America Bites Back

Fall Line

For decades, European ski companies have been gobbling up venerable U.S. brands: Head, Lange, more recently Volant. The trend seemed to have American alpine brands headed the way of the binding safety strap. This past summer, however, America bit back, when K2 Corp. acquired German ski brands Völkl and Marker, along with apparel manufacturer Marmot, in deals valued at $208 million.

The Völkl buyout gives K2 -the market leader in the U.S.-an opportunity to become a major player in Europe, though it remains to be seen if Europeans are willing to click into American skis in greater numbers. Völkl currently sells some 470,000 pairs of skis worldwide; K2 sells 250,000 pairs (plus 300,000 snowboards). Meanwhile, the Marker deal gives K2 an in-house partner in the development of ski/binding systems, a smart strategic move given systems’ growing dominance in gear sales.

Though K2 was founded in 1961 as a renegade American ski manufacturer, the sporting-goods conglomerate is now home to 35 brands, including Rawlings baseball equipment and Shakespeare fishing gear. Skiers shouldn’t see any immediate changes on shop racks due to the merger, though we’re all eager to see how the freeskiing, red-white-and-blue K2 culture rides the lift with Völkl’s austere Germanic tradition.

Sept 2003