readers per magazine sold – we will have the same with our boards, where they share their product.

How are you segmenting your marketing initiatives between athletes, movies, ad campaigns and events, and where do you see potential for growth and development?
Our marketing efforts are very team and video focussed. We have a very strong team that works closely with our development team to bring the best product to the consumer. We essentially speak online and produce content in partnership with the media so we all gain from a collective effort. This year we produced Reckless Abandon with Bode Merrill and Jesse Paul. The release of that movie was a big success and gave us a lot of good publicity. Jesse Paul ended up getting rookie of the year and Bode rider of the year.

All our events are tied to an athlete; if our signature pro comes up with an event concept we get behind it and help them promote the event. We believe that heroes still drive the sport. Our campaigns are always set in three pillars: the Athlete, the Product, the Story. When these three pillars all work together you have a very powerful message that resonates. It’s vital that all of our stories are true and genuine.

Do you have different marketing campaigns for targeting core snowboarders and occasional enthusiasts, or do you keep one unified strategy?
We have a unified strategy where we want to promote full spectrum snowboarding with a focus on freestyle. We usual have two major stories a year to cover our main product focus for the year. Our main investment is toward the core and freestyle but we do have a specific powder story we build with Wolle. We created the Hillside project; A collaboration with Wolle Nyvelt to build the best powder boards. We’ll have activations around Wolle, his prototype factory and the boards throughout the year. With the resources we have we became creative in promoting more niche stories, for example with our splitboards we created a satellite Facebook page where our tech savvy consumers can come and exchange their experiences about splitboarding – that way the split community has its specific platform.

What’s your general assessment of the state of the snowboard industry? Where are we at, what got us here and what opportunities for growth do you see?
The industry is definitively shrinking and the median age of the rider is getting older, I think that once the punk and disruptive energy that snowboarding had in the early 2000s had ran his course we have become an acceptable sport and our efforts to initiate or to convert people to snowboarding should have evolved too. Snowboarding has become too ‘cool’ to be accessible and ski teachers and ski schools encourage beginners to get on a pair skis with so many valid arguments, meaning anyone who is undecided will be driven to skis.

But the good news is that there are more kids snowboarding now than five years ago. So there’s still a healthy industry. It’s roughly three times smaller than the ski industry and it’s a healthy size; I don’t think we’ll grow massively anymore but if we manage to maintain our current size there is still lots of good things to do on a snowboard. We’re getting towards the end of our downward cycle and we’ll see some traction soon – by being inclusive and getting more kids into snowboarding. Snowboarding is always going to be there, there will always be people that will need to experience the feeling of a backside air and the power of a smooth powder turn where the hand slightly grazes the snow.

How different is the modern day professional snowboard athlete compared to back in your day?
They are exactly that; ‘athletes’. Today, to be a professional snowboarder requires such extreme physical commitment that you can’t afford being half fit and having a good season. The competitive riders have to travel the world hitting massive kickers spinning more rotations in one jump than we used to do in a full day. Back in the day we could have a career by being a well-rounded snowboarder with a mix of contests and filming. Now riders are even segmented between slopestyle Vs pipe. The impact on the body and the intensity of the calendar makes it obligatory to be a well-oiled athlete. Also the kids today reach such a level at such a young age that it seems like the turnaround in riders is a lot faster than before. Every year brings its load of newcomer riders that storm the scene for three to four years and disappear. I also think the mind-set has changed somewhat; there are more kids that enter snowboarding as a career plan and use it to become recognised. In the 90s if you were a snowboarder you were hated and that was something that drove us to snowboarding. There was this sense of challenging the establishment and being a rebel. Look at Shaun Palmer and Chris Roach, they where our heroes. The one thing that transcends generations is the importance of style – snowboarding will always be focused on style, whatever progress we make, style is always a key element.

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David PItschi. Photo by Vanessa Andrieux

How is Salomon working with snowboarding as a progressive, competitive sport? Any thoughts on the stand off between FIS/IOC/TTR?
No Salomon does not have any involvement with the competitive side of snowboarding, We have made a strategic decision to focus on the content creation side of snowboarding because we believe the creativity of snowboarding comes without the frame of rules and we want to express that.

That said the importance of competitive snowboarding is big. We need to find a way to create a true governing body to simplify the calendar and create a true World Champion.

I was involved in the TTR and would rather not elaborate. As an ex-pro, I regret not having a clear vision of competitive snowboarding. I would need 10 pages to give you my full thoughts on the constant fight between the different federations. From the I.S.F. to the TTR, the FIS and IOC war has been a constant topic of anger for me. Basically the rider has the power, if no riders entered a FIS event then the FIS would be obliged to abide to the official authority that should be driven by the riders. Cross-country skiing managed it – why can’t we? The FIS has a whole structure of training facilities, coaches etc that are seductive to the rider that aspires to become a professional. At the end of the day if all the riders would actually get together and decide collectively that one or another structure fits them best, then they will have what they want but the riders today only knows what he personally wants and there is little to no collective thought process to protect the sport and keep it in our hands.

The IOC needs youthful sports to maintain itself as a business. They brought in surfing and skating with their governing bodies and if snowboarders had collectively decided on one governing body and all rejected the FIS we would have had the I.S.F at the 94 Olympics. Or no snowboarding at the Olympics; snowboarding doesn’t need the Olympics as much as the Olympics needs snowboarding.

Every effort that is put in place to build a governing body turns to waste because of personal priorities. It happened with the PSA, ISF and now the WST (ex TTR) has a great base and is the official tour but this winter everyone will try and qualify to go to Pyeongchang. If you look at surfing, the WSL does not get told what to do by the rowing federation, they built a strong base and made sure the surfers that were part of the WSL followed the rules – rules that they made. Competitive snowboarding has a lot to offer and there are inspiring events like the Arctic Challenge or the US Open that show real progress in the sport. There will always be a need for competition, it’s the easiest way to determine who is the best and a sport needs such hierarchy, but right now even if you are fully part of the industry it is complicated to figure out who is the ‘champion’ between the independent events, the Grand-Prix, the X games, the FIS and the TTR. Even the riders get lost. The good news is there is a healthy need for competitive snowboarding but the challenge for the riders is and will still be the choices they face and this is not healthy.

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