The story of K2 Sports is one of classic American ingenuity. Bill Kirschner and his brother Don ran a successful manufacturing company that produced fiberglass splints and cages for animals. The pair was eager to experiment with new applications for fiberglass, and one day in 1961, a lightbulb lit up in Bill’s head. As he lapped Sun Valley on conventional metal skis, Bill thought to himself that he might be able to one-up the design in his own factory.
The next year, the brothers reestablished themselves as K2—an ode to the world’s second tallest mountain and a play on their shared last name—and began producing fiberglass ski prototypes. In 1964, K2 released 250 pairs of their skis to the public to great acclaim. Sales would double every year until 1970, largely due to a brave change of pace by the brothers. In 1968, K2 shifted its focus from recreational skis to performance racers, a market completely dominated by established European brands. The upstart company from Vashon Island, Wash., earned their spot with the big guns in 1969, when Marilyn Cochran won the giant slalom World Cup title—the first World Cup title won on American skis.
K2 has been a mainstay in the market ever since, as they have continued to outfit groundbreaking athletes with revolutionary products, many of which don the brand's signature red, white, and blue vertical stripes. From freeskiing pioneers like Seth Morrison to modern studs like Olympic gold medalist Joss Christensen, K2 has never stopped pushing the envelope of what is possible on the mountain.
That includes innovations on one plank as well as two. K2 was one of the first major ski brands to recognize the potential of and invest in snowboarding in the late 1980s. Garnering respect from skiers and riders alike is not easy, a testament to the company’s unique personality.
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That personality is best shown in K2’s mid-90s revolution to the racing world, the K2 Four. One of the most popular skis ever made, the Four put shaped skis on the map at a time when most large companies considered them to be nothing more than a fad. The K2 Four introduced itself to the world at the 1996 Junior National Championships by way of a young racer from New Hampshire named Bode Miller. Miller toasted the competition, earning three first-place finishes and one second. Heads were turned, and the industry was changed. Companies went all-in on shaped ski production. The K2 Four won numerous design awards, including a gold medal for performance innovation from Popular Science Magazine.
Today, the brand is headquartered in Seattle, a stone's throw from its humble roots on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound. K2 skis are produced in China, but the rowdy, creative American spirit remains the same. Young guns like Colby Stevenson (2017 Aspen Open Half Pipe Champion) and Johanne Killi (2017 X Games Norway Slopestyle Gold Medalist) are ushering K2 into the future, where the next round of innovations to the sport are more likely than not.
Profile by Andrew Guckes